School's ‘design to fail’ philosophy proving to be a success


St Paul's School, located in north Brisbane, has been using ‘design thinking’, a trial-and-error learning method aimed at encouraging students to seek their own solutions to creatively solve problems.

In the school’s Design and Technology Centre (DTC), students receive a project brief, such as “build a useable cardboard chair”. They then seek to gain an understanding of the problem, considering different possibilities and prototyping solutions. 

While the prototype will more than likely ‘fail’ to meet the brief’s demands, the exercise opens an opportunity for students to explore alternative design methods and answers.

Tim Osborne, head of learning and design at St Paul’s, said the method has been shown to stimulate students’ thinking and apply principles in an innovative way.

“The learning methods at St Paul’s encourage students to hone their innovative and creative thinking in order to develop real world solutions,” Osborne said.

“Our education philosophy helps students find and solve problems in an authentic context. The learning conditions provided in our classroom are designed to mirror those they’ll encounter in the workplace and in industry.”

Osborne said that through design thinking, students can achieve “breakthrough solutions” in a collaborative, hands-on approach which embraces experimentation and failure in order to move thinking forward and take innovation to the next level.

“This learning method emphasises the processes rather than the final product.  It embraces the ‘thinking’ journey which students’ progress through and helps them develop innovation skills and a creative mindset. 

“That’s the nature of the design to fail process,” Osborne said.

The design thinking approach is now being extended to other subjects such as history where students have been digging their own World War Two trench and evaluating their design strengths and weaknesses.

“We want out students to develop an innovation mindset. By embracing failure and making mistakes through prototype designs, children learn to seek out innovative solutions to complex problems and grow an entrepreneurial spirit. 

“This is what we believe is an education worth having,” Osborne said.