Seniors Design Backpack Prototypes for Capstone Course

A group of Seniors have begun their journey toward mastering the design thinking process in the Honors Capstone course, “Innovative Design for Real-World Solutions,” led by faculty members Kevin Coale and Simon Huss. Working in tight-knit groups, the students are learning to develop design-oriented solutions for smaller-scale challenges before moving on to tackling grander, real-world objectives.

The course kicked off with each group developing a backpack prototype for student “clients” drawn from the Honors Capstone course “Civic Engagement and Social Innovation” led by Jennie Willens. “The purpose of this project was to get familiar with the design thinking,” says Simon. “We picked backpacks as an easy starting point.”

To develop the first prototype, each group talked with their student clients who specified what they wanted in a backpack, from essential features and functionality to particular styles and colors. The cross-communication between classes gave students the opportunity to develop their interviewing skills while practicing interpretation of information relevant to their project goals.

With their collected data in hand, each group began crafting their first backpack prototypes in Windward’s CREATE Studio. For some students, it was an opportunity to explore and utilize the resources of a formerly unexplored corner of campus. Kevin says: “I was talking to a Senior, and she said one of the things she loved about this project was that it allowed them to use the CREATE Studio. Knowing how to function in that space is probably as important, if not more important, than whatever their grade is in that class.”

Upon completion and presentation of their first backpack prototypes, the student designers had their problem-solving skills and mental dexterity challenged when Kevin and Simon threw out design “curveballs.” The backpack prototypes would now be modified and upgraded accordingly based on unique scenarios such as: “What if you client was headed to the Amazon?” or “What if you client was on crutches?”

“This is a low stakes way of getting them used to the agility required when something happens, and you have to respond accordingly,” says Kevin. “Our students did a really impressive job.”

Despite these sudden and unexpected design constraints, each group was able to move forward without breaking their stride. Once again the CREATE studio was abuzz with activity as the initial backpack prototypes rapidly evolved into their secondary forms in a furious flurry of fabric, plastics, and hot glue.

When the dust had settled, the newly upgraded backpacks were once again presented to the grateful student clients from Jennie’s Capstone class. From one backpack to the next, each group’s prototype displayed the collective ingenuity of multiple minds enthusiastically working together.
With this phase of the course complete, Kevin and Simon’s class will begin working to enhance the quality of life on campus by working on issues ranging from long lunch lines to the campus dress code. “The kids identified problems on campus that they’re very passionate about solving, and we have a few of our own we’d like to stack the deck with,” says Simon.
Windward School is a 7-12, co-educational, independent day school in Los Angeles, California.