IConference 2012 Design Jam Session: Learning by doing and sharing how to do it in iSchools


Michael Twidale, Sunah Suh, Ingbert Schmidt, Peter Organisciak, Jeff Ginger, UIUC
Matthew Ratto, University of Toronto
Jean-François Blanchette, UCLA
Christopher Lueg, University of Tasmania


The title of this conference is: “iConference 2012 | Culture • Design • Society”. Therefore we propose to bring not just talking about design and thinking about design to the iConference, but also Design Thinking and especially Design Doing. We have taught a number of design courses in Library and Information Science (LIS) programs that focus on design from two perspectives: the unique perspective that LIS brings to design, and the effective pedagogical presentation of design to students who may have never considered themselves designers but can benefit greatly from the perspective in their professional work.

In this alternate event we aim to showcase in live demonstrations a particular group of focused design techniques that we group under the term “Design Jam”. Activities that fit this very broad definition are sometimes also called charettes, sprints, hackfests and barcamps. Essentially they are about addressing a particular design challenge and thinking-by-doing. Although they often have a component of brainstorming, they involve additional activities, including:

  • Paper prototyping
  • Constructing personas and scenarios
  • Bodystorming
  • Improvisational acting involving props
  • Rapid prototyping
  • Mashup programming
  • Exploratory tweaking of applications
  • Patchwork prototyping, assembling ideas out of pre-existing applications and code
  • Hardware prototyping, e.g. using Arduino

Based on our substantial experience of teaching using various design jam approaches in a number of different settings, we claim that there are various pedagogic advantages to this approach:

  • It can be a good initial introduction for students with minimal prior experience of design, especially design of computational solutions.
  • Short focused activities facilitate intellectual risk-taking – you can just try something out to see where it leads rather than worrying about committing to a semester long project.
  • It can allow the exploration of multiple alternatives, prior to larger longer scale projects.
  • It can be folded into work to build useful applications for research projects or community outreach.
  • It can help students understand the potential of multiple iterative approaches to analysis, design and evaluation.
  • It can be done in a fun, motivating manner, even outside scheduled class time.
  • It follows techniques used in professional creative design studios, labs and startups, particularly when exploring a novel approach.
  • It fits well with many approaches to Design Thinking, as exemplified in (Kelley & Littman 2005) and (Martin 2005).

The event will be a live design jam run as a public spectacle, so that attendees may either participate in designing or watch others doing so. In the second half of the event we will discuss issues related to the pragmatics and pedagogy of design jams.


To provide a forum for those who teach or plan to teach design in iSchools to share ideas, tactics, pedagogic challenges, best practices, evocative tasks, and neat solutions. Also, to illustrate the approach to those who do not teach design but are curious about how it might be taught and how it might integrate with more conceptual-analytic courses.