The world’s top chief executive officers are looking for two main attributes in their staff: creativity and pattern interruption. This was the words of Esona Makinana, facilitator at the Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking (d-school) Afrika at the University of Cape Town (UCT), to a group of 100UP Grade 12 learners taking part in the d-school Afrika’s Design Thinking Dash course.
And for the 100UP Grade 12 learners attending their first Design Thinking Dash, the fun was just about to begin.
The initiative is a two-year programme run by UCT’s Schools Development Unit which prepares academically strong learners from Cape Town’s three largest and most resource-poor communities for university studies. The Design Thinking Dash is a free two-hour course offered by d-school Afrika to anyone who is curious about design thinking and would like an introduction to it before committing to their other programmes. During the fun-filled and impactful course, participants are given a design brief and two hours to meet their brief while working in a group.
This special group of participants was enjoying a residential camp at UCT during their winter school holiday, while also preparing for their most important school exams at the end of the year.
Introductory words and phrases such as “unlearn” and “celebrate failure” indicated they would quickly need to reframe and rethink to resolve the problem they would be set. These three Rs (reframe, rethink, resolve) are at the heart of d-school Afrika’s methodology.
Their brief was relevant and timely: “Design the experience of preparing for final matric exams.” But first came the induction of the 100UP learners into design thinking, led by Makinana and his team. The facilitator said the session was designed to unlock the learners’ thinking about the world, “a superfast introduction to design-thinking methods and mindsets”.
Meeting the challenge
The day’s first surprise came with an invitation: “You can draw on the desks,” said Makinana. “Use the tabletops to explore visually.”
The second surprise was Makinana’s statement giving the learners carte blanche to embrace their most creative ideas: “We celebrate failure. There are no rights or wrongs in design thinking.”
He guided the learners step by step through the building blocks of design thinking: the advantages of collaboration, both within and outside their group; how to frame the problem they had been set; how to identify their thinking biases; and how to target their solutions at the individuals they were designing for.
As the clock ticked in the studios, the noise and activity levels rose. Thinking was untangled and verbalised, and the team dynamics ebbed and flowed as plans were shaped and reshaped and made visual, using their toolboxes of felt-tipped pens, crayons, and sticky notes.
100UP meets d-school Afrika
Learners who are enrolled in the 100UP programme are supported in gateway subjects such as mathematics, sciences, and English First Additional Language, which are important for admission to tertiary institutions. They are also introduced to university life and academic staff at UCT, and attend workshops, lectures, and Saturday School sessions throughout the year.
UCT’s d-school Afrika has been operating since 2016, initially located at the Breakwater Campus at the V&A Waterfront, before moving to its stunning new location on middle campus in late 2022. The school is a leader in design-led thinking on the continent, with a mission to “empower people from all walks of life to use a design thinking mindset, and to enable the creation of human-centred solutions in an ever-changing world”.
This Design Thinking Dash was a great success, said Ettienne Mostert, d-school Afrika business and partnership development manager.
“At the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika, we firmly believe in the transformative power of design thinking to empower young people. Our mission is to equip them with the essential skills and mindset necessary to think creatively, take ownership of challenges, and drive real impact. Design thinking serves as a catalyst, unlocking their potential by fostering empathy, collaboration, and an iterative problem-solving approach.”
Mostert said that d-school Afrika’s collaboration with the 100UP programme has been both meaningful and impactful. “It’s given us an opportunity to engage with numerous brilliant young individuals who are eager to make a difference. Through this intervention, we hope to inspire learners to trust their creative instincts and embrace their capacity for innovation in all their future endeavours.”
Paying it forward
Among the facilitators were several 100UP+ students (current UCT students who had previously been part of the 100UP programme) who want to “pay it forward”. The 100UP+ students served as mentors to the matric learners currently taking part in the programme.
Reflecting on the session, facilitator Thulisa Bongo, who is studying towards a master’s degree in forensic genetics, said, “I absolutely loved the design-thinking challenge that they had for the 100UP Grade 12 learners, because they got to express the challenges they are currently facing, and they were able to come up with solutions themselves to help navigate those challenges.”
The session especially helped learners think about and understand their learning goals, Bongo said. “You could see their excitement about the ideas they were coming up with, and essentially wanting to make them into a reality.” They also learnt the power of teamwork and were able to develop skills to tackle challenges creatively, she added.
“You could see their excitement about the ideas they were coming up with.”
“There was a part in the session where they had to share their ideas in their respective groups. At first, most of them were nervous and scared, but you could see that midway through the session they were happily sharing their ideas.
“Being able to network, share your ideas without fear, and work in a team is definitely going to help them on their journey after high school, be it in higher education institutions or the workplace.”
Facilitator Azola Khoboyi is a final-year student in the Department of Civil Engineering.
“The existing transition from high school to varsity is a very challenging process,” said Khoboyi. “This is a great initiative because it teaches learners structured approaches to problem-solving.”
Giving back as a student mentor is important, Khoboyi added. “It allows me to make a positive impact on the lives of others, as they can benefit from my guidance, support, and motivation.”
The UCT Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika Design Dash for the 100UP learners was sponsored by Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages.
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