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By Measure: Creativity in Design

Brad Hokanson

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Creativity and its progeny, innovation, are widely viewed as economic panaceas for countries, companies and organizations. Now post-industrial and post-information age, the knowledge worker is being empowered to invent and change, collaborate and create. We know that generating new ideas is a critical skill in any field. Our educational system, however, has highly developed abilities to de-skill; facts yes, creativity never.
     Creativity is a dangerous thing: it's messy; it's an irritation; it's mostly uncontrollable; and it doesn't abide by the rules. When properly done, creativity is coloring far outside the lines; it's coloring off the paper, off the charts, and all over the place. Within education, creativity is seldom taught or cherished. Ironically, even design education is not always a source for the development of creativity. We expect, wrongly, that designers become more creative as they progress in their learning.
     Creativity is a skill that can be taught: a well-documented body of research supports the idea that creativity can developed in learners in a wide range of disciplines, ages and backgrounds. Central to this study is the idea that creativity should be included specifically in design curricula, and not assumed to develop as part of a studio culture. It is a skill that can be employed on a small or large project, but one which must specifically be nurtured, developed, and practiced through active learning and repeated practice.
     This writing presents empirical research using the written Torrance Test of Creative Thinking and its application within a design curriculum. Design students receiving specific training in creativity showed significant increases on all three metrics; a parallel group of students did not. Similarly, design students in their final year of study were not significantly more creative than first year students. Context, methods, results, and observations applicable to design education will be presented.
     This research indicates that creativity can be developed in learners and that design students, in a regular curriculum, do not exhibit spontaneous creative development. The study is valuable in its support for teaching creativity as a topic of learning, even in a curriculum which highly values creativity.

Author Bio(s)

Brad Hokanson is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, where received his Ph.D. in Instructional Systems Technology. He helped initiate a new MFA program in Interactive Design and teaches primarily in the field of computer graphics and graphic design. His research focuses on the use of technology to aid cognition and he has taught courses in creative problem solving for seven years. He is also a registered architect in the State of Minnesota but is no longer in active practice.