Warren High School Public Bench

Warren High School’s Advanced Placement art class undertook a six-month long “design-thinking” project that led students to create two public artworks through a collaborative, problem-solving process now used in industries including health care, software design, industrial design, and even public policy.

The “Creating with Confidence: Design Thinking for Public Art” project is supported in part by an LRNG Innovation Challenge grant. The grants stem from a partnership between the National Writing Project and John Legend’s Show Me Campaign to help educators extend time and space for connected learning. The connected learning theory posits that learning happens on a continuum—in school, as well as at home, work, and among friends—and is driven by students’ own interests and life experiences.

Art teacher LaTonya Mason said the project also taught students to think deeply and consider multiple solutions to a problem.  Mrs. Mason noted, “The design process is more advanced, more thought-provoking than anything they’ve ever done.”

The design-thinking project made students realize that the usual quick pace of the class might be stifling innovation and that slowing down, “asking them questions and getting them to dive deeper is going to help them creatively.”

Artist Brent Aldrich and design studio w/purpose helped students with prototypes


Warren High School serves an economically and racially diverse population from the city’s East Side. Almost 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, more than half are African American, a quarter are white, and the rest Hispanic, Asian, or multiracial. Although some of the 28 juniors and seniors enrolled in AP art are top students, others are struggling at home or in school and “really rely on the arts as their strength to get them through,” said Cassandra Thomas of Arts for Learning in Indianapolis, which spearheaded the project at Warren.

The project began late last fall with a series workshops at the Herron School of Art and Design led by associate professor and director of the graduate program in Design Thinking and Design Leadership Youngbok Hong. In an airy studio, she led students through the early steps in the design-thinking process, which requires innovators to define, ideate, prototype, and test.

In an early activity, Hong asked students to take photographs of their daily routine at home and school. Then in small groups, they examined their photos and answered the question, “What’s missing? What experiences would make your life better?”

Sharing experiences is a way to build the kind of trust needed to take creative risks, Hong explained. Empathizing with the problems of others is also the first step for designers in creating innovative products and services, she noted. “Not knowing what the problem is, how can you create a solution?”

Guided by a local artist, one class continued with time as their theme while the other tackled communication. “We did a lot of sketching and sharing sketches and editing each other’s work,” recalled senior JoDee Lynch, who intends to pursue interior design.

w/purpose graduate students Ariel Bunger & Naomi Kurpier talk design w/ students


The communication group, meanwhile, designed a vibrantly hued public bench to encourage strangers to interact and exchange. Students created two prototypes of the bench, shaped like an open circle.

Students worked with Indiana Artist Brent Aldrich on early models and sketches. W/purpose was commissioned by Aldrich and Arts for Learning to both optimize the students’ vision and value engineer their models into an actual physical product. Using 3-D modeling and various resin prototypes w/purpose worked to ensure that the Warren students public bench was well designed, organized, powder-coated, and welded.

In late April 2016 at the school’s annual art fair, the steel bench was displayed along with a model of the final design. Over 200 students, teachers, and parents attended the benches debut at the school library.