Lesson 1: Analysis of Design


To kick off a unit devoted to group problem solving and developing products for other users, students begin by investigating the design of various teapots. Students analyze each teapot, attempting to identify how specific user needs might have informed its design. By considering these design choices, and attempting to match each teapot with a potential user, students can begin to see how taking a user-centered approach to designing products (both physical and digital) can make those products more useful and usable. To conclude the activity, students are asked to propose some changes to one of the teapots that would make it more useful or usable.


Students will enter this unit with an understanding of the problem solving process from prior units.

The problem solving process used throughout CS Discoveries is:

  • Define
  • Prepare
  • Try
  • Reflect

In this lesson, students look at real world objects to understand how the problem solving process can be applied to help others. Starting with this lesson, we will be reframing this process to include a layer of empathy, encouraging students to consider how others will experience and use the things they create.

We are purposefully starting out by looking at non-technical objects to encourage students to think more broadly about what it means to consider the end user of a product before honing in on how it specifically applies to software design

Assessment Opportunities

  1. Critically evaluate an object for how well its design meets a given set of needs

    In the discussion at the end of the activity, ensure that students are connecting specifics of the user descriptions to the features of the teapots that they have chosen for those respective users.

  2. Identify empathy for the user as an important component of the design process

    In the discussion at the end of the activity, check that students are referencing the user descriptions for their explanations, rather than general advantages and disadvantages of each teapot.


Lesson Modifications

Warm Up (5 min)

Activity (35 min)

Wrap Up (5 min)

Extension Activities

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Students will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate an object for how well its design meets a given set of needs
  • Identify empathy for the user as an important component of the design process


  • Print a copy of the activity guide for each student (or prepare to distribute the document digitally).


Heads Up! Please make a copy of any documents you plan to share with students.

For the Teachers

For the Students


  • Critique - To critically evaluate in a detailed and constructive manner.
  • Empathy - In design, paying attention to a user's feelings and needs when designing a product.
  • User - Someone who uses an object, including software and hardware.

Teaching Guide

Lesson Modifications

Attention, teachers! If you are teaching virtually or in a socially-distanced classroom, please read the full lesson plan below, then click here to access the modifications.

Warm Up (5 min)


Display: Put up the Problem Solving Process with Empathy - Image to introduce students to the User-Centered Design Process as an extension of the Problem Solving Process they used in the first three units. The primary difference to note is that we've added Empathize to the background of the entire process.

Prompt: What does it mean to empathize? How might the concept of empathizing in a problem solving process be different from in other places you've heard of empathy?

Discussion Goal

Goal: This discussion can be fairly free-flowing and open ended. While you want to eventually arrive at a shared understanding of what it means to empathize, students will be working on their understanding of the word over the entire unit. There's no need to settle on a single fixed definition, so treat this discussion as an introduction to a theme of the unit.

Discuss: Students should discuss their ideas as a class. Eventually direct conversation towards the fact that to empathize with other people means to consider their wants, needs, or concerns.


This unit we are going to start thinking a lot more about designing for other people. This is still largely a problem solving process, but we will now need to think a lot more closely about the needs of our users. In other words, empathy will be an important theme as we learn more about design.

Activity (35 min)

Teaching Tip

Reducing Printed Materials

Unit 4 contains a lot of printed materials. Classrooms with limited ability to print can choose one of the following options instead.

Option 1: Online Activity Guides

All of our activity guides are available in editable Google Doc and Microsoft Doc formats. Classrooms using Google or Microsoft products can distribute digital copies to students, who can complete most of the activity guides entirely online.

Option 2: Student Journals

Many of the activity guides can be converted into journal activities. Teachers can project the instructions and prompts or allow students to view them online, then complete the activity itself in a journal.

Look for teaching tips on relevant lessons to indicate when you may avoid printing by using one of these options.

Who Was this Designed For?

Distribute: Hand out copies of the activity guide or have students take out their journals.

Determining the User

The first part of this activity asks students to match different teapots with the most likely user. Have students work through this activity in pairs, encouraging discussion about why exactly they are choosing to make each connection. This is a great place to discuss the design of teapots and the needs of users.

While some of the users have an obvious connection to a specific teapot, arguments could be made for any number of connections. There are no right or wrong answers here - the discussion and ability to reasonably back up a decision are what matter.

Critiquing Design


We're now going to learn how to critique a design. A critique is a careful criticism in which you give your opinion about the good and bad parts of something, such as a piece of writing or work of art. It's important that we see critiques as feedback towards improvement, as opposed to a final judgement. In this case we're going to critique objects in order to idenfity for whom they may have been designed.

Teaching Tip

The first step towards creating a design that can be effectively used by many people is to understand that not everyone thinks the same, or looks at an object or design in the same way. This is the first exercise in the students thinking outside of themselves and at how others may perceive items in the world

This second activity gives students an opportunity to specifically critique four of the teapots. The structure of this page reflects the general approach we will be using for critique, using the three statements:

  • I Like... (a strength)
  • I Wish... (a weakness)
  • What if... (a suggestion)

You may want to ask students to apply this critique process to more of the teapots, or objects around the room, to help reinforce the process.

Discussing Design Choices

Assessment Opportunity

As students discuss their reasoning for their choices, check to ensure that they are identifying the particular user's needs and characteristics, rather than general reasons to prefer a certain teapot. You may want to challenge students to distinguish their own needs and preferences from those of the described users.

Discuss: Students should talk about their answers on the worksheet either in their small groups or as a class. Questions could include:

  • Which teapots did you choose for "Someone who needs to serve tea at dinner party?" Why did you choose those particular teapots?
  • Which teapots did you choose for "Someone who likes metallic objects?" Why did you choose those particular teapots?
  • Which users were the easiest to find matches for?
  • Which users were the hardest to find matches for?
  • For page 2, which teapot was your favorite? Why?

Wrap Up (5 min)

Improving on Designs

Journal: Pick one or two of the objects you analyzed today (in either activity):

  • What could you change to make this object more usable for you? Feel free to use words, pictures, or a combination of both.

Extension Activities

Exploring Everyday Things

Bring in a variety of odd or uncommon objects (old tools, obscure kitchen utensils, and antique gadgets work well for this activity). Distribute the objects around the room and organize students into groups of 3-4. Allow the groups to circulate around the room and examine the objects. For each object, groups will discuss what they believe the object does and what kind of person might use it.

When the class has had a chance to explore all of the objects, reconvene as a group and discuss:

  • What teams thought each object was
  • What each object actually does
  • What features of each object gave clues to what it did, or what kind of person might use it.

Poorly Designed Products

Ask students to find things they use in everyday life that they feel could benefit from a design overhaul. As a class discuss what is ineffective about the existing design and how it could be improved.

Standards Alignment

View full course alignment

CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards (2017)

CS - Computing Systems
  • 2-CS-01 - Recommend improvements to the design of computing devices, based on an analysis of how users interact with the devices.