Researchers analyze lessons from reality design shows: What can we learn about design from Project Runway?

What can we learn about design from Project Runway?
Funded by Harvard SEAS
2012, 2013

I was trying to find better ways to communicate to students why it is important to improve their interpersonal skills during creative work. I had tried lectures, case studies, and various individual and team feedback approaches. The problem is that teams that are doing very well enjoy talking about how well they are doing. Teams that are not getting along struggle to discuss their issues, and to learn from them. And yet, those are the teams with the most to learn. I needed a way for them to identify with other people experiencing their same struggles.

One day, I was watching a team-based episode of Project Runway on TV and it dawned on me that the episode was playing out the very scenarios that researchers (including me) had identified as success and failure patterns in collaborative creative work. I spent several days cutting excerpts of the show and reconstructing the evolution of different types of team dynamics.

Students loved it. It was accessible in terms of content and because it added a game element to the lesson. Based on the dynamics we’ve seen so far, we discussed and guessed who won the challenge before I revealed the results.