Benchmarking Success: Teens Succeed as Design Thinkers

In a quiet corner of First Hill’s popular Frye Art Museum sits a beautiful bench that is not just for sitting, it has a story and is the focal point of a unique exhibit. The bench represents the brain child and months of work by an ambitious group of teenagers who set out to improve their design and digital literacy skills. The teens, ten high school students from Seattle’s Central District, signed up for a spring session in Yesler Community Center’s technology learning lab that ended with an exhibit opening at the Frye with their work as the main art piece.

In the Bench Mark exhibit that surrounds the bench there are rudimentary drawings of benches, each with a unique concept. There are also some doll-size mock-ups created from the drawings that show the evolution of the project and the thinking process of the teens. Some drawings incorporated modern touches including cell phone chargers and umbrella holsters. The official assignment was to research, design, and commission the making of a bench. The project gave them an opportunity to work with teaching artists and architects and take field trips to look at design in our urban environment.

“We visited benches and looked at architecture at the University of Washington, in Downtown Seattle, and at several parks in Seattle to get some ideas on design,” said Asfaha Lemlem who runs the program at Yesler Community Center.

Then the teens returned to the computer lab to learn more about the architecture of a bench and find inspiration for their design.

Tam Nguyen, a junior at Seattle Central College’s running start high school program, says the project opened his mind to what technology can be used for.

“The funnest part was putting together the 3D models of the benches,” said Nguyen. “I learned about the dimensions and design part of architecture.”

Practicality won out in the end with the final piece featuring a modern look referred to in the exhibit as urban simplicity. Nguyen offered some advice for anyone wanting to learn the technology behind design.

“Go crazy with ideas and push yourself when you brainstorm,” Nguyen said.

Many of the students have taken multiple digital skill-building workshops at the Yesler tech education lab, which has developed strong education and community engagement partnerships with the Frye, Seattle University, and others. Yesler is one of five “Rec Tech” digital equity and opportunity centers operated by the Associated Recreation Council in Seattle Parks and Recreation facilities. Seattle IT has been a major funder of the programs through our Community Technology Program digital equity grants. The mission of Rec Tech is to facilitate effective technology-driven programs providing education, recreation, and community development services for children, families, and neighborhoods.

Participants in this program are happy with their final project and proud of their new skills and contribution to the community. When the bench leaves the exhibit, it will be installed outdoors near the Yesler Community Center.

Learn more about the Bench Mark project or about the Associated Recreation Council’s RecTech program.