Reframe Patterns Lesson

Document Type


Publication Date



Thayer School of Engineering


Context, purpose and audience. There are two broad types of assumptions that designers must identify and address: the first type are assumptions they, as designers, have as they begin a project; the second type are assumptions that are ambient in the project context–assumptions that many of the project stakeholders either hold or frequently experience. In both cases, naming the assumption and developing an articulation for how that assumption can be reconsidered can help direct a project toward greater impact.

This lesson is designed to help participants reframe these two types of assumptions. It can be used with design students from high school to continuing (adult) education. It is best delivered towards the end of the initial phase of design research (“Empathize” phase, to use the parlance of Stanford), after students have conducted interviews and other forms of research.

The lesson offers five reframe patterns. These are meant to help students identify particularly powerful articulations of reframed assumptions by providing five different jumping-off points for ideation. The patterns are best introduced and used lightly: as provocations rather than as a formula to rigidly follow.

We illustrate these reframe patterns using examples from disability studies. Thus, this lesson also serves as a “trojan horse” to infuse core design justice concepts.

Structure at a glance. 50-minute version

  1. Lecturette - “What is reframing and what are the reframe patterns?” 10 minutes. A short introduction on reframing and then introducing the 5 patterns using examples from disability studies

  2. Mini-activity - practicing the patterns with college life examples. 10 minutes. A collaborative, think-out-loud discussion applying the patterns to campus life examples

  3. Main activity - developing reframes for the designers’ projects. 20 minutes. Students list assumptions they had, as well as they might have observed, about their project; next, they play with the reframe patterns to see if any particularly poignant reframe articulations emerge. They might finish by polishing one reframing articulation to share.

Debrief discussion - shares and reflections. 10 minutes. As time permits, the class comes back together for a few students to share a reframe articulation and then to reflect on the activity as a class.


Reframe Patterns Lesson © 2022 by Nitya Agarwala, Ava Ori, Anthony Fosu & Rafe Steinhauer is licensed under CC BY 4.0. This lesson was created at Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering in Prof. Rafe Steinhauer’s Studio for Emergent Education Design. It was funded by the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) and the Design Initiative at Dartmouth (DIAD). All questions can be directed to: rafe.h.steinhauer@dartmouth.edu