Avast Ye Landlubbers! T'was Pirating By Design

One of several pirate maps drawn as part of the charette, which asked students to create a treasure hunt on campus.

September 19 was “International Talk Like a Pirate Day.”  

While that might not have caused major celebrations in most places, the Department of Design recognized it as an opportunity to host a creative and fun learning experience for first-year students in Design 100. 

Officially, it was called the “Fundamentals of Design Combined Charette” and it pulled students from three different classes together. Though not a pirate word (there were plenty in the air), it was likely the first time most students had heard the term “charette,” which is a problem-solving exercise, this charrette worked in teams using tools like maps and clues to overcome obstacles. 

Radford professors Farrell Doss, Laura Kimball and Margaret Carneal organized the challenge that asked students to use design principles effectively in a little over a week.  Over the course of three class periods, students worked as teams to plan, create, then ultimately hunt for another team's hidden treasure on campus.  

Kimball said that in addition to a fun and engaging assignment, the charette worked as an important learning tool. 


“In expressing ideas for a user to interpret and understand the purpose and intent,” Kimball said, “the information given must be clear, direct, and prove to be an effective means of communication.” 

“The Pirate Challenge creatively used visual and written skills to create a plan and mapping system for treasure hunters to perform activity-stop tasks and ultimately find a hidden object.” 

All of this was done in a relatively short time frame while balancing other classes and responsibilities.  

Beyond the bandanas, blouses and corsets, there is real value for students getting their first taste of design work. The assignment develops teamwork, communication, planning, and written and visual design skills they will need through college and into the workforce. 

“In Design we try to make learning fun and interactive.” Dr. Holly Cline, Chair of the Department of Design, explained. ”The Talk Like a Pirate Day event was no exception.” 

“Students worked collaboratively in teams to design a tour of campus in a creative and unique way, incorporating activities in order to win their next clue and ultimately find their treasure.” 


Creativity could be seen in the maps and the clues. For example, the students took campus landmarks and reimagined them with pirate names like Muse Mountain, Towers of Red, The Fountain of Youth, Cove-of-Ington. 

At the event, the students were challenged yet again with a passcode puzzle built around a central message: the design is in the details.

"Paying attention to the details matters," said Kimball, "whether in an event, a project, product, or even a homework assignment."

The students were also treated with seafaring themed foods, and a costume contest. The prizes? Skull rings and boxes of Cap’t Crunch.

In addition to being both fun and challenging, the charette and "Talk Like a Pirate" event serves an important function. It helps break down barriers for new students, bonds them with their peers and sets a tone for successful group work.

Those outcomes can make a big difference over the course of an education, especially as the assignments get tougher and the possible rewards for success are greater.




Oct 2, 2023
Sean Kotz