DS 95: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2019), University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. 12th -13th September 2019

Year: 2019
Editor: Bohemia, Erik; Kovacevic, Ahmed; Buck, Lyndon; Brisco, Ross; Evans, Dorothy; Grierson, Hilary; Ion, William; Whitfield, Robert Ian
Author: Rydenfält, Christofer; Wallergård, Mattias; Persson, Johanna
Series: E&PDE
Institution: Lund University, Sweden
Section: Cultural 2
DOI number:
ISBN: 978-1-912254-05-7


Design requires thoughtful application of methods to broaden ones understanding of the task and to generate alternative solutions in the form of possible futures in relation to the task. These kind of activities implies learning. In an interaction design course for undergraduate engineering students, we noticed that students gave little effort to the usage of the design methodologies taught, and neither did the choice of methods always appear thoughtful.

To tackle these issues, we redesigned the course applying a strategy based on the sociocultural and experiential theories of learning and Martons variation theory. A guiding hypothesis was that engineering students are essentially rational. To become an engineer is to become a rational problem solver. However, the problems engineering undergraduate students are facing are for the most part well-structured and they have little resemble with the ill-structured problems they face when forced to design for real users in real contexts. Thus, engineering students, at least early in their education are facing problems where optimization is not only a working problem solving strategy, but also the best strategy. When facing real problems in a design context, they must instead 1) apply a satisficing approach to problem solving, and 2) learn how to question the boundaries of their own rationality in relation to the task. Thus, we aimed, not to steer the students away from rationality, but rather to give them means to develop the foundation for their rationality in such way that a design thinking approach appeared rational.

As all the students were assigned the same course project, the first step in the redesign was to supervise several groups in parallel during longer sessions instead of shorter sessions of single group supervision. This gave the students opportunity to share the other groups’ perspectives on their projects including their problem interpretations and their methodology for user studies and idea generation. Secondly, we introduced peer review of other students work. This meant that the students experienced more ways of seeing and approaching the task, which should give them a more complete picture of the problem and thus challenge the boundaries of their rationality. Third, we increased the number of design methodology workshops, and fourth, we added workshop-like exercises to the supervision sessions. The latter implied that the students not only got more opportunities for experiential learning before they applied their knowledge to their own course projects, but also that their teachers got more opportunities to observe their learning and support them on their own individual level.

This highlights a crucial issue when teaching design to engineers, to make design thinking appear rational to the students. In essence, this implies to teach them how to learn about ill-defined problems and possible futures in relation to those problems, rather than to learn specific methodologies. However, in order to learn how to learn, the knowledge of different design methodologies can play an important part as they provide examples that could help the students to challenge their own rationality, i.e. break their own preconceptions regarding the design task.

Keywords: Engineering design education, Interaction design, Learning, Bounded rationality


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