Undergraduate Conceptions of the Engineering Design Process: Assessing the Impact of a Human-Centered Design Coures

Lora Oehlberg, Alice Agogino
ASEE (2011)


Throughout their education, engineering design students not only learn the design process, but also form and refine their conception of engineering design. Building on the results from a study of practicing engineers’ conceptions of design, we present survey results from engineering students enrolled in Mechanical Engineering 110 (n=51), an upper-division human-centered design course. We compare the students’ initial conceptions of design from before the course to those after the course. In particular, we look at how the course affects their perceived importance of specific design skills, and their level of agreement with a series of statements on the nature of design. We also compare the students’ conceptions of design after the course to those of practicing engineers from a previous study. The upper division engineering students showed a remarkable similarity to the results of the practicing engineers with a few notable exceptions. Our results show that after the class, more engineering students identified synthesis as among the more important skills, and brainstorming as among the less important skills than before the class. Although the upper division engineering students before the course agreed with the practicing engineers in the idea that design is solution-led, this perception changed after taking the human-centered design course which emphasizes the importance of user research in the design process.