What Does it Mean to Design? A Qualitative Investigation of Design Professionals' Experiences

Authors

  • Shanna R. Daly,

    Assistant Research Scientist in Engineering Education, Corresponding author
    1. University of Michigan
      University of Michigan, 210 Gorgooze Family Laboratory, 2609 Draper Road, Ann Arbor, MI, 48104; srdaly@umich.edu.
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  • Robin S. Adams,

    Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education, Corresponding author
    1. Purdue University
      Purdue University, 1233 Armstrong Hall, 701 West Stadium Ave., West Lafayette, IN 47907-2045; rsadams@purdue.edu.
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  • George M. Bodner

    Arthur E. Kelly Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Education and Engineering, Corresponding author
    1. Purdue University
      Where he has been head of the Division of Chemical Education and a member of the faculty of the School of Engineering Education, Purdue University, 560 Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN, 47907; gmbodner@purdue.edu.
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University of Michigan, 210 Gorgooze Family Laboratory, 2609 Draper Road, Ann Arbor, MI, 48104; srdaly@umich.edu.

Purdue University, 1233 Armstrong Hall, 701 West Stadium Ave., West Lafayette, IN 47907-2045; rsadams@purdue.edu.

Where he has been head of the Division of Chemical Education and a member of the faculty of the School of Engineering Education, Purdue University, 560 Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN, 47907; gmbodner@purdue.edu.

Abstract

Background

Design is essential to the engineering profession and plays a crucial role in preparation for future practice. Research investigating variations of how professional designers experience, give meaning to, and approach design can inform the ways we characterize, assess, and facilitate design learning. This may also have significant implications for preparing future engineering professionals to collaborate within and across disciplines.

Purpose (Hypothesis)

The goal of the study was to reveal and investigate critical differences in how designers from within and outside of engineering disciplines understand what it means to design, and how those understandings are evident in their approaches to and progression through design work.

Design/Method

A qualitative research approach called phenomenography was used to investigate critical variations in how individuals experience and understand design. Twenty practicing designers were interviewed regarding their design experiences, how they approach design, and the ways they understand design.

Conclusions

Six qualitatively distinct lenses on how individuals across disciplines experience and come to understand design emerged, comprising a phenomenographic “outcome space.” These include design as (1) evidencebased decision-making, (2) organized translation, (3) personal synthesis, (4) intentional progression, (5) directed creative exploration, and (6) freedom. Theoretical implications include an understanding of how design skills and knowledge come together to form a design approach, while practical implications emphasize structuring variation-based reflection, which can facilitate common ground as a result of recognizing differ “design lenses.”

Ancillary