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.
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.
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.
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.”