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Aesthetics of Design: A Case Study of a Course

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Best of DEED

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.165.1 - 26.165.17



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Paper Authors


Katherine Goodman University of Colorado, Boulder Orcid 16x16

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Katherine Goodman is currently a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder in the ATLAS Institute, working toward a Ph.D. in Technology, Media, and Society. Her research is in engineering education, with a focus on fluids and design courses. She holds a B.S. in mathematics and a masters of professional writing. She has previously worked as a technical writer and project coordinator, and as an instructor in composition at the University of Southern California and the Community College of Aurora.

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Hunter Porterfield Ewen University of Colorado, Boulder

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Hunter Ewen is a dramatic composer, educator, and multimedia designer. During the day, Dr. Ewen teaches students strategies for digital creativity. At night, he composes, solders, choreographs, and videographs solo and collaborative projects around the world.

His works rail against the faded borders that separate art from science, music from sound, and meaning from meaninglessness. Ewen values frenzy. He buzzes and sneaks and desperately loves. His work is soothing, startling, virtuosic, and absurd. It grooves with dense, layered textures. It lusts for yowls and yips and wails and squeals. For screams that masquerade as art. For clamor and deviance. His compositions swing from chandeliers.

At The University of Colorado, Boulder, Ewen teaches composition, music technology, and design for the colleges of Music and Engineering. Ewen also directs the 64 Bit Composition Competition, serves on faculty of Reel Kids Theater Troupe, and works as the editorial assistant for Music Theory Online.

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Jiffer W Harriman Jr University of Colorado

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Jiffer's has his BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Colorado and a MA in Music, Science and Technology from Stanford. He is currently a PhD student at the ATLAS Institute at the University of Colorado. His work focuses on interactive technologies for music, art and education.

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Jean Hertzberg University of Colorado, Boulder Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Hertzberg is currently Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at CU-Boulder. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in measurement techniques, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, design and computer tools. She has pioneered a spectacular course on the art and physics of flow visualization, and is conducting research on the impact of the course with respect to visual perception and educational outcomes. Her disciplinary research centers around pulsatile, vortex dominated flows with applications in both combustion and bio-fluid dynamics. She is also interested in a variety of flow field measurement techniques. Current projects include electrospray atomization of jet fuel and velocity and vorticity in human cardiac ventricles and large vessels.

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Aesthetics of Design: a Case StudyOverviewIn a technical elective offered in a Mechanical Engineering department, students designed andbuilt projects while developing a design aesthetic. Three instructors offered insights frommultiple disciplines, including those outside mechanical engineering, such as electricalengineering, computer science, photography, and music. Students were placed in resource teams.In these teams, each student acted as a consultant on his teammates’ projects, and acted as teamlead for his own project. Here we describe the novel course design, offer instructors’ insights, aswell as results from student surveys (n=20) and student interviews (n=4) both pre-and post-course. Results suggest a pent-up demand among students for an outlet to design and createphysical objects. Also, student data highlights the gap between learning practices andprofessional practices in engineering. We suggest revisions to our pedagogical structure andbroader implications for our teaching methods.MotivationIn many engineering design courses, multiple constraints restrict students’ inspiration, and theaesthetic sense is de-emphasized or ignored completely. We wanted to emphasize aesthetic senseas a guiding principle in design. As a result, course material focused on different notions ofaesthetics to help students broaden their vision, and the instructors imposed only one constrainton the project: that the object be dynamic. (Students had logistical constraints such as cost andavailability of tools.)Course StructureThe course was offered during a compressed, three-week summer session that met Monday–Friday for 3.5 hours a day. Each week ended with a design review: Week 1: preliminary designreview; Week 2: critical design review; Week 3: the final design review. The end of the thirdweek featured public presentation of the projects. A short paper accompanied the final project,describing their design process, motivations, and sense of aesthetic.NoveltyThe instructors encouraged students to reflect upon their design choices. To make these choicesvisible, students wrote daily blog posts and participated in classroom activities. One such activitywas an empathetic design thinking workshop, where each student articulated what she wanted todesign to another student, who then had to outline a design for the first student. The final paperassignment asked students to not only detail traditional metrics, such as construction, costs, andfunctionality, but also address if higher aesthetic goals were met.OutcomesWhen enabled to work on personally meaningful projects, many students took risks, attemptingprojects outside their existing skillset. The course’s emphasis on design and reflection upondesign decisions prompted students to focus their energy on the creative side of engineering.While one initial goal of the course was to improve students’ perception of design, what wefound was that these engineering students already perceive design in the world around them.What was lacking was an opportunity to express their own aesthetic of design.

Goodman, K., & Ewen, H. P., & Harriman, J. W., & Hertzberg, J. (2015, June), Aesthetics of Design: A Case Study of a Course Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23504

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