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Build to Learn: Effective Strategies to Train Tomorrow’s Designers

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

NSF Grantees' Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.273.1 - 25.273.14



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Paper Authors


Vimal Kumar Viswanathan Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

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Vimal Viswanathan is a Ph.D. student in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Texas A&M University. He completed his bachelor's of technology in mechanical engineering from the National Institute of Technology, Calicut, India, and master's of science in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University. He is expected to complete his Ph.D. in Aug. 2012. He has published three journal papers and more than 10 conference papers. His primary research interest is the effect of physical representations in engineering idea generation process.

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Julie S. Linsey Texas A&M University

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Build to Learn: Effective Strategies to Train Tomorrow’s DesignersDesigners use various representations to externalize their ideas, physical models being animportant one. Engineering students need physical models are widely used by designers and theiruse is promoted as an effective design tool by industry and government agencies. However, verylittle is known about the cognitive effects of physical models in the design process. The availableguidelines are conflicting. Some researchers argue for the frequent implementation of physicalmodels; others observe that the use of physical models fixates designers. In light of theseconflicts, this research project focuses on understanding the cognitive effects of physical modelsand developing guidelines for aiding designers in their implementation. We adopt a combinationof controlled lab studies and qualitative studies to achieve this goal. The results from ourcontrolled studies show that physical models supplement designers’ erroneous mental modelsand help them to come up with more ideas satisfying the problem requirements. However, thisstudy failed to show presence of design fixation. This difference on results from priorobservational studies leads us to the theory of Sunk Cost Effect in design problem solving withphysical models, which is investigated in more detail with another controlled study. According toSunk Cost Effect, as designers spend more time building physical models of their initial ideas,they tend to fixate to the variations of those. Our second controlled study confirms this theory.To infer these results in real-life situations, the data from a few industry-sponsored graduateprojects and case studies of development of award-winning innovative products are analyzedqualitatively. The results from these qualitative studies show that in real-life design problemsolving, building prototypes help designers to identify the problems in their ideas and rectifythem. At the same time, building also tends to fixate designers to the variations of their initialideas, which is in agreement with the prior observational studies. These results suggest thatengineers need to be trained to build prototypes of their ideas during idea generation. This canhelp them in identifying the problems in their idea early on and rectify them. At the same time,due to Sunk Cost Effect, they need to spend minimum time in building. Hence they need to useeasily modifiable materials for prototyping purpose. Our engineering curricula need to beupdated to include this practice and learn method, so that we can train our future designerseffectively. 

Viswanathan, V. K., & Linsey, J. S. (2012, June), Build to Learn: Effective Strategies to Train Tomorrow’s Designers Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21031

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