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Conceptions Of The Engineering Design Process: An Expert Study Of Advanced Practicing Professionals

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Engineering Education Research and Assessment I

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.337.1 - 10.337.27



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Paper Authors

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Susan Mosborg

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Robin Adams

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Rebecca Kim

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Monica Cardella

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Cynthia Atman

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Jennifer Turns

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Conceptions of the Engineering Design Process: An Expert Study of Advanced Practicing Professionals

Susan Mosborg, Robin Adams, Rebecca Kim, Cynthia J. Atman, Jennifer Turns, and Monica Cardella Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching, University of Washington

Abstract. Published models of the engineering design process are widely available and often illustrated for students with a block diagram showing design as sequential and iterative. Here we examine experts’ conceptions of the design process in relation to a model synthesized from several introductory engineering textbooks. How do experts’ conceptions compare? What might they see as alternative accounts? We present preliminary results from an investigation of practicing engineers (n=19) who were asked to think aloud while reading a description of this “textbook” model, as well as draw their idea of the engineering design process and choose descriptors of design. Only 3 participants were found to have a view in major disagreement with the model, yet 7 drew alternative types of diagrams, and the experts as a whole emphasized problem scoping and communication. We focus especially on the case of one engineer who commented extensively on communication, articulating a view of engineering design as open, multi-participant, and multidisciplinary, with implications for how to conceptualize expertise in engineering problem solving.

Engineering textbooks have traditionally introduced students to engineering design by way of a block diagram. Although these diagrams vary slightly from one textbook to the next, the iconic diagram encloses each stage of the process in a block and depicts flow through the stages using arrows, typically double-ended to signify iteration between phases. Figure 1 is one example of the linear depiction of the engineering design process popularized in textbooks over the last several decades (Dixon,1 as cited in Bucciarelli,2 p.93). The number of stages in these diagrams has ranged from a few to several dozen (see, for example, Woodson3), depending on the detail and complexity with which the design process is rendered. In a content analysis of seven introductory engineering design textbooks conducted in 1995, Atman and her colleagues4 synthesized the texts’ depictions into a six-step model: 1. Problem Definition, 2. Information Gathering, 3. Generation of Alternative Solutions, 4. Analysis/Evaluation, 5. Selection, and 6. Implementation/Communication.

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Mosborg, S., & Adams, R., & Kim, R., & Cardella, M., & Atman, C., & Turns, J. (2005, June), Conceptions Of The Engineering Design Process: An Expert Study Of Advanced Practicing Professionals Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14999

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