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Considering People: An Exploratory Investigation of Engineering Student Ideation

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Design Mental Frameworks

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Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Laura R. Murphy University of Michigan

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Laura is a PhD pre-candidate in Design Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her work explores ways to make design processes more empathetic and inclusive so that design outcomes across industries are more inclusive. Her background is in disability design, manufacturing and supply chain, and front-end design research.

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Shanna R. Daly University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Shanna Daly is an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan. She has a B.E. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton (2003) and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University (2008). Her research focuses on strategies for design innovations through divergent and convergent thinking as well as through deep needs and community assessments using design ethnography, and translating those strategies to design tools and education. She teaches design and entrepreneurship courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, focusing on front-end design processes.

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Colleen M. Seifert University of Michigan

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Colleen M. Seifert is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan. She received her Ph.D. in Cognitive Science and psychology at Yale University. She was an ASEE postdoctoral fellow at the University of California – San Diego and the Navy Personnel Research Development Center. Her research interests center on learning, memory, and creativity.

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Eytan Adar University of Michigan

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Eytan Adar is an Associate Professor in the School of Information and in Computer Science & Engineering. His research is at the intersection of human computer interaction (HCI), visualization, and large-scale data mining of human behavior. Professor Adar received his PhD in Computer Science from the University of Washington. He worked at Xerox PARC and HP Labs as well as helping launch a startup on personalized search.

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Sophia Brueckner University of Michigan

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Sophia Brueckner is a futurist artist/designer/engineer. Inseparable from computers since the age of two, she believes she is a cyborg. As an engineer at Google, she designed and built products used by millions. At RISD and the MIT Media Lab, she researched the simultaneously empowering and controlling nature of technology with a focus on haptics and social interfaces. Her work has been featured internationally by Artforum, SIGGRAPH, The Atlantic, Wired, the Peabody Essex Museum, Portugal’s National Museum of Contemporary Art, and more. Brueckner is the founder and creative director of Tomorrownaut, a creative studio focusing on speculative futures and sci-fi-inspired prototypes. She is currently an artist-in-residence at Nokia Bell Labs and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan teaching Sci-Fi Prototyping, a course combining sci-fi, prototyping, and ethics. Her ongoing objective is to combine her background in art, design, and engineering to inspire a more positive future.

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The freehand sketch has traditionally been seen as the primary conceptual tool in the early stages of a design process. Sketching is important because it allows the expression of imaginative ideas, iterations through trial and error, and the playful “what if?” consideration of alternative designs. Further, studies show design thinking is heavily dependent upon alternative visual representations of structures for physical objects, and that the interpretation and use of an object in design depends heavily on this activity (Brereton & McGarry, 2000; Chamorro-Koc, Popovic, & Emmison, 2009). For human centered design, where people are engaging in direct interaction with physical objects, it may be essential to visually represent human users.

However, engineering students have been shown to resist sketching because, for one reason, they feel like they do not have strong sketching skills. While studies have shown that it is the frequency and activity of sketching that supports successful design outcomes, rather than the quality (Yang, 2009), studies have not explored the extent to which, if engineers engage in sketching at all, these sketches include people during conceptual design. How, if at all, are people represented in engineering student concepts, and how does that representation reveal, and influence, students’ envisioning of potential concepts?

In the study reported in this work in progress, we engaged engineering students in a task to generate ideas to a posed problem. We prompted them to sketch ideas as they talked aloud. After sketching whatever they felt appropriate, we asked them to generate additional ideas, but this time in their sketching to include a person, a part of a person, or people within their sketches. After this second ideation session, we asked student to compare and reflect on their concepts guided by our questions about the appropriateness of solutions for a variety of stakeholders and contexts. Findings include a series of case examples of engineering students’ sketches and a comparison across ideas generated with and without the prompt to include people within those sketches.


Brereton, M., & McGarry, B. (2000, April). An observational study of how objects support engineering design thinking and communication: implications for the design of tangible media. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 217-224). ACM.

Chamorro-Koc, M., Popovic, V., & Emmison, M. (2009). Human experience and product usability: Principles to assist the design of user–product interactions. Applied ergonomics, 40(4), 648-656.

Yang, M. C. (2009). Observations on concept generation and sketching in engineering design. Research in Engineering Design, 20(1), 1-11.

Murphy, L. R., & Daly, S. R., & Seifert, C. M., & Adar, E., & Brueckner, S. (2020, June), Considering People: An Exploratory Investigation of Engineering Student Ideation Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34326

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