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Design Is Design Is Design (Or Is It?): What We Say Vs. What We Do In Engineering Design Education

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Poster Session

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.405.1 - 11.405.16



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Paper Authors


W. Lawrence Neeley Stanford University

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Lawrence Neeley is a PhD Candidate at the Center for Design Research in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stanford University. His research lies at the intersection between design research, design practice and design education. Building upon experiences in industry and academia, he seeks to better understand this thing we call design with the intention of producing both innovative designs and adaptive designers. Mr. Neeley received a Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where he was a Meyerhoff Scholar. He also holds a Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design-related classes at Stanford University, Dr. Sheppard is co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to form the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), along with faculty at the University of Washington, Colorado School of Mines, and Howard University. Dr. Sheppard was named a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1999, and in 2004 she was awarded the ASEE Chester F. Carlson Award in recognition of distinguished accomplishments in engineering education.

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Larry Leifer Stanford University

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Larry J. Leifer has been a member of the Stanford School of Engineering faculty since 1976. Professor Leifer teaches a year long master’s sequence in “Team-Based Product Innovation with Corporate Partners,” the “Design Theory and Methodology Forum,” and a freshman seminar, “Designing the Human Experience: Design Thinking in Theory and Practice.” From 1997-2001 he served as founding director of the Stanford Learning Laboratory, an ongoing university-wide initiative now called the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning. He is presently a principal in the Stanford Design School Initiative.

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

Design is Design is Design (or is it?) What We Say vs. What We Do in Engineering Design Education


At the undergraduate level, design attracts and excites students as they are drawn to the creative possibilities of the field of engineering. For the professional engineer, compelled to synthesize novel and effective solutions to difficult problems while operating at the limits of existing theoretical and practical knowledge, design is the duel source of great challenge and prime satisfaction. Design is one of the most fundamental, identifiable and enjoyable aspects of engineering practice, whether in industry or the academy. Nevertheless, while the importance of design is widely acknowledged, there is discord associated with efforts to define it.1 The challenge is not that we lack a definition of design but that we have them in abundance. While engineering design research and engineering design practice benefit from the multiple perspectives and methods afforded by numerous definitions, the benefit to engineering design education is dubious. Indeed, the efficacy of engineering design education may be diminished by the lack of a common definition. Pedagogy and its assessment rely on shared definitions of the common corpus of knowledge that is to be learned. It is our contention that a common definition of design is the necessary precursor to

(1) description and implementation of engineering design instruction in a single class, (2) the development of coherent engineering design experience across a curriculum and (3) the assessment and assurance of a consistent engineering design education experience across a discipline.

The research presented in this paper focuses on mechanical engineering design and is composed of two parts. The first is quantitative, wherein we attempt to understand where and when in the curricula design appears in the undergraduate mechanical engineering curricula of five U.S. universities. The design class is the unit of inspection in this quantitative phase. In the qualitative second phase of the research, we dissect individual classes within each of the curricula with the intention to understand what specific content and activities make them “design classes.” It is from the qualitative analysis that we have extracted a pragmatic and substantive definition of engineering design education. As distinguished from the theoretical, this grounded definition grants insight into the reality of design education as practiced. Through analysis, a descriptive language is developed to depict design, as it exists in the classroom, offering a striking contrast to existing theoretical or conjectural definitions of design. It also provides the opportunity to objectively compare expressed design education goals to actual educational practice.


This work finds its origins in the Preparations for the Professions Program (PPP) initiated in 1999 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.2 This initiative was driven by a desire to understand and describe formal efforts to educate professional practitioners. The first phase of the program focused on three professions—law, the clergy and engineering. The research presented here began within the engineering component.

In the first stage of the PPP engineering study, documents from a national survey and ABET self-studies from 50 engineering schools (over 100 programs) were reviewed. This stage granted

Neeley, W. L., & Sheppard, S., & Leifer, L. (2006, June), Design Is Design Is Design (Or Is It?): What We Say Vs. What We Do In Engineering Design Education Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1288

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015