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Introducing A "Ways Of Thinking" Framework For Student Engineers Learning To Do Design

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Design Cognition

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.796.1 - 14.796.12



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Paper Authors


Micah Lande Stanford University

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Micah Lande is a Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Engineering and Design at the Center for Design Research at Stanford University. He is researching how engineers learn and apply a design process to their work. Micah is a co-Editor-in-Chief of Ambidextrous, Stanford University's Journal in Design. His academic interests include design and engineering education, design thinking and foresight thinking, creativity and innovation, and interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity in higher education. Micah is a 2009 ASEE-ERM Apprentice Faculty Grant recipient. He has a B.S in Engineering from Stanford's Product Design program and has a M.A. in Education from the Stanford School of Education program in Learning, Design and Technology.

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Larry Leifer Stanford University

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

Introducing a “Ways of Thinking” Framework for Student Engineers Learning to Do Design


Designers and Engineers view things differently. A Ways of Thinking framework relating Future Thinking, Design Thinking, Engineering Thinking and Production Thinking is introduced and explained using design documentation generated by recent student design projects from the ME310 graduate engineering design product-based-learning course sequence at Stanford University. Example student team project work and their design steps through their process is compared to a general model for the design process, a pedagogical learning model for the ME310 course and the Ways of Thinking framework.


In observing students in ME310 Design Project Experience with Corporate Partners,1,2 a year- long mechanical engineering design product-based-learning course at Stanford University, a curious transformation how graduate mechanical engineering students begin the class as engineers and end up thinking about themselves as designers. Almost all students come into their first year of the Master’s program in Mechanical Engineering having received their requisite undergraduate education from another institution in mechanical engineering or a related field. For most, their exposure to design, design thinking, and the design process has been limited to a discrete capstone engineering course or exposure to design in industry during internships, if at all. How these engineering students experience and learn a design process is the motivation of this exploratory work.

Engineers and designers are different and the lenses through which they view the world differ. Similar distinctions among other academic fields have been described or attributed as being of different cultures3 or of wearing different hats.4

Here is a point of illustration of a perceived difference between designers and engineers, in the form of the “how many people does it take to change a light bulb?” joke:

Q1. How many designers does it take to change a light bulb? A1. Well, does it have to be a light bulb?

Q2. How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb? A2. Well that depends. How high off the ground is the light? What is the wattage of the bulb?

In this pair of parables the designer is focused on the functionality of the light bulb whereas the engineer is focused on the physical aspects of the artifacts. They may have the same intent (to change the light bulb) but view the problem and solution set differently.

Lande, M., & Leifer, L. (2009, June), Introducing A "Ways Of Thinking" Framework For Student Engineers Learning To Do Design Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5196

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