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Introducing Engineering Design Using Impromptu Design Projects

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Early Engineering Design Experiences

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.802.1 - 15.802.9



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Paper Authors


Garrett Clayton Villanova University

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Dr. Garrett M. Clayton recieved his BSME from Seattle University and his MSME and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Washington (Seattle). He is an Assitant Professor in Mechanical Engineering at Villanova University. His research interests focus on mechatronics, specifically modeling and control of scanning probe microscopes and unmanned vehicles.

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

Introducing Engineering Design Using Impromptu Design Projects


In this paper, the use of impromptu design as a tool for introducing the engineering design process is discussed. In a typical impromptu design exercise, a simple design problem, capable of being completed in a short amount of time, is solved by teams of engineering students. In solving the design task, the students organically progress through the engineering design process. This provides a unique opportunity to introduce beginning engineering students to the design process and to reinforce engineering design concepts for more senior students. This paper focuses on the development of impromptu design projects, the use of this activity to introduce the engineering design process, and thoughts and observations gained over three years of using this exercise in freshman and sophomore engineering design classes.

1 Introduction

Impromptu design exercises (often presented as contests) are commonly used as ice-breakers at engineering student gatherings. If properly utilized, these exercises can also be used to introduce the engineering design process. Specifically, in the course of completing the exercise, student teams organically progress through the design process (even without prior knowledge of the design process). This gives them the opportunity to gain critical insights into different design process steps. This paper focuses on impromptu design project development, the use of this activity to introduce the engineering design process and to enrich more advanced design education, and author thoughts and observations.

In a typical impromptu design exercise, students are given a simple design task capable of being completed in a short amount of time, for example one class period. The student team approaches the problem as they best see fit – this may include trial and error, design-build-test-redesign, and any number of different approaches. When complete, the designs are tested to determine a “winner” based on some predetermined metric. To use these exercises as a design education tool, guided discussions are used to construct a model of the engineering design process based on the student impromptu design experience. This model can them be compared to and reinforced by standard models of the engineering design process1,2.

In a university course setting, impromptu design activities are often used as ice-breakers3-5. In addition, there has been some research on these design exercises with a focus on their ability to foster creative thinking and team building3. The novelty of the present paper is its focus on harnessing the impromptu design competition as an explicit design education tool.

For the past three years the author has used impromptu design exercises to introduce the engineering design process to freshman and sophomore level mechanical engineering students. This experience has yielded a number of insights, including: 1) that this exercise is fun and engaging, making the introduction to design enjoyable for the students – provided the problem is set up correctly and 2) the exercise facilitates detailed discussion of the engineering design process because the students are able to build on their hands-on impromptu design experience.

Clayton, G. (2010, June), Introducing Engineering Design Using Impromptu Design Projects Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16345

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