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Student Designers’ Interactions with Users in Capstone Design Projects: A Comparison Across Teams

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Best In DEED

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Robert P. Loweth University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Robert P. Loweth is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan. He earned a B.S. in Engineering Sciences from Yale University (2016), with a double major in East Asian Studies. He also holds a Graduate Certificate in Chinese and American Studies, jointly awarded by Johns Hopkins University and Nanjing University in China. His current research focuses on how undergraduate engineering students approach front-end design activities related to interacting with stakeholders and conducting needs assessments.

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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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Kathleen H. Sienko University of Michigan

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Kathleen H. Sienko is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan (UM). She earned her Ph.D. in 2007 in Medical Engineering and Bioastronautics from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology, and holds an S.M. in Aeronautics & Astronautics from MIT and a B.S. in Materials Engineering from the University of Kentucky. She co-founded the UM Center for Socially Engaged Design and directs both the UM Global Health Design Initiative (GHDI) and the Sienko Research Group. The Sienko Research Group is a multidisciplinary laboratory developing novel methodologies to create technological solutions that address pressing societal needs at the intersection of health care and engineering. Dr. Sienko is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award and several teaching awards including the ASME Engineering Education Donald N. Zwiep Innovation in Education Award, UM Teaching Innovation Prize, UM Undergraduate Teaching Award, and UM Distinguished Professor Award.

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Amy Hortop University of Michigan


Elizabeth Ann Strehl University of Michigan

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Elizabeth is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan studying Biomedical Engineering and Applied Mathematics. She has worked as a research assistant for Dr. Robin Fowler in the Technical Communication Department of the College of Engineering for several years focusing on team dynamics for first-year students and also works as a research assistant in the Daly Design and Engineering Education Research Group working on design science based research in senior-level engineering design courses.

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Those who have a relationship of use with design solutions—defined as “users”—play an important role in engineering design projects. User needs form the foundation of engineering design problems, and user requirements outline the functional and physical characteristics that potential solutions must have. Previous literature has shown that access to users substantially influences how designers think about design problems and how well their proposed solutions align with user needs. In addition, other studies have indicated that novice designers vary substantially in how they perceive the role of users and integrate user information into their designs. Few studies, however, have explored in detail 1) the factors which motivate novice designers to incorporate user feedback into design projects, and 2) how novice designers solicit user feedback in authentic design situations. Thus, this study explored how novice design teams interacted with users in practice as part of a capstone design course. Nine students across 3 different design teams participated in this study. Each team was required to develop an assistive device for a specific individual user as part of an on-going multi-semester project. Data included semi-structured interviews with the teams (10 hours) and recordings of meetings that teams conducted with their user or other individuals who knew the user personally (8 hours). Meeting recordings were analyzed to identify different ways that teams interacted with stakeholders. Similar interactions were then thematically grouped into specific behaviors to allow for comparison across teams. These behaviors represent successes and challenges that teams exhibited when building relationships, involving stakeholders in design decisions, exploring stakeholder perspectives and developing mutual understanding. Despite strong similarities in initial project goals across teams, each team demonstrated a different approach to interacting with users and incorporating user feedback into their designs. One team met with their user regularly throughout the semester and consistently sought to build connections and solicit genuine feedback. This team recognized in retrospective interviews that involving their user was vital to the success of their project. Another team met with their user at the beginning of the semester to evaluate the user’s physical capabilities and develop user requirements. This team primarily focused on the technical details of the project and did not meet with their user again until they were ready to validate their final concept. The last team never met with their user, although they did solicit some feedback from their project sponsor. Rather, this team trusted the user requirements developed during the previous semester and evaluated success based upon how well they met these requirements. These cases illustrate three distinct ways that novice designers view the role of users in design projects, as well as how these perspectives translated into design process and outcomes decisions.

Loweth, R. P., & Daly, S. R., & Sienko, K. H., & Hortop, A., & Strehl, E. A. (2019, June), Student Designers’ Interactions with Users in Capstone Design Projects: A Comparison Across Teams Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33291

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