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The Identification and Emergence of Constraints in Engineering Design Projects

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Design Communications & Cognition II

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1466.1 - 22.1466.8



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Paper Authors


Andrea Goncher P.E. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Andrea Goncher is a Ph.D. candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Polytechnic and State University.

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Aditya Johri Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Orcid 16x16

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The Identification and Emergence of Constraints in Engineering Design ProjectsThe focus of this paper is on how constraints are identified within design teams and how thecontext of each constraint or a set of constraints shape team design solutions as well as thedesign development over the course of the project. Design is generally constrained by nature,cost, safety, reliability, etc. and the role of these constraints varies based on the context of thedesign project as well as the objectives of the design prompt. The identification and evaluation ofthese constraints differentiates design from conventional optimization when determining orselecting a solution and is an important aspect in studying how solutions evolve throughout thedesign process. Through an observational study of 11 design teams within the context of a coursedesign project, we differentiate and describe how constraints imposed by the design project andhow constraints emerged as teams solved design problems. Teams were observed on a weeklybasis through individual team meetings as well as in-class presentations with the instructor/evaluator present. Focus group/ debriefing interviews were also performed at the completion ofthe project and course to capture team member perceptions regarding their experience in both theproject as well as the larger context of the course. The authors also had to reconstruct somecontent regarding team interaction outside of the class or design meetings by asking them abouttheir recounts of these sessions. We found differences in how constraints affected the finaldesign solutions that were based on whether teams identified them in the conceptual phase, i.e.appropriated constraints, versus constraints that emerged through team interaction and projectmaterialization. For example, teams that became fixated on cost-based constraints early in theconceptual phase kept this thread of constraints constant throughout the project and were notdriven by needs, task, or functional circumstances. However teams that established core conceptsfor the final design used emergent constraints to guide the final solution more realistically. Theimplications that early constraint identification and application has on design decisions can beseen throughout the design process as well as in the final design. By understanding how teamsidentify and leverage constraints throughout the design process and apply constraints in designsituations has several implications for team learning and knowledge sharing for good conceptualdesign thinking and meeting design objectives.

Goncher, A., & Johri, A. (2011, June), The Identification and Emergence of Constraints in Engineering Design Projects Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18469

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