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Training Future Designers: A Study on the Role of Physical Models

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Design Methodology and Evaluation 1

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1260.1 - 23.1260.15



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Paper Authors


Vimal Kumar Viswanathan Georgia Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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Vimal Viswanathan is a post-doctoral research associate at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA. He completed his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M University in 2012. His research interests are engineering design, creativity, innovation and design education.

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Julie S Linsey Georgia Institute of Technology

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Physical Models in Engineering Education: Making Tomorrow’s Designers CreativeInnovation and creativity are two essential qualities for tomorrow’s designers. In order to nurturethese skills in designers, our engineering curricula need to include more hands-on training. Inrecent times, many engineering educators have recognized the importance of hands-on trainingin engineering curriculum. Allowing students to build and test their own physical models andlearn from their mistakes can be a very effective way of teaching. Recent studies have shownthat physical models play a very important role in design innovation and creativity. Building andtesting such models can lead designers to identify the flaws in their designs and thus create morefunctional ideas. At the same time, physical models have the potential to mitigate design fixationto undesirable features present in an example, where design fixation refers to the blind adherenceof designers to the features in examples or their own initial ideas. Design fixation is a majorhindrance in design creativity; training engineering students with potential tactics to mitigatefixation needs to be a very important component of engineering education. This paperinvestigates two hypotheses: (1) providing suitable warnings to novice designers can help themin avoiding design fixation (2) fixation to undesirable example features can be mitigated bybuilding and testing physical models of the designs generated by the designers. These hypothesesare tested using a quasi-experiment conducted during a freshmen class project. Studentscomplete their projects in four different experiment groups. One group receives a fixatingexample with a number of undesirable features. These undesirable features make the example aflawed one, as said features negatively influence the functionality of the design. The secondgroup receives the same fixating example with warnings about the undesirable features that theexample contains. The third group receives an effective example that does not contain saidfeatures. The fourth group completes the project without the help of an example (control).Students are instructed to build and test their designs and present the final working design to theinstructor. The designs are photographed before each testing and the occurrence of examplefeatures in each design is studied. The results show that providing warnings about undesirablefeatures in an example does not help students in the mitigation of design fixation. Meanwhile, asthey build and test their ideas, they identify the flaws themselves and gradually mitigate thefixation. Their final designs, after many cycles of testing, contain significantly lower fixatingfeatures. This shows that building and testing physical models help students in learning throughtheir mistakes and in improving the functionality of their ideas. In our engineering classrooms,learning through hands-on experiences needs to be encouraged in order to nurture a futuregeneration of engineers who are creative and innovative.

Viswanathan, V. K., & Linsey, J. S. (2013, June), Training Future Designers: A Study on the Role of Physical Models Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22645

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