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Training Tomorrow’s Designers: A Study on the Design Fixation

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Design Cognition II

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1372.1 - 25.1372.13



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Paper Authors


Vimal Kumar Viswanathan Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

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Vimal Viswanathan is a doctoral candidate in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Texas A&M University. He completed his bachelor's of technology in mechanical engineering from National Institute of Technology, Calicut, India, and master's of science in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University. He is expected to complete his Ph.D. in Aug. 2012. He has published three journal papers and more than 10 conference papers. His primary research interest is effect of physical representations in engineering idea generation process.

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Nicole Elise Esposito

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Julie S. Linsey Texas A&M University

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Training Tomorrow’s Designers: A Study on the Design FixationTraining engineering students for being tomorrow’s efficient designers has been an area ofconcern in recent times. The ability to come up with novel and functional solutions to designproblems is an essential skill for a good designer. Researchers have identified many factors thataffect the generation of novel ideas. The presence of rich pictorial stimuli around designers isone such factor. Designers tend to duplicate features from the examples they encounter in theirimmediate surroundings or in their day-to-day activities. This adhesion to the existing featuresfrom their surroundings is termed as “design fixation”. This study explores the fixation effect ofexamples provided to novices as a part of their class project. We investigate two hypotheses inthis study: The first hypothesis is that students tend to duplicate features of examples provided tothem, in their designs. The second hypothesis states that exposure to higher quality examples canlead novice designers to better solutions for design problems. To investigate these, freshmenengineering students attending four different sections of a introduction to engineering course areasked to solve a design problem as a part of their class project. They are asked to design andprototype stunt cars that satisfy few specific requirements provided to them. The prototypes arebuilt with legos. As a part of the study, the regular example solution for this project is modified.Two sections are provided with a “poor example” that contains few negative features that hinderthe functionality of the design and make the designs unnecessarily complex. These negativefeatures are not explicitly explained to the students; however these are easily identifiable duringtesting of prototypes. The remaining two sections of the class are provided with a “goodexample” which does not contain any of the negative features. The results show that in majorityof cases, students copy features from their examples. It is also observed that students who obtainbad examples tend to copy the negative features in their solutions, thereby creating morecomplicated and less effective designs. Some students identify the negative features in theirdesigns as they test the prototypes of their designs. At the same time, students with goodexamples created simpler and more effective designs. These results are in agreement with thepresented hypotheses. These results indicate that novice designers tend to fixate to the examplesin their surroundings and unless they are carefully trained to choose their examples correctly, thisfixation can lead to infeasible designs. Examples being essential part of our engineeringcurricula, it is important to choose them wisely. Students need to be introduced to good and badexamples and they need to be explained what makes those examples good or bad. Being able tobuild prototypes of their ideas can help them in identifying the negative features themselves,which can contribute to their learning in a more effective way. As engineering educators, weneed to train students to learn through building and recognize negative features in their designsin that process. 

Viswanathan, V. K., & Esposito, N. E., & Linsey, J. S. (2012, June), Training Tomorrow’s Designers: A Study on the Design Fixation Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--22129

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