The Design Process


Without question, the most powerful unit I teach is focused on the design process. During the first week of the course we spend six days exploring the design process and examining its steps. I explain to my students that this process is also called the “Problem-Solving Process” because it helps us solve problems we experience at school, at home, or at work. Students will complete eight projects in my class related to eight different industries. I explain to them that the tie that binds all of these activities together is this process. In every project, the design process is used to learn about the career, develop a plan for their project, and implement their plan.

The first two steps of the process are the “learning” phase. Students must (1) understand the problem and (2) research and investigate. In order to solve a problem, you have to understand what the problem is, and be able to learn more about it. Without understanding the problem and any restrictions on the solution, you cannot create a viable solution. And without researching skills, you cannot gather the necessary information critical to solving the problem. Students must analyze the problem, and create a problem statement with specifications for every project they do in my class. Additionally, they must use at least two resources for research and learn two new concepts or ideas critical to the project. Student success is measured in these areas as they create a problem statement and research summary for their project portfolio outlining this information.

The next two steps are the “thinking” phase: (3) generate ideas and (4) pick an idea /plan a solution. Young people have incredible imaginations and creative minds. Unfortunately, they are rarely given the chance to use them. For every project that is done in my class, students must develop five to ten different solutions to the problem. From these five to ten solutions, they will pick their best three ideas to compare and contrast. Then, the best solution is picked and developed further into a detailed plan. These steps force students to think critically about their ideas and analyze the problem in depth. These skills are measured as they include their developmental sketches and reasons for choosing or rejecting their ideas in their design portfolio. Students are assessed on the quality of their developmental work and their reasons for accepting or rejecting ideas they have developed.

The last two steps are the “do” steps: (5) create a prototype and (6) test/evaluate the prototype. This is where most of the time is spent in class. After they develop a plan, they implement the plan and make that idea a reality. Using industry-standard tools and materials, students create solutions to real-world problems. Projects range from video production to programming, CAD to woodworking, audio broadcasting to robotics, and digital imaging to video game design. This actively engages students in learning as they have hands-on experiences with professional hardware and software, and participate in activities identical to those done every day in industry. After students create their prototype, they test their prototype and complete a critical analysis of their work for their portfolio. Their work is evaluated in a one-on-one consultation with me as we examine their project and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their solution.

As mentioned above, each of these steps are thoroughly documented in the students’ design portfolios. As I enter the grades into the electronic gradebook we use, each section of the portfolio is categorized to allow for analysis of strengths and weaknesses in the students’ ability to solve problems. If a student consistently performs poorly in an area, I can assist that student with that particular skill. For example, a student who performs poorly in the generating ideas area might just need some helpful tips on brainstorming. Success in the design process unit is measured with every project done in the class as students create their portfolios and their projects. As I tell the students, this process is the answer, no matter what the question. If these six steps can be accomplished, they can solve any problem, and realize any goal.

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