2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Iterating on Students' Perceptions of Iteration in the Design Process: An Exploratory Study

Presented at Design Tools and Skill Development

Explorations of experienced designers demonstrate how these designers employ iterative methods to refine their understanding of a problem and to improve their designs based on feedback from, for example, prototyping or testing. In contrast, many novice designers do not perceive iteration as an important activity within the design process. These novices tend to take a linear approach to design, completing a set of tasks in a specific order and not revisiting, for instance, the requirements or earlier prototypes to learn and improve their designs. Previous studies have also found many students discuss iteration as a difficult design activity, posing questions like how long should I iterate for and when am I done iterating. Yet, by the end of their design experience, novice designers’ perspectives of iteration tend to shift, viewing iteration as one of the most important design activities. Given this shift and the critical role of iteration within design practice, the purpose of this study is to explore iteration more deeply and uncover students’ perceptions about how this aspect of design is related to the broader design process.

Students within a senior level aerospace engineering design course at a large public university were given an open ended survey prompt to document their design process in mid-way through the course. Their response could be drawn, written, or created using sticky notes. The students were then asked to use a list of provided design activity terminology, based on previous research, to describe their design processes as well as examples of particular design activities within that process. The resulting 70 design processes were explored using an open coding methodology, where two researchers completed an iterative process of category development using existing literature to refine the emerging categories. The resulting set of categories describe how students perceive the role of iteration, when iteration occurs and how it relates to other design activities within the process.

Preliminary results show that students perceive iteration explicitly occurring once or not at all during the design process. When iteration did occur, it was most common in the late stages of the process with rare occurrences at the beginning. In addition, the students discussed using iteration to improve the results of mathematical models, as opposed to, for instance, supporting their understanding of the problem. The results of this study demonstrate the need for additional research to explore how iteration is defined and how to support students’ understanding of the diverse uses of iteration within design. Recommendations for future research directions will be presented in the paper along with implications for design educators who wish to further develop their students’ understanding of and ability to iterate.

  1. Steven Eric Meyer Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering [biography]
  2. Dr. Alexandra Coso Strong Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering [biography]
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