Design process representations often attempt to show the iterative pattern of design through a circular or spiral representation. Expert designers iterate, constantly refining their understanding of both the design problem and solution. In other words, a designer’s ability to manage the design process—plan, reflect, and incorporate new insights—may be indicative of proficiency in design. When first ideas do not work, these abilities can be leveraged to learn from failure and generate new solution attempts.
Despite instruction and representation indicating the cyclical nature of design processes, beginning designers often work in a step-by-step, regimented way. Among beginning designers, reactions to failed ideas are wide-ranging: some positive and some negative; some leading to action and some leading to apathy; some toward dedication and some toward disinterest. In short, how the designer frames failure experiences can determine whether or not each experience will be a benefit to their learning and final design. In light of the disconnect between beginning designers’ capacity to manage failure in design iteration, further study of the cognitive processes of beginning designers as they encounter failure is needed to strengthen design education.
This case study describes patterns of self-regulation used by high-school design students as they navigate failure and iteration in a five-day design challenge. We present a framework that aligns constituent parts of design—analysis, synthesis, and evaluation—and phases of self-regulation—forethought, performance, and self-reflection. Furthermore, instances of failure or success in these cyclical phases are identified. Then, using think-aloud data from a pair of design students, linkography is applied to represent the process as a network of interconnected actions while designing. Connections forward and backwards in the design process are interpreted as instances of forethought or reflection.
The linkographic representation of the design process, corroborated with analysis of documentation in design journals and design artifacts, supports conclusions regarding the self-regulation strategies of beginning designers. Though contextualized and limited to one design team, the account of these designers is a useful starting point for coming to understand how beginning designers experience failure in design. These findings also offer insight into the design of educational experiences where failure may occur.
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