The freehand sketch has traditionally been seen as the primary conceptual tool in the early stages of a design process. Sketching is important because it allows the expression of imaginative ideas, iterations through trial and error, and the playful “what if?” consideration of alternative designs. Further, studies show design thinking is heavily dependent upon alternative visual representations of structures for physical objects, and that the interpretation and use of an object in design depends heavily on this activity (Brereton & McGarry, 2000; Chamorro-Koc, Popovic, & Emmison, 2009). For human centered design, where people are engaging in direct interaction with physical objects, it may be essential to visually represent human users.
However, engineering students have been shown to resist sketching because, for one reason, they feel like they do not have strong sketching skills. While studies have shown that it is the frequency and activity of sketching that supports successful design outcomes, rather than the quality (Yang, 2009), studies have not explored the extent to which, if engineers engage in sketching at all, these sketches include people during conceptual design. How, if at all, are people represented in engineering student concepts, and how does that representation reveal, and influence, students’ envisioning of potential concepts?
In the study reported in this work in progress, we engaged engineering students in a task to generate ideas to a posed problem. We prompted them to sketch ideas as they talked aloud. After sketching whatever they felt appropriate, we asked them to generate additional ideas, but this time in their sketching to include a person, a part of a person, or people within their sketches. After this second ideation session, we asked student to compare and reflect on their concepts guided by our questions about the appropriateness of solutions for a variety of stakeholders and contexts. Findings include a series of case examples of engineering students’ sketches and a comparison across ideas generated with and without the prompt to include people within those sketches.
Brereton, M., & McGarry, B. (2000, April). An observational study of how objects support engineering design thinking and communication: implications for the design of tangible media. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 217-224). ACM.
Chamorro-Koc, M., Popovic, V., & Emmison, M. (2009). Human experience and product usability: Principles to assist the design of user–product interactions. Applied ergonomics, 40(4), 648-656.
Yang, M. C. (2009). Observations on concept generation and sketching in engineering design. Research in Engineering Design, 20(1), 1-11.
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