I’m Terrible At Following a Design Process: Why It Matters


I just got back from my first Project Lead the Way (PLTW) training so I can teach the Intro to Engineering Design class in the fall. It was an awesome experience! A full 2 weeks of draining 12-hour-day, dreaming-about-3D-models kind of awesome. 😉

I learned way too much to talk about in one post, but don’t worry I plan to blog weekly this year so I’ll get to everything eventually. For this first reflection, I wanted to talk about one of my big takeaways. I learned that I’m bad at following a design process and it’s kind of a big deal. First, here’s the design process we used (we’ll use this one in the class too):

1.) Define the problem

2.) Generate concepts

3.) Develop a solution

4.) Construct and test a prototype

5.) Evaluate the solution

6.) Present the solution

So, why am I bad at following the process? Seems pretty simple, right? And what am I even basing this evaluation on? Lemme explain.

One of the first design challenges was to design and build a machine to fling a cotton ball as far as possible. We only had about 15 minutes, so my partner and I went right to work prototyping. We made a catapult-like thing (because duh! the challenge is called “fling machine”, how else would we make it?). Here’s a sketch we made and our completed masterpiece:

Screenshot_080315_012910_PM IMG_1002 (1)

Turns out our design was THE WORST. I mean like by a lot. Our cotton ball hardly went anywhere. The clear winner in the design department was the slingshot.

And that’s why it matters that we skipped the brainstorming and concept development that we were supposed to do first. We thought, “no big deal, let’s get this thing done” and “that group over there just talking is never gonna finish”. But those groups were the ones that came up with the slingshot idea and won the challenge! Stuff like this:


But my lesson learning on this topic was not done. Oh no! Our last project was a virtual design challenge, so called because we were each paired up with another trainee from Kentucky (I’m in Louisiana). So my partner and I met up through Skype and we decided to design a locker organization system for high school students. Now, had I learned my lesson in the fling machine challenge I would have insisted that we brainstorm ideas and then sketch several concepts before deciding on a solution and beginning to develop a product. But I had not. And I guess she hadn’t either because what we did instead was immediately decide on a design and split up the parts to be modeled. While this division of labor proved to work nicely in terms of getting things done, and our end product was actually pretty good this time (as opposed to the fling machine disaster), we missed an opportunity to innovate! We could have made next generation locker organization products that change the world. Instead we made a shelf and some bins (booorrriinngg!!!).


And that’s why the design process matters. Using it as a guide, you can see where you might make improvements in your workflow and/or problem solving. For me right now, it seems I can improve on the first few steps. I need to learn to brainstorm better and to slow down and let ideas simmer for a bit before rushing straight to the prototype.

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