Engineering and Physics Faculty Research and Publications


Investigating How Design Concepts Evolve in Engineering Students

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



A critical aspect to engineering in the workplace is the ability to design solutions to ill-structured problems. Prior research has shown that such solutions are highly effective when they are evaluated in relation to multiple design concepts. However, a documented problem among engineering students is that they tend to fixate on their initial design ideas rather than branching out and continuing to develop new concepts. In order to address the issue of fixation, 77 Design Heuristics has been established as a method to cultivate ideation among engineers and engineering students. This method for generating design concepts comes in the form of 77 cards, each with a different cognitive prompt for generating a solution (e.g., reduce material, flatten). Through the use of the 77 cards, engineers and engineering students are able to expand their horizons of possible design ideas and develop many unique concepts.

Using a freshman engineering course, we integrated the 77 Design Heuristic cards to document how initial ideas develop into final concepts. We analyzed 12 first-year engineering students that were distributed in three different design teams, in order to better understand how they responded to the use of this instructional tool. Our findings demonstrate key influences that did foster idea fluency (Theme 1: Influence on Design Concepts) but also ways that students attached to certain concepts throughout the design process (Theme 2: Resilient Concepts).


This paper was presented at the 2016 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition held June 26, 2016.

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American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)