Integrating Social Factors Through Design Analysis

DS 69: Proceedings of E&PDE 2011, the 13th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, London, UK, 08.-09.09.2011

Year: 2011
Editor: Kovacevic, Ahmed, Ion, William, McMahon, Chris, Buck, Lyndon and Hogarth, Peter
Author: Garland, Nigel Patrick; Khan, Zulfiqar Ahmad; Parkinson, Brian
Series: E&PDE
Section: Design Methodology and Education 2
Page(s): 529-534


In recent years there has been a drive to embed sustainable development into the Higher Education design curriculum. Within the UK this has been encouraged institutionally through the Engineering Council’s UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence and the Royal Academy of Engineering’s visiting professor scheme. Despite these efforts sustainable development does not appear to have been fully embedded into the design curriculum. Where sustainable development has been introduced it has often been viewed in isolation from the design process, as an add-on, distraction or introduced toward the end of the student’s academic career. Progress is evident with educational approaches involving problem based learning (PBL) and peer assisted learning (PAL) yielding measurable benefits. However, the main focus of activity has been toward the more quantitative aspects of sustainability namely environmental and economic impacts whilst the less tangible qualitative and social factors are ignored. More recently the concept of “social usefulness” has emerged as a means for engaging design engineering students with these aspects of sustainability.

To encourage student engagement with the broader elements of sustainable development, particularly in the social sphere, a short course was developed from ongoing research and experience gained from previous programmes. Building upon previous work the compulsory course ran for the first week of the academic year with students involved in no other academic activities. Students were drawn from first and second year cohorts of Design Engineering and placed in small mixed groups with no account taken for prior academic performance. The methodology utilised design analysis as the backbone and each group issued with a different consumer product. Verbal briefs were provided at key stages and although initially limited in detail, the scope and duration expanded as the course progressed. Within this context groups analysed the product from a broad sustainability perspective. This analysis included social usefulness, the functional service provided to the consumer and wider community, the product-service mix and material utilisation. Didactic elements were restricted to short micro-seminars emphasising the underlying concepts with learning delivered through PBL, PAL and student presentations. Learning was reinforced through post presentation discussion sessions and reflective learning accounts which students submitted at pre-defined intervals.

Analysis of the presentations and reflective accounts indicated development in the students understanding of sustainability and the relevance to engineering and product design. Students identified the difference between aspirational and inspirational products, how social usefulness can be linked to service and how changes to the product-service mix can improve material utilisation. The use of PBL and PAL encouraged students to develop their own strategies for problem solving and learning better equipping them with the skills required for study within HE and beyond into lifelong learning and continuous professional development. An interesting observation was made in that emotional attachment by the students to the products upon which the activity was based inhibited the students’ ability to consider them objectively. This was unexpected and considered an important learning observation leading the research team to consider adapting the phenomena to both existing and proposed learning programmes.

Keywords: Sustainable, Social, Design, Education


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