How to define projects to teach design?

Year: 2011
Editor: Kovacevic, Ahmed, Ion, William, McMahon, Chris, Buck, Lyndon and Hogarth, Peter
Author: Novak, Marina; Dolsak, Bojan
Series: E&PDE
Section: Pedagogy
Page(s): 239-244


In design education project based learning is essential in order to simulate real-life design process. For this reason the students need to face a design problem, which has not been satisfactory solved yet. The question is how to define a number of such projects each year.

Basically, there are three different ways how to define projects for design education. First of all, the projects can be prepared in cooperation with industrial partners. This seems to be very good approach, however the industry is often reluctant to provide novel and innovation projects for education process. Instead, they are usually offering to the students to work on re-design of the existing solutions, which is less interesting for the students and also not ideal from pedagogical point of view, having in mind that the main goal of design education process is to teach the students how to generate innovative design solutions. If main design problem is already solved, the students usually tend to be handicapped with the existing solution. Many times they are persuaded that they cannot find better solution from the existing one. Usually it is also very difficult to motivate the students to improve the existing design.

Alternatively, projects can be defined by the lecturer, who is appointed to guide the students through project-base design education. As each group needs to deal with another project, many projects have to be defined over certain period of time. One way to deal with this is to generate different variants of the same problem, each for one group of the students. Even in this case, searching a number of good projects is not an easy job. On the other hand, there will always be one group of students that will feel that they had got the most difficult project.

The third possibility to define project for teaching design is to involve the students to play an active role in the project definition. If this is a case, the lecturer should help them with some guidelines. Through discussion, he or she animates the students to find out what is required on the market. When the students define the project by themselves, they are much more motivated to realize it as best as they can. However, sometimes the students are not able to define a suitable project in reasonable time. Often they have too many ideas to select one of them, as none of them seems to be perfect. Many times they also recourse to the statement "we are only students" and they prefer to get the project definition from someone else.

Based on years of experience we have made a detailed survey of the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to the definition of projects for teaching design. The results of this analysis will be presented in the article.

Keywords: Design education, project-based learning, project selection, problem definition


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