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A Design Process for Science Classrooms
Greg Rawls

A Product Design Team Approach

To ensure that all team members consistently communicate and play active roles in completing all development tasks, students should function as a Product Design Team (PDT) during the design, assembly, and testing of their product. This methodology integrates design, production, and testing, as each component influences the resulting design effectiveness. Involvement by all group members means that problems are worked out jointly in all aspects of each component.

The design component involves the planning of the anticipated product, and includes the following aspects of the design:

  • Special Features
  • Dimensions and Geometry, including but not limited to scaling, angles, measurements, and labels
  • Illustrations, such as 2D or 3D drawings and/or computer modeling
  • Properties of Material(s), such as mass, durability, and cost considerations

Following the initial design, PDTs are faced with production challenges. Techniques often used to overcome production difficulties while retaining the integrity of the initial design include:

  • Increase design and production coordination
  • Shorten production cycles, such as use of assembly-line type approaches to accomplish straightforward tasks
  • Reduce and consolidate revisions and modifications
  • Increase flexibility to support redesign during testing

The testing component in the development process assures that the design prototype being produced actually meets the established criteria and accomplishes the purpose for which it is being designed. The following actions are typically taken during the testing component:

  • Data collection through experimentation, to measure the effectiveness of the prototype
  • Analysis of data for determination of design benefits and deficiencies
  • Modification of design
  • Retesting of modified prototype

From Design to Action: A Sequential Development Process

Regardless of the product that is being developed, whether for the marketplace or for NASA, the process includes a series of steps to ensure that only the products most likely to succeed are created. A motto of recent NASA missions has been "faster, better, cheaper." Inherent in this philosophy of design, production, and testing are a number of sequential considerations, listed below.

Before investing time and money in a product, developers should be confident that the product has the opportunity to be successful. One of the first steps is determining whether the expense of building a prototype is worthwhile. Many new product development efforts actually end at this stage. Preliminary research is conducted by team members to determine whether or not their design idea is worthwhile. This way they can get a better idea of what work is involved. They then present to you (the teacher) or other students or adults acting in a "client" role a proposal that details the potential design, cost, considerations, features, risks, benefits, and so on.� This type of agreement allows both companies (the designers and the client) to investigate the possibility of a project without committing a large amount of time or money.

Approval/Formation of Product Design Team
When a proposal is approved, a product design team is typically selected. This group is usually formed from the proposal team to reduce start-up time. In a classroom design activity scenario, the PDT is selected at the outset of the project, so they actually write the proposal knowing they will be selected to the project team. The team discusses various design issues and organizes a plan of action for the work. Detailed descriptions of how the product accomplishes the goals of�meeting parameters or dealing with constraints during the phases of design, production, and testing are written. Method(s) of documentation to be utilized are specified. A schedule is drafted and discussed with the teacher or "client team," consisting of a select group of adults or other students.

During all phases of development, the PDT holds meetings on at least a weekly basis to discuss the status the project. The teacher or "client team" is encouraged to attend these meetings to deal with any issues that should be handled from their side.

Prototype Design and Production
The PDT coordinates prototype building, as well as investigates costs of materials and economical sources for production. As the project design phase continues, the teacher or "client team" periodically reviews the work. This allows those for whom the work is being completed to assess progress and give the PDT feedback on the status or future direction of the project. Each PDT also holds internal design reviews where "engineers" from other projects (other PDTs) meet to review major design issues and possible feature options. An "expert group" technique of classroom management works nicely for this, as members from each group can be represented in each of the new groups to share their ideas at different points during the design process.

Testing and Modification
The PDT coordinates prototype proof-of-concept experimentation and testing. A successful product must be well designed. Its design minimizes manufacturing costs, is functional, and works to maximize durability. The design is "faster, better, cheaper" than any other competing product. All students in each PDT must understand the connection between product design and testing/modification and how they work together to enhance the likelihood of success. Just as students are constructing prototype designs in the classroom, commercial designers and engineers typically build prototypes in their own shops to achieve the lowest possible cost, while performing at the highest possible efficiency.

Organization and Monitoring: The Designer's Notebook

Notebooks are suggested as a filing system for information, records, data, drawings, discussions, etc. by members of the PDT. These notebooks can be examined by the instructor to get an idea of any PDT member’s standing in the project. Most researchers in design consider the management, control, and transformation of information to be a major component of the design process. Notebooks provide the means to achieve the needed level of information organization. As such, they should reflect the sort of design effort undertaken and the types of information being utilized. Notebooks typically include items such as specifications, constraints, design notes and ideas, sketches, client information, meeting notes, calculations, schedules, scripts of presentations, etc. A type of section division is recommended with this information. Teachers must allow the PDTs and individual students to use their own judgement in deciding on their own most effective means of organization.

The following may serve as a useful notebook structure prompt for the design component:

  1. Summary information:
    • An overall task list is represented, including brief statements about the status of the design project. These statements represent a "snapshot" of the present state. Group structure is best documented here, with individual responsibilities stated.

  2. Design:
    • General concept
    • Design ideas and notes
    • Sketches and diagrams
    • Information sources
    • Data and calculations

      Note that the elements of this section must be readily identifiable, which implies some sort of subdivisions.

  3. Administrative:
    • Meeting notes
    • Schedule and progress updates
    • Cost estimates

Preparing a Final Product Development Report

The following text-based communication items may be included in a final report package, in this order:

  1. Letter of Proposal (outlining original research and idea to "client", i.e., NASA)
  2. Cover sheet (with descriptive title)
  3. Abstract or overview
  4. Table of Contents
  5. Introduction (Problem statement and rationale for design)
  6. Body of the Report (Description of the product, component by component)
  7. Figures or diagrams
  8. Conclusion section (with budget, further modifications suggested, etc.)
  9. Appendix (resources used, etc.)

The Body of the Report:
One section of the report is devoted to each component of the product development process (i.e., design, production, and testing). You may wish to use the following as an organizational guide in describing to the students how the design component of this section might appear:

  1. Design problem statement (one paragraph, at most)
  2. Description of the design (will comprise the largest portion of the section, and may include pictures and/or diagrams)
  3. Discussion of the design

In the final report, students should outline the positive aspects, limitations, and human factors, as well as pose open questions for each section of the project. The "production" and "testing" components of the section should be arranged in similar fashion. Students should support all statements with either valid qualitative observations or with sample quantitative calculations.

Preparing a Presentation
Product Design Team members should be able to communicate their ideas in detail to a live audience, including results of their design, production, and testing actions at any stage of development.

The following represent possible alternatives for communicating design processes and prototype test results:

  • Video: Video presentations provide team members an opportunity to explain ideas with the same realism and enthusiasm they experienced when the ideas were originally conceived. These can be simple recorded video messages, or even live multi-site teleconferences if the equipment is available and if there is a chance to involve other classes or sites in the design process. PDT members can display their newest product prototype via camera, and even demonstrate it working on screen. The presentation can also be taped for future distribution.

  • Computer presentation: Software such as PowerPoint or Hyperstudio can be used to demonstrate the design process and features. Two-dimensional graphics, historically the main tool of designers and engineers, can be expressed with textures and colors, and text can be added for captions and comments. Where equipment is available, digital 3D modeling can be used in conjunction with computer presentations. This type of modeling is fast becoming a replacement for many prototype design activities. For innovation, collaboration, and validation, 3D models are the most interactive, revisable, and accurate representation your students can build, typically featuring full control for zoom, dynamic rotation, color, texture, and advanced visual manipulation.

  • Audio: For explanations, overviews, guidance, and highlights, students may chose to add voice annotations to their presentations by using the microphone to read a script, or simply speaking from note cards. Voice and sound effects can enhance a live presentation in special ways difficult to achieve by other means.

Other Decisions
Students should be able to clearly discuss and communicate understanding of the considerations involved in each of the following facets of product development. A variety of assessment techniques, including open-ended, "what if" scenarios, and short answer questions may be utilized to measure student’s abilities to express understanding of any of the following processes:

  1. Designing and building a good working prototype
  2. Creating a quality appearance for the product
  3. Producing engineering diagrams
  4. Obtaining and utilizing material cost data
  5. Establishing and efficiently utilizing production facilities
  6. Securing feedback from potential partners or clients with a vested interest in the product
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