Assessing Ways of Experiencing Human-centered Design via Student Reflections

Elizabeth A. Sanders, Molly H. Goldstein, Justin L. Hess

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Introduction: With a worldwide pandemic threatening the health of all, now is the time to ensure our college students gain the skills and motivations necessary to address grand societal challenges in meaningful ways. One “grand challenge” that we put forth is the need to prepare engineering undergraduate students to integrate empathy throughout their design process. Human centered design is one specific design methodology wherein empathy is especially critical, as empathy provides the modality for entering into and accurately understanding user experience.

Study Background: This work-in-progress study is set in the context of a large (n=124) 100-level design and graphics course at a large Midwestern University. This course has two larger learning goals: (1) to introduce engineering design methodology, demonstrating the role of graphics in the engineering design process, and (2) to provide insight into the product design process, in particular as it relates to the architecture and functionality of the product. Through a semester-long design project in Fall 2020, 34 teams of students participated in the human centered design process in order to address the challenge of eating lunch at a K-12 school during our current COVID crisis. Students were asked to design ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during lunch at a large school with a mechanical product which can be centrally manufactured and assembled, then distributed. Teams participated in the human centered design process including interviews with users and stakeholders, synthesizing insights, idea generation, and evidence-based decision-making before using Fusion 360 to model their final design prototype.

Objectives: The primary objective of this study was to understand the qualitatively different ways that empathy manifests in student design artifacts and written reports.

Methods: We analyzed all 34 design teams’ final CAD models and final written reports using a bottom-up approach to thematic analysis, categorizing the degree to which their final design embodies empathic design principles. We used team written reports to support our observations.

Preliminary Results: Preliminary results student teams exhibit varying levels of empathic techniques (e.g., observation, interaction) and empathy types (e.g., empathic concern, imagine-other perspective-taking) when tasked with a human centered design project. These categories will be used to help understand student design approaches in order to scaffold more meaningful learning.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jul 26 2021
Event2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jul 26 2021Jul 29 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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