Although design and decision-making are intertwined for practicing engineers, students from elementary school through college are rarely taught to think through uncertain situations in which information is limited and goals are ambiguous. Trade-offs are a complex element of a design decision, as the decision-maker weighs possible outcomes against their respective costs in areas such as aesthetics, cost, degree of safety, and various performance indicators. Making trade-off decisions is an effective design practice, and is a key performance dimension in student design. Understanding how students characterize their design tradeoffs would allow educators a better glimpse into students’ design thinking. In this research, I studied over 400 students who designed virtual homes. Using design artifacts, logs of student design files, reflections, and traditional tests, I have characterized students based on the patterns they exhibit related to design trade-off decisions. These findings can be used by engineering and design educators to help facilitate design activities to better develop their students’ design behaviors.
Molly Goldstein is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University working. She previously worked as an environmental engineer specializing in air quality, influencing her focus in engineering design with a sociotechnical focus. Molly’s research is working towards unpacking the continuum of design decision-making in the student designer. She obtained her B.S. in General Engineering with a concentration in Bioengineering, and M.S. in Systems and Entrepreneurial Engineering both from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Molly is a 2017-2018 Purdue Bilsland Fellowship recipient, and received the College of Engineering Outstanding Research Award in 2017.