Design Learning

How can educational settings adapt to create learning experiences that convey the essence of design?

Design is the notion that the world around us is surrounded by seemingly infinite number of possibilities. The mind and the world are intertwined in what we call the process of design. Here we look at a few ways to explore design processes in an engineering focused environment. Creating memorable and positive learning experiences enhances future engagement with the design process.

Analytical Product Design Course

Experiential learning in design teams.

World Cloud of concepts explored in the Analytical Product Design Course.
Image: Word cloud of some concepts explored in Analytical Product Design

Analytical Product Design (APD) is a project based product design course where teams themselves choose and adapt their design problem and their design process through iteration. The course builds upon a foundation of questioning and reasoning. It also provides a baseline/core set of concepts. Some are displayed in the word collage.

The course seeks to challenge learners, help learners manage ambiguity (physically and emotionally) and determine a path for future learning based on their individual values.

The course has a long history and has undergone changes over the years but this year the course will see large number of changes that help streamline the learning experience. Some of these are highlighted below.


From ideas to physical media.

A sketchbook can help felicitate collection of existing objects and perceptions and remix with ideas. Some methods for sketching are to annotate, create picture-collages, create doodles and draw process diagrams and storyboards.

We explore alternate methods of sketching in a directed sketch session where ideas are communicated by a 'passive' member to a member who 'actively' draws the sketch. Another method is the process of sketching the environment or situation while wire-framing the actual product.

Augmenting Sketches with physical forms
Image: Augmenting sketches with physical forms
Image: Sketchbook for participants of design courses

'Sketch Scroll' is a custom roll-able sketchbook that provides learners with a book that has lay-flat properties, making it easier to sketch on flat surfaces, yet flexible and durable enough that it can be rolled/folded and carried around. Sheets are in landscape orientation bound on the short edge so that ideas can be connected across pages and iterated upon. It is intended to broaden the range of formal and informal use situations.

The idea for the sketchbooks and resources on how to use sketching is to explore sketching to an extent that it remains a familiar aspect of the design process at all stages. The key motivation is the idea of proactive serendipity wherein consistent immersion in the design process facilitates creation of new ideas.

Running Examples

Overview, hindsight.

The Analytical Product Design course sequences and segregates the availability of information to students. This time element in the course helps plan and guide a learners progress through the design process.

The risk that sequencing poses is that there is often tunnel vision at any stage in the process. With sketching, reflection and studio and team settings can help maintain a holistic view of the process. There is also the possibility to learn observing another teams' path to their design outcomes.

The idea is that providing segmented overview of three selected projects of the 100+ previous student projects can provide early insights to the design process, act as a source of inspiration and serve as a gateway to planning outcomes for individual teams in the future.

Providing examples from previous years projects to course material in sequence
Image: Providing examples from previous projects in course material


Consistent experiences.

An abundance of resources at the University of Michigan introduces complexity. The idea is to connect team members to the wealth of resources by providing non-repetitive training and guidance.

Fundamental to this experience is how teams and their individual members interact with each other in different settings. Activities are introduced to help teams manage expectations and set goals on how to use the resources.

Solar Car

What is the simplest form which when excited by photons can traverse distances of continental proportions?

This is the University of Michigan Solar Car Team. We race a car that runs on solar radiation from the north to the south of Australia (Bridgestone World Solar Challenge) and from east to west of the continental United States (American Solar Challenge) alternating years between the two races.

Aerial Vehicles


My name is Vignesh Bhaskaran
I have my origins in Chennai (India) and I try to assimilate and accommodate different ideas and cultures.

I like observing thought with an appreciation for thoughts related to making and experiencing things. I like to make things with friends that have a shared meaning.

I am always game for learning, especially when it seems impossible. I take pride in learning from different sources like archival collections and multimedia. I try to give back to those sources and spread the word.

Specific areas of interest are design optimization and design of experiences primarily in education and product design.

What challenge(s) do you have for me?

Self Portrait
Image: Self Portrait