Project-based learning is common within engineering education, particularly in design courses. This is where students follow a standard design process to solve a specific problem. In some cases, students are paired with community partners to solve real-life problems.
A research paper documenting how engineering students engaged in co-design methods uses the design of a clip mounted on a mop bucket as an example. The aim was to make the mop and bucket easier to move and transport. What began as a two-week design assignment turned into a 10 month iterative co-design experience. The result was the implementation of a successful product for multiple users across campus.
The commercial mop bucket did not have a restraint for the mop when the bucket was being wheeled to a new place. The users were concerned that the mop could cause an accident on campus. They had complained about it, but until the student project nothing had been done.
The case study
Over time, using the mop bucket, the “pet peeve” eventually became something really annoying. The community partners became worried about the unpredictability of the mop handle. The new clip not only secured the mop handle, it improved the ergonomics for the users. The co-design process also revealed how users felt their worries were ignored and how they felt belittled.
The paper, Embracing Co-Design: A Case Study Examining How Community Partners Became Co-Creators explains the process and the outcomes. Both the actions and reactions of the students and community partners are documented. With the success of this project, the authors hope more engineering educators will promote co-design in their project-based assignments. A good example of how good solutions emerge when everyone works together.
Co-design ensures the desires, opinions, and concerns of people affected by the design, are incorporated. This widens the circle of designers and improves the final design and the experience for all participants. Incorporating community partners early in the process produces more novel ideas and improved ergonomic products.
In addition, communities tend to embrace the solution more and support its long-term maintenance because they were involved in decisions. However, it’s important to make sure no marginalised voices are excluded, unintentionally or otherwise.
From the abstract
Co-design increases the number of voices in a design project, which enhances the experience for all co-creators and produces a better product. A case study is presented of a ten-month co-design project-based learning experience between two engineering design students and two community partners during a first-year engineering design course, which resulted in the implementation of the device across campus.
This paper evaluates the elements of co-design in the design process that was employed, documents the design product that was produced, and examines the experience of the community partners through a qualitative study. The design process demonstrated an increase in the amount of collaboration between co-creators as the project progressed and identified 15 iterations of the design.
Comparing the experience of community partners throughout the design process, five themes emerged from the semi-structured interviews: (1) emotional effects, (2) physical and mental effects, (3) productivity, (4) safety, and (5) job satisfaction. Documenting the experience of community partners throughout the design project can encourage educators to adopt co-design practices in project-based learning.
Teaching engineers empathy
Universal design and empathetic design for engineers discusses similar issues. Here is an excerpt from the abstract:
This article explores the relevance of universal design and empathic design in education. Universal design focuses on creating accessible and usable products, environments, and systems for individuals with diverse abilities.
Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of others, encompassing cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. Teaching empathy to engineers is emphasized as a crucial aspect. By developing empathic skills, engineers gain a deeper understanding of user needs and perspectives, leading to more inclusive and user-centered design solutions.
Effective communication techniques such as asking open-ended questions, active listening, observation, and perspective-taking are explored. The article also explores methods for measuring empathy, thus enabling engineers to assess the effectiveness of their empathic design approaches. The challenges facing students, teachers, and university authorities in implementing such courses are also bulleted.