ENE 620

Design Cognition and Learning

Weds 1:30 – 4:20, ARMS 1028

Fall 2014

Dr. Robin Adams

Instructor Information: Office – ARMS 2133, Phone – 496-3267, E-mail – rsadams@purdue.edu

Brightspace: https://purdue.brightspace.com

What this course is about

Design is central to engineering: it’s an integral part of the engineering profession, it’s embedded in how we educate engineers, and it’s one way of describing the competency of engineering graduates as practitioners. This course provides a graduate-level introduction into the nature of design and the process of becoming a designer. The nature of design focuses on characteristics of design activities and design problems as well as frameworks that guide particular approaches to design (e.g., human-centered, interactive, participatory, sustainable, and innovative design). The process of becoming a designer focuses on design thinking, acting, and being and draws on theories of cognition and learning.

The overall aim of the course is to provide frameworks for investigating such issues as:

  • Nature of design: what does designing involve, and why?
  • Cognition: how do cognitive theories help understand how people learn and do design?
  • Learning: what do people know or come to understand about design – what changes and how?

These frameworks can guide (1) research on how people design and learn to be designers, (2) development of tools to support designing and designers, and (3) the design of learning environment including identifying learning objectives and targets for assessment. The course also provides self-reflection experiences for students to better understand their own (evolving) approaches to design.

Ways to think about your own learning in this course

By the end of this course you should be able to:

  • Develop conceptual frameworks on the nature of design, design cognition, and design learning. Rationale: Developing tools to support designing and design learning requires “models” that identify targets and mechanisms to achieve those targets. This is a critical first step towards conducting research, developing tools, and designing learning experiences.
  • Translate research on design knowing and learning into practical implications. Rationale: The goal of developing conceptual frameworks is to apply them to address real problems. This is not trivial and requires many experiences to understand how to transfer ideas between research and practice.
  • Articulate your own view of design and become more confident about your ability to work as a designer. Rationale: The process of examining the nature of design and the ways people study design and make sense of design learning through readings, discussions, activities, and assignments will provide multiple opportunities for you to develop as a designer, a researcher, and a design educator.
  • Identify examples of, and trends in, design research. Rationale: Developing a landscape view is important for understanding future trends as well as revealing gaps in knowledge. Similarly, developing an understanding of the many ways people study design is an important skill for learning how to link research questions to appropriate research methods.
  • Identify quality resources for investigating design cognition and learning such as journals, community, and individual researchers. Rationale: The design research community is diverse and crosses many disciplines. Many people call design their “home”: architects, artists, product designers, engineers, software designers, economists, philosophers, etc. Part of this is due to how design is related to complex problem solving – a general focus of cognition that cuts across all kinds of situations. Knowing where to look for information is an important design research capability.

What we’ll be doing

Course activities involve (1) readings and discussing empirical studies and conceptual frameworks about design cognition and learning, (2) engaging in a series of activities in and out of class to better understand the nature of design and how design is learned and performed, (3) synthesizing and reflecting, and (4) putting frameworks into practice (e.g., studying design, teaching design, becoming a designer). The idea is to provide multiple opportunities to use course ideas rather than a single end-of-term project.

Class time will generally be used as follows:

30 min

Revisit conversation from last meeting and set up discussion for the day

60 min

Guided discussion related to readings

15 min

Break (bring your lunch, snacks)

60 min

Making meaning of the guided discussion (e.g., in-class activities)

5 min

Individual reflection

Course tasks include:






Weekly. If you miss a class you are expected to make up your absence.

Reflection posts


Weekly – due each Tuesday by 5pm (post in discussion board) – you are encouraged to bring a copy to class. As a guide, consider the following reflection questions:

(1) how do the readings connect to your own experience?

(2) how do the readings connect to ideas discussed in previous weeks?

(3) what stood out to you as important, surprising, provocative, etc.?

(4) what aspects of the reading are you still struggling with, and why?



Sign up for a total of 5 summaries – due Tuesday by 5pm of the assigned week. A template will be provided.

Course projects


Two projects:

  • Oct 15: Design as X (15%)
  • Dec 10: Putting frameworks into action (15%)

Final reflection


Due December 15 by 5 pm

Discussion (every week): Discussion represents a major feature of this course. The goals are to engage in collaborative learning (e.g., describe and critique design research, identify opportunities for design research or education, articulate own view of design, and translate research on design into implications for design education or practice) and enable reflective practice. To participate you must be “present” (e.g., ready to engage in discussion and be an active contributor to discussion). If you must miss a class, please alert me in advance. To make up for your absence to your peers (who rely on your insights in class discussion) you will be expected to contribute some additional piece of work for their benefit such as a reflective post on the discussion board.

Reflection posts (every week): Every week you will submit a brief (400 words maximum) reflection related to the readings. The goals are to “prime” the class discussion and help you build connections across course concepts. Weekly reflections must be submitted by Tuesday at 5pm to receive credit for that week. You must submit 10 of the 13 required reflection posts.

Summaries (5 over the term): Over the term you will sign up to write 5 summaries (approximately 2 pages) using a template. One of these must occur during week 5. These will be a community resource and will provide you with opportunities to delve deeply into ideas that have particular interest for you and to practice your skills with summarizing key ideas in ways that support their use for the future (e.g., literature reviews, proposals, etc.). Summaries should be posted on the discussion board by Tuesday at 5pm of the week associated with that reading. Summaries will be graded for completion (addresses all elements in the template), clarity, and usefulness: 0=not turned in, (-) = submitted but largely inadequate (incomplete, unclear, not usable), and (+) = submitted and sufficient (complete, clear, useful). It is suggested to do only one summary in a week, and you may update your summary and submit it one week later to receive a higher grade.

Course Projects: Rather than focus on a single term paper, there will be two course projects (each worth 15% of the total grade). Each provides opportunities to synthesize, evaluate, and put into action course ideas. Most involve a brief presentation in class and a short, but structured, paper that you will share with other students in the course as part of a community resource.

  • Design as “X”: Due Oct 15. The purpose of this assignment is to explore a perspective (e.g., lens or philosophy) of design that is personally meaningful or helps you further your own perspective on design. Examples include human-centered design, sustainable design, innovative design, participatory design, design for the other 90%, design of innovation environments, etc. You will pick one perspective, identify a resource (book chapter, paper, etc.) that provides an in-depth overview for you to summarize (in some cases you may need two resources but this should be considered the limit for the scope for this project), and write a high quality structured report (maximum 8 pages) that will be a resource for others in the course. You will also create a page-sized summary that we will share in class, and you will have 5 minutes to teach everyone about this perspective. The page-sized summary should highlight only the key ideas, whereas the written report would provide more depth and breadth. All summaries will be available on Blackboard as a shared community resource.
  • Putting frameworks into action: Dec 10. The purpose of this assignment is to provide a hands-on opportunity to use the various frameworks discussed in course to analyze and interpret real empirical data – e.g., verbal protocols, interviews, videos, etc. You will produce a written report of no more than 8 pages summarizing (1) the data, (2) approach or methods, (3) observations or assertions (claims) with data to support these claims, and (4) reflections on this experience. Be prepared to share and discuss your analysis in class. Like the other projects, this will be shared as a community resource.

Final reflection: The final assignment will be due during finals week (December 15 by 5 pm) and provides an opportunity to revisit the course projects and discussions, and to self-reflect on the key ideas or frameworks you are taking away to use for your research, teaching, or own practice as a designer. This assignment may take many forms (e.g., a “next iteration” on a course project, a statement about design or design learning, or ways this experience has prepared you for the future), but should be no longer than 8 pages. As with the other papers – it should be well organized, clear, grounded in course discussions and readings, and provide an example of how you are taking ideas from this class for use in the future (as a designer and/or design researcher, educator, coach, etc.).

What I expect from you

I expect high quality work that is turned in on time, but will make every effort to accommodate legitimate emergencies. While much effort has gone into the design of this course, ultimately it is your responsibility to learn. I expect you to: (1) think critically about course content, challenge your own beliefs, and work towards synthesizing ideas, (2) engage in class discussions, explain your insights and ask others to explain theirs, and work towards making persuasive and grounded arguments, (3) participate in course assessments, (4) attend all classes, complete assignments on time, and come prepared for class, (5) inform me of any special learning needs (see https://www.purdue.edu/disabilityresources/), and (6) abide by Purdue’s policy on scholastic conduct (http://www.purdue.edu/univregs/pages/stu_conduct/stu_regulations.html).

Meeting the requirements of the course (attendance, coming prepared to class, active participation, and timely submission of assignments that are clear and grammatically correct) is typically associated with a “B” grade. Consistently demonstrating exemplary work (active and thoughtful engagement in class discussion and activities, and assignments that are grounded in the readings, clear, and well-organized) will generally result in an “A” grade.

What I expect from myself

My goal is to create a safe and engaging environment for learning. My responsibility is to take into account where students are coming from, make learning visible and push on prior conceptions, provide opportunities for students to achieve course learning objectives (often through feedback on assignments), and facilitate life long learning habits of mind. This inherently involves active listening, being respectful and reliable, asking for and using course feedback, and encouraging a community of practice. It is also my responsibility to provide authentic and rich learning experiences.

Special Information

If you are a person with special circumstances that you believe will affect your class performance (e.g., visual, hearing or learning disabilities or language differences) please let me know if I can make appropriate accommodations. The Disability Resource Center website is located at: http://www.purdue.edu/odos/drc/

In the event of a major campus emergency, course requirements, deadlines and grading percentages are subject to changes that may be necessitated by a revised semester calendar or other circumstances. Changes in the course will be disseminated on Blackboard Learn and email, as appropriate to the situation.

Purdue University has an All-Hazards Integrated Emergency Management Plan (IEMP). Please see Purdue's Emergency Preparedness webpage (http://www.purdue.edu/ehps/) for more information regarding emergency notification services (text, email, Purdue homepage, Boiler Television Emergency Alerting System, etc.), and where and how to seek shelter in an emergency.

In preparation for the unlikely event of fires, tornadoes, or other hazards, please review the safety information posted in Armstrong Hall and on Purdue’s emergency preparedness web site: http://www.purdue.edu/ehps/emergency_preparedness/. Specific information for evacuation routes and shelter locations are also available at this website.

Course Structure (Tentative)

The primary readings for this class are listed below – considerable attention was given to drawing on a diverse set of resources to illuminate communities and sources where you can continue you own investigations into design.

All readings are on Blackboard. Readings may change. (Optional readings are provided as resources to delve deeper into particular topics – they are not required readings.)

Week 1

(Aug 27)

Starting the conversation…”What is design?”

Introductions and overview; Representing design

Syllabus and safety briefing


Dubberly, Hugh (2004). How do you design? A Compendium of Models. Dubberly Design Office, San Francisco CA.

Week 2

(Sept 3)

Mapping a language of design

Lawson, B. and Dorst, K. (2009). Design Expertise. Architectural Press. Chapter 2: Understanding design.

Friedman, K. (2012). “Models of Design: Envisioning a Future Design Education.” Visible Language, 46.1/2, 132-153.

Brown, T. (2008). “Design Thinking.” Harvard Business Review, June, pp. 1-10.


Craig, D.L. (2001). “Stalking Homo Faber: A Comparison of Research Strategies for Studying Design Behavior.” In C.M. Eastman, W.M. McCracken & W. Newstetter (eds.), Design Learning and Knowing: Cognition in Design Education. New York: Elsevier Press.

Matthews, B. (2007). "Locating design phenomena: a methodological excursion." Design Studies, 28, pp 369-385.

Week 3

(Sept 10)

Design as inquiry / design as cognition

Lucy Kimbell, L. (2009). Design practices in design thinking. Versions of this paper were presented at the European Academy of Management conference, Liverpool, May 2009 and the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change conference, Manchester, September 2009. Thanks to Anne-Laure Fayard, Armand Hatchuel, Steve New, and Ken Starkey for their useful comments.


Pellegrino, J.W. (2002). “Understanding how students learn and inferring what they know: Implications for the design of curriculum, instruction and assessment.” In M.J. Smith (Ed.), NSF K-12 Mathematics and Science Curriculum and Implementation Centers Conference Proceedings (pp. 76-92). Washington, DC: NSF and AGI.


Pick one:

Greeno, J.G., Collins, A., & Resnick, L.B. (1996). Cognition and learning. In R. Calfee & D. Berliner (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (pp. 15-46). New York: Macmillan Library Reference National.


Svinicki, M.D. (1999). “New Directions in Learning and Motivation.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 80, Winter, pp. 5-27.)

Resource (mapping design as inquiry):

Research Council (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school, Expanded edition. Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning. J.D. Bransford, A.L. Brown, and R.R. Cocking (Eds.), with additional material from the Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Chapter 2.


Week 4

(Sept 17)

Nature of process: Design as…a nonlinear (but rational) process

Mehalik, M.M. & C. Schunn (2006). “What constitutes good design? A review of empirical studies of design processes.” International Journal of Engineering Education, 22 (3), Special Issue on Learning and Engineering Design.


Pick one:


Atman, C. J., Chimka, J. R., Bursic, K. M., & Nachtman, H. L. (1999). A Comparison of freshman and senior engineering design processes. Design Studies, 20 (2), 131-152.


Dorst, K. & Cross, N. (2001). “Creativity in the design process: co-evolution of problem-solution.” Design Studies, 22 (5), pp. 425-437.


Kan, JWT and Gero JS (2009) Using the FBS ontology to capture semantic design information in design protocol studies, in J McDonnell and P Lloyd (eds), About: Designing. Analyzing Design Meetings, CRC Press, pp. 213-229.


Lande, M. and Leifer, L. (2010). ”Incubating engineers, hatching design thinkers: Mechanical engineering students learning design through ambidextrous ways of thinking.” Proceedings of the ASEE Conference, Louisville.


Week 5

(Sept 24)

Nature of process: Design as strategies employed as needed

Crismond, D., & Adams, R. S. (2012). “The Informed Design Teaching and Learning Matrix.” Journal of Engineering Education, October.

Read one of (key reference for one of the 9 patterns) – and write summary for class

[Choose Design as X project, due Oct 15]

Week 6

(Oct 1)

Nature of design: Design problems engage design thinking

Dorst, K. (2004). “The problem of design problems – problem solving and design expertise. Journal of Design Research, Vol. 4, Issue 2.


Pick one:


Jonassen, D.H. (2000). “Toward a Design Theory of Problem Solving.” Educational Technology: Research & Development, 48 (4), pp. 63-85.


Goel, V. & Pirolli, P. (1992). “The Structure of Design Problem Spaces.” Cognitive Science 16, pp. 395-429.


Resource (wicked problems):

Rittel, H., & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155-169.)

[Check in on Design as X project]

Week 7

(Oct 8)


Design as…a way of thinking, acting, being


Cross, N. (2006). Designerly Ways of Knowing. London: Springer-Verlag. Chapter 1-2.


Adams, R.S., Daly, S., Mann, L.L., and Dall’Alba, G. (2011). “Being a professional: Three lenses on design thinking, acting, and being.” Design Studies, 32, pp.598-607.


Pick one:


Smulders, F.E., and Subrahmanian, E. (2008). “Design beyond design: Design thinking and design acting.” Proceedings of the Eighth Design Thinking Research Symposium: Design Thinking, University of Technology, Sydney, October.


Daly, S., Adams, R.S., and Bodner, G. (2012). “What does it mean to design? A qualitative investigation guided by design professionals’ experiences.” Journal of Engineering Education, 101(2), pp. 187-219.




Design as X project (foreshadow)


Humantific (2010). Design thinking made visible project. URL: http://issuu.com/humantific/docs/humantificthinkingmadevisible


Week 8

(Oct 15)

Design as intentional…Design as X (Project #1)

Sanders, L. (2006). “An evolving map of design practice and design research.” Interactions, November, pp. 13-17.

Present and discuss / map to Sanders (or create new map)


Design Thinking Research Symposium!


Week 9

(Oct 22)

Frontiers in Education (Madrid)

Design as inquiry: Analogical reasoning


Pick one:


Paletz, S., Schunn, C.D., and Kim, K.H. (2013). “The interplay of conflict and analogy in multidisciplinary teams.” Cognition, 126, pp. 1–19


Daugherty, J. and Mentzer, N. (2008). “Analogical reasoning in the engineering design process and technology education applications.” Journal of Technology Education, 19(2), pp. 7-21.


Pick one:


Ball, L.J., and Christensen, B.T. (2009). “Analogical reasoning and mental simulation in design: two strategies linked to uncertainty resolution.” Design Studies, 30, pp. 169-186.


Daly, S.R., Yilmaz, S., Christian, J.L., Seifert, C.M., and Gonzalez, R. (2012). “Design heuristics in engineering concept generation.” Journal of Engineering Education, 101(4), pp. 601-629.


Week 10

(Oct 29)

Design as a inquiry – abductive reasoning

Dorst, K. (2011). “The core of ‘design thinking’ and its application.” Design Studies 32, pp. 521-532. [DTRS 8, overview]


Kolko, J. (2010). “Abductive thinking and sensemaking: The drivers of design synthesis”. Design Issues, 26(1), pp. 15-28.


Week 11

(Nov 5)

Nature of design: Design as a social process (situated cognition)

Bucciarelli, L. L. (1996). Designing engineers. Cambridge: MIT Press. Chapter 1-2, 6.


Pick one:


Brereton, M. F., Cannon, D. M., Mabogunje, A., & Leifer, L. J. (1996). Collaboration in design teams: How social interaction shapes the product. In H. C. N. Cross, K. Dorst (Ed.), Analyzing design activity. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.


Kleinsmann, M., and Valkenburg, R. (2008). "Barriers and enablers for creating shared understanding in co-design projects." Design Studies, 29, 269-386.


Mosborg, S., R. Adams, R. Kim, C. J. Atman, J. Turns & M. Cardella (2005). “Conceptions of the Engineering Design Process: An Expert Study of Advanced Practicing Professionals,” Proceedings of the Annual American Society of Engineering Education Conference, Portland, June.


Week 12

(Nov 12)

Nature of design: Design as reflective process (situated cognition)

Schön, D. A. (1993). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action Basic Books, New York. Selected chapters.


Pick one:


Adams, R. S., Turns, J. and Atman, C. J. (2003). “Educating effective engineering designers: The role of reflective practice”. Design Studies, Special Issue on Designing in Context, 24(3), pp. 275-294.


Dong, A. (2006). "The enactment of design through language." Design Studies, 28, pp. 5-21.


Valkenburg, R. (1998). The Reflective Practice of Design Teams. Design Studies, 19, 3, pp. 249-271.

Week 13

(Nov 19)

Nature of design: Design as learning and seeing through cognitive artifacts (situated cognition)

Project #2 overview (due Dec. 10)

Fish, J and Scrivener, S. A. (1990). Amplifying the mind’s eye: Sketching and visual cognition. Leonardo, 23, 117-126.


Goldschmidt, G. (1991). “The Dialectics of Sketching.” Creativity Research Journal, 4(2), pp 123-143.


Pick one:


Blanco, E. (2003). “Rough drafts: Revealing and mediating design.” In D. Vinck (ed), Everyday Engineering: An Ethnography of Design and Innovation. Cambridge: MIT Press. [In the pdf document, this is the second chapter.]


Goldschmidt, G. and Smolkov, M. (2006). "Variances in the impact of visual stimuli on design problem solving performance." Design Studies, 27, pp. 549-569.


(Resource: Tversky, B. (2002) What Do Sketches say about Thinking, AAAI Symposium.)


Week 14

(Nov 26)


Week 15

(Dec 3)

Design learning trajectories

[Revisit Crismond & Adams]


Expertise, pick one:


Dorst, K. and Lawson, B. (2009). Design Expertise. Architectural Press. Chapter 3: Design Expertise.


Cross, N. (2001). “Design cognition: Results from protocol and other empirical studies of design activity.” In C.M. Eastman, W.M. McCracken & W. Newstetter (eds.), Design Learning and Knowing: Cognition in Design Education. New York: Elsevier Press.


Expert-Novice differences, pick one:


Atman, C.J., Adams, R.S., Mosborg, S., Cardella, M. E., Turns, J. and J. Saleem (2008). “Engineering Design Processes: A Comparison of Students and Expert Practitioners.” Journal of Engineering Education.


Cross, N., (2003). “The expertise of exceptional designers.” DTRS6, Expertise in Design, Sydney.



Trajectories and student difficulties, pick one:


Carmel-Gilfilen, C., and Portillo, M. (2010). “Developmental trajectories in design thinking: an examination of criteria.” Design Studies, 31, pp. 74-91.


Downey, G. & Lucena, J. (2003). “When students resist: Ethnography of a senior design experience in engineering education.” International Journal of Engineering Education, 19(1), pp. 168-176.



Week 16

(Dec 10)

Putting frameworks into action: Investigating design and connecting to design education (Project #2)

Dym, C.L., Agogino, A.M., Eris, O., Frey, D.D. and Leifer, L.J. (2005). “Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning.” Journal of Engineering Education, Jan, pp. 103-120.


Neeley, L., Sheppard, S., and Leifer, L. (2006). “Design is design is design (or is it?): What we say vs. what we do in engineering design education.” Proceedings of the annual ASEE conference, Chicago.


Finals Week

Final reflection due Dec 15 by 5:00 pm.