Director of the Project Center Brad Niven describes students’ challenges and successes with a recent engineering project.
The Advanced Product Design Class produced tables for their second project of the trimester. They had to design and build a table that was capable of folding flat, and they each had only a single 48×48-inch piece of ¾-inch plywood to work with. A successful design had to work as both a strong table and a folded table, so students struggled with the dual nature of the design work.
Over the course of four and a half weeks, they followed a guiding Design Thinking methodology to research, generate ideas and produce small-scale prototypes to test their best ideas. Creating prototypes quickly out of foamcore, paper or even Legos is extremely valuable because the cost of mistakes at this early stage is very low. The goal is to work out the functionality and viability of your design before you start cutting the more expensive and larger pieces of wood. If you had few or no surprises during the fabrication of your finished project, you succeeded in working out the kinks ahead of time.
The range of results were quite impressive. Not only were they all beautiful pieces of furniture, but they were also beautifully built, showing a level of craftsmanship and attention to detail that was new to most of the students. The students were proud of what they created and came away with a deeper understanding of how difficult good design really is.