Working notes: building a questionnaire to characterise design

I struggled to find an image to go with this post. When I typed design into my image database, this came up. It is rather fine, isn’t it?

Today at Think Up I am writing a set of questions that can be used as a diagnostic tool to characterise different stages in the design process. The questions will go into an online questionnaire through which we will be trying to establish a link between different types of design problem, the design process they require and techniques and tools that designers use. The aim is to help students understnad what might be suitable approaches to use in response to different design problems.

I am fortunate to be working with my colleague Bengt Counsins-Jenvey who knows a huge amount about design thinking in a range of different contexts. He is working on the other part of the questionnaire that is characterising the design problems.

Here’s some reflections and notes from today’s working:

  • Reducing long-form answer questions on questionnaires. They are easier to write but I’ve learn the hard way on other projects recently that long-form answer questions take so long to analyse it is really worth taking the time to come up with good numeric-scale or mutltiple-choice questions. Having done an initial round of interviews is helping me determine the right language to use.
  • How succint can I get the questions? I am trying to weigh up writing questions that everyone can understand and keeping the questions short. Again, having done some initial interviews helps me know what language people are likely to use.
  • I’ve realised my design world view was initially shaped by ‘blank-piece-of-paper’ designers. My interviews on this project have shown me how few design contexts require blank paper. I hope this process gives me greater understanding of design contexts where the operating context is much more complex.
  • What number scale to use? I’ve gone for 1-4. I don’t want people to think about their answers for too long and I don’t want them to sit on the fence. It will be interesting to see the impact of this choice.
  • I have been daunted by putting this questionnaire together, so last night I just set myself a simple target of writing three questions for each of the main stages in the design process. This much less daunting task was easy to do – the questions almost wrote themselves – and then I was easily able to supplement them. Later Greg Downing explained to me that this process is what he calls skeltoning: you quickly put in place the outline and everything else follows.

For more info on this piece of research see this post on the Think Up website.

The Beginning of Engineering Knowledge Club

Engineering Knowledge Club logo
Engineering Knowledge Club logo
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Almost nine months since we were awarded funding from UCL’s Teaching Innovation fund, Paul Greening and I kicked off ‘Engineering Knowledge Club‘. The idea is to encourage students to develop for themselves the engineering knowledge they need in order to be successful in the field of engineering they want to go into. We have set up a dedicated blog for Engineering Knowledge Club, which describes our aims for the project, so I won’t repeat them here.

But what I will say here is how excited I am about this project. The timing is particularly appropriate as I have been spending most of November co-writing a guide for the Royal Academy of Engineering on experience-led learning in engineering. Many of the ideas discussed in that report we can put in practice in Engineering Knowledge Club, for example:

Student–led learning – so much of the learning that I see happening in civil engineering courses seems to be motivated by grades, which probably stifles curiosity, intrinsic motivation and independence. I strongly believe that if learners were learning about what they were interested in, then they’d be self-motivated, perhaps work harder, and learn more effectively. Engineering knowledge club is about giving students the chance to define and drive their own learning.

Learning based on real-world stimuli – civil engineering is a subject that surrounds us, and so lends itself well to learning by observation. And yet, so much civil engineering education is based on text books, lecture notes and websites. Engineering knowledge club will encourage students to be inspired by, be curious about and learn from the environment which surrounds them.

Reflective learning – people tend to learn better when they think about how they are learning. Over the last two years I’ve experimented at UCL with Paul Greening and at Queens Belfast with Siobhan Cox on using private student blogs for reflective learning. While this has had some success, what’s been missing is students being able to learn from each others’ blog posts. Engineering Knowledge Club will give me the chance to experiment with using a public class blog. This will hopefully help to build a sense of community among the students, and should serve to demonstrate the concept to anyone interested.

Building a community of learning – I don’t feel that students are encouraged enough to support each other in their learning. I believe that a student cohort in which everyone is looking out for each other would be one that learns more. We hope to build a sense of community in Engineering Knowledge Club and be able to see its impact on learning.

We shall see!