Considering Design Decisions as the Basis for Design and Make Activities

The EIS project was a professional development initiative, and during the ongoing evaluation that took place during its first year of operation, it was realized that the majority of the in-f ervice training taking place was concerned with technical subject knowledge about electronics. This is not surprising, but dealing with these technical issues, while important, was not sufficient to ensure that there was an impact on pupils’ learning in design and technology lessons. It was important to focus on the totality of electronic product design and consider the wide range of design decisions, including the technical, that pupils would need to make if they were to be successful in electronic product design. Subsequently, this holistic approach to electronic product design was found to generate tasks that were authentic in that they were personally meaningful and set in culturally authentic contexts (Murphy & Hennessy, 2001) and could be applied across the breadth of a design and technology program of study. The view of the EIS project was that pupils should be given the opportunity to learn to make five types of design decisions:

1. Conceptual (e.g., What is the overall purpose of the design? What sort of

product will it be?)

  • 2. Technical (e.g., How will the design work?)
  • 3. Aesthetic (e.g., What will the design look like?)
  • 4. Constructional (e.g., How will the design be put together?)
  • 5. Marketing (e.g., Who is the design for? Where will it be used? Where will

it be sold?)

These can be represented visually, with each type of decision at a corner of a pentagon, with each corner connected to every other corner. This interconnectedness is an important feature of design decisions. A change of decision within one area will affect some if not all of the design decisions made within the others. For example, if the way a design is to work is changed, this will almost certainly affect what the design looks like and how it is constructed. It may also have far-reaching effects in changing some of the purposes that the design can meet and who might be able to use it. Usually the teacher identifies the sort of product the pupils will be designing and making. This makes it very difficult for pupils to engage in conceptual design. Even if the type of product is identified for the pupils, there are still many opportunities for making design decisions in the other areas. Consider the designing and making of a puppet theater and puppets. The pupils can make decisions about who will use the puppets and what they will be used for (marketing decisions), what sort of puppets would be appropriate, the sort of theater such puppets would need, the nature of props and scenery, plus any special effects that might accompany the performance. These decisions will encompass a host of technical, aesthetic, and constructional design decisions.

It is through a combination of the learning from appropriate resource tasks and previous experience within capability tasks that pupils will be empowered to make these design decisions. Teachers are able to use the idea of design decisions to scrutinize their design and technology curriculum. The first step is to audit the range of design decisions that are likely to be made by pupils tackling a particular designing-and-making assignment. The second step is to carry out this audit across all the designing-and-making assignments tackled by pupils across a key stage. This gives an overview of the designing that is taking place. If an area of design decision making is missing, underrepresented, or overrepresented, the nature of the assignment can be adjusted accordingly. Teachers can adapt their curriculum to include resource tasks that are relevant to the required design decisions. In this way, the demands for reflection within designing can be orchestrated by the teacher so that pupils are required to make and justify their design decisions in ways that are challenging without being daunting and without being overwhelmed with design tasks that are too complex. As pupils become more adept at this reflection about design decisions, the actions they take as a result will also become more highly developed. As pupils move through a program of study requiring them to make and enact design decisions, they will develop a growing interdependence between reflection and action.

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