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How can multiple solutions effectively solve one defined problem?

What skills are needed to successfully complete tasks required of an engineer?


The engineering design process is a sequence of steps that engineers utilize when solving a problem. Often times, the solution includes designing a product that meets certain requirements and achieves a task. The engineering design process is an effective seven (7) step format used to ensure design success and client satisfaction. In a real industry setting, each step may be accomplished by different types of engineers, including concept engineers, building engineers, test engineers, configuration engineers and designing engineers. Engineering is a complex field made up of many individuals with a variety of backgrounds, skills and talents. One engineer may specialize in testing and evaluation, as opposed to another who specializes in design or construction.

Identify the Problem. Before a design is created, one must identify the problem in which the design should solve. In most instances, this step is as simple as asking the question, “WHO needs WHAT and WHY?” For the purposes of this project, the answer to that question is simple. The Reach and Teach concert on campus needs a ___________________ to enhance the experience of students who are attending. The blank is determined by what the students chose to design in Lesson One. It could be a confetti canon, a glitter gun, balloon drop or anything the students dreamt up with their imagination.

Background Research. Research is important for two main reasons. One, learning from the mistakes of others’ experiences will save time and effort. Two, understanding the desires and needs of the consumer will ensure a successful design and satisfied client.

Learning from the mistakes of others will require one to answer the following questions: Who has attempted to create a similar design in the past? Were they successful? Why or why not? How could we improve upon their design and outcome?

Understanding the desires and needs of the consumer might require gathering information via survey or questionnaire. The answers to the following questions will help guide your design plan and ensure satisfaction. What does the consumer like, enjoy or participate in regularly? What does the consumer dislike or avoid?

Imagine Possible Solutions. Brainstorming is a common practice and can be completed in a multitude of methods. Below are a few examples: 

Mind Mapping – Simply write the problem on a whiteboard. Have students write their ideas/solutions on the board and draw lines to connect the relationships between ideas. This provides a visual of how ideas can relate and build upon each other.

Brainwriting – Students write their ideas/solutions on index cards, one idea per card. This ensures privacy and allows students to use their creativity without fear of scrutiny from other students. The ideas are randomly selected by a leader and discussed one at a time.

Step Ladder Approach – Present the problem to the entire group, then remove all students from the room except two (2). Allow two (2) minutes for those students to discuss possible solutions, then send in one (1) additional student. Provide two (2) minutes for the group of three (3) to discuss. Continue this process until all students are in the room. This method is an effective way to shed new light on existing ideas.

Drawing diagrams, listing materials and planning steps should be included in the brainstorming process.

Select a Solution. Students will begin narrowing down ideas from the brainstorming session based on the design requirements and other elements laid out in the engineering design brief students developed in lesson One. Engineers often refer to this activity as the down select process.

Create a Prototype. Once a solution is chosen, now is the time to use the plans and diagrams to build the design. Thorough documentation of the creation steps is necessary. This will ensure successful recreation and allow one to evaluate where changes must be made.

Evaluate and Test the Design. A complete evaluation will require multiple trials. The engineering design brief should guide the performance checklist used to evaluate the prototype. Documenting the results as they relate to the goals and requirements set forth by the client will assist one in making the proper changes to ensure satisfaction. Once tests are complete and notes are well documented, analyze the results.

Improve as Needed. It is likely any design will require multiple revisions and improvements. Once changes are made based on the analyzation, test the prototype again. The evaluation and improvements steps must be repeated until the design meets all requirements and goals set forth by the client.

In this lesson, we will focus on the first four steps of the engineering process: Identify the Problem, Background Research, Imagine Possible Solutions and Select a Solution.

Be sure to stress the importance of gathering as much information as possible before selecting a solution. This is not only important in engineering, but also a key concept that should be implemented in daily life. Informed decision making based on facts is a skill that can and should be used throughout a persons’ entire life.


Upon completion of this lesson, students will develop the skills through which they may:

  • Identify the steps of the engineering design process.

  • Conduct independent research related to the chosen engineering design brief.

  • Demonstrate and execute the engineering design process.

Click HERE to see the full lesson plan with activities. 

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