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Engineering Design Centre

Engineering Design Reading Club (RC15)


Engineering Design Reading Club (RC15)

Engineering Design Reading Club (RC15)

Leader: Nathan Crilly

Timing: Lent Term 2018. Wednesday's 10:00-12:00

Location: Sir Arthur Marshall Room, EDC Ashby Lab, Inglis Building, CUED

Participants: TBC.

Structure: Eight two-hour sessions

Mode of Assessment: Coursework



The Engineering Design Reading Club (RC15) facilitates discussion on a broad range of topics relevant to design research. Specificially, the course aims to:

  • introduce a range of contemporary and classic literature broadly related to Engineering Design,
  • promote a range of conceptual stances and methodological approaches broadly related to Engineering Design,
  • encourage and support critical reflection about the design process, design research and research communication,
  • provide experience of synthesising arguments based on the literature and debating different points of view.



The course is made up of a series of discussions centred on the assigned reading. Graduate students taking this course for credit towards their first year requirements should notify the module leader in advance of the first session and are required to actively participate in all of the reading club sessions. Their attendance and contribution will be noted each time.

Selected papers are listed on this page (scroll down) and finalised at least one week before the associated session. Students are required to read the texts fully before the session, and might be called on to (1) summarise all or parts of the texts, (2) comment on the conceptual, and methodological aspects of the text, (3) make connections to other literature, and (4) describe the text's relevance to current trends in research, industry and education. Simply attending the session is not sufficient to gain credit. The texts cover a broad range of approaches and students might find that they cannot fully understand each text depending on their particular background (e.g. they might lack the necessary philosophical, methodological or mathematical knowledge for some texts). However, students should still engage with each text as fully as possible, noting sections that they don't understand or have questions about.  

Individual facilitators have recommended the papers and will be on hand to guide the discussion. Sessions typically start with each participant offering brief comments on the paper. Discussions often centre on the specifics of each text but also relate more broadly to issues of research design, research conduct, data presentation, graphing, writing, etc. Making connections across the texts from different sessions is also encouraged.



Assessment will be according to the contribution that the students make to the sessions. Attendance at all sessions is expected and faciliators will report to the module leader with comments on the contributions made to the discussion. If students have a legitimate reason to miss a session then they are required to produce a well-written 1000 word document addressing points 1-4 above. This should be emailed to the session facillitator (copying the module leader) within one week of the session that was missed.




Week 1 (Wednesday 24th January 2018): "Design theory" 

Faciliator: Dr Nathan Crilly (

Text 1: Simon, H. A. (1988). The Science of Design: Creating the Artificial. Design Issues, 4(1/2): 67–82.
Text 2: Rittel, H. W. J. & Webber, M. M. (1973) Dilemmas in a general theory of planning, Policy Sciences, 4(2): 155-169.
Notes: Two texts that are often cited in discussions about the nature of design, and they take very different perspectives. From Simon, a chapter that draws out some of the key ideas about design and science from his book (The Sciences of the Artificial). From Rittel & Webber, a description of what it is about many design problems that makes them so difficult to address and solve. We'll discuss both texts in the session, looking into what design is and what the relationship is between research, science, problem solving and design. To help you understand the texts better, please look up who the authors were and the influence of their work. As with the other texts below, please do additional reading for terms and authors that are unknown to you.

Week 2: "System Design"

Faciliator: Dr Alex Komashie (

Text 1: Keating, C., Rogers, R., Unal, R., Dryer, D., Souza-Poza, A., Safford, R., Peterson, W. and Rabadi, G. (2003) System of Systems Engineering. Engineering Management Journal, 15(3): 36–45.

Text 2: Checkland, P. (1989) Soft Systems Methodology. Human Systems Management, 8(4): 273-289.

Notes: It is generally agreed that the majority of human needs -- heath, food, transportation and others -- are most effectively met by systems and often systems of systems. Approaches to designing these systems, however, have evolved over the years and have been the subject of various debates. These two papers present us with some of the factors that have driven this evolution and provide us an opportunity to enter the debate from our own perspectives, experiences, interests and observations. The session will focus on discussing Keating et al.'s argument for a System of Systems Engineering approach and Checkland's argument for a Soft Systems Methodology and explore how they can be complimentary. Before the session, please read a bit around the ideas in the two papers and come with some thoughts for how these may apply to your own research.


Week 3: "Qualitative methods"

Faciliator: Dr Roxana Morosanu (

Text 1: Haines, Victoria, Val Mitchell, Catherine Cooper, and Martin Maguire. 2007. “Probing User Values in the Home Environment within a Technology Driven Smart Home Project.” Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 11(5):349–59.

Text 2: Celikoglu, Ozge Merzali, Sebnem Timur, and Klaus Krippendorff. 2017. “How Do User Stories Inspire Design? A Study of Cultural Probes.” Design Issues 33(2):84–98.

Notes: Cultural probes are part of the qualitative research methods that are employed in design and in design research. The session will focus on these questions: What are cultural probes and how they differ from other methods? What areas and topics of research can be investigated by using cultural probes? Can you trace some of the ways in which the application of this method has changed in the last 10 years, by comparing the 2007 and the 2017 paper? 


Week 4: "Crowdsourcing"

Faciliator: Jason Jacques (

Text: Gadiraju, U., Kawase, R., Dietze, S., & Demartini, G. (2015). Understanding Malicious Behavior in Crowdsourcing Platforms: The Case of Online Surveys. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1631–1640). New York, NY, USA: ACM.

Notes: This paper offers an interesting perspective on how quality control can be managed for tasks which involve human participants (the authors use the example of a survey, a common crowdsourced microtask). The paper concludes with a number of task design guidelines surmised from the results, and offers a chance to consider how the variability of human behaviour can impact the design process. Please consider how the research results are presented and any issues relating to research ethics).


Week 5: "Design Computing"

Faciliator: Dr Timos Kipouros (

Text 1: Daniels, J., Werner, P. W., Bahill, A. T. (2001). Quantitative Methods for Tradeoff Analyses. Systems Engineering 4(3):190-212.

Text 2: Simpson, T. W., Martins, J. R. R. A. (2011). Multidisciplinary Design Optimization for Complex Engineered Systems: Report From a National Science Foundation Workshop. Journal of Mechanical Design 133(10):101002-1-101002-10.

Notes: The authors of the first paper encourage the idea to use quantitative methods and tools to support decision making in engineering design by satisfying the stakeholder requirements. They present a systems view and the reader should identify any potential weaknesses in the proposed approach. The authors of the second paper, which was published 10 years later, present the captured needs from an NSF workshop that will enable enhanced integration of quantitative approaches in engineering design. Can you identify the bottlenecks in achieving this and also come with new proposals?


Week 6: "Dimension Reduction"

Faciliator: Dr Pranay Seshadri (

Text: R. D. Cook, (2007) "Fisher Lecture: Dimension Reduction in Regression", Statistical Science, 22(1).

Notes: Model-based parameter studies are ubiquitous in engineering design. These models can range from a benign linear equation to a set of partial differential equations. In general, the greater the number of parameters, the tougher the inference regardless of whether the objective is a sensitivity study of the various parameters, an optimisation across the parameters or a design of experiment analysis. In this paper we explore a few ideas for reducing the dimensionality of such models.


Week 7: "Multimodal Displays"

Faciliator: Dr Ioannis Politis (

Text 1: Brewster, S. A., Wright, P. C., & Edwards, A. D. (1993, May). An evaluation of earcons for use in auditory human-computer interfaces. In Proceedings of the INTERACT'93 and CHI'93 conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 222-227). ACM. (

Text 2: Brewster, S., & Brown, L. M. (2004, January). Tactons: structured tactile messages for non-visual information display. In Proceedings of the fifth conference on Australasian user interface-Volume 28 (pp. 15-23).
Australian Computer Society, Inc. (

Text 3: Wilson, G., Halvey, M., Brewster, S. A., & Hughes, S. A. (2011, May). Some like it hot: thermal feedback for mobile devices. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2555-2564). ACM. (

Notes: Computers are becoming more and more capable, and more and more mobile. This allows exploration of new ways of displaying information to users, aside to visual displays. These papers explore the utility of sound, vibration, and heat as possible display modalities. What are the benefits of such displays mentioned in the texts, and what other benefits could be conceived? What are the methods used in the texts to evaluate the designs created? What other displays could be envisaged as output from a system, and how does the problem change when thinking about modalities of input to a system?


Week 8: "Design Cognition"

Faciliator: Dr Mariana Neroni (

Text 1: Jansson, D. G., & Smith, S. M. (1991). Design fixation. Design Studies, 12(1), 3–11.

Text 2: Neroni, M. A., Vasconcelos, L. A., & Crilly, N. (2017). Computer-Based “Mental Set” Tasks: An Alternative Approach to Studying Design Fixation. Journal of Mechanical Design, 139(7), 071102-071102-10.

Notes: When engineers are solving design problems, they are often required to search a large ‘solution space’ to arrive at creative solutions. ‘Design Fixation’ is a phenomenon where designers unknowingly limit the space within which they search for solutions. That is, they become ‘blinkered’ or ‘blinded’ to solutions other than the ones they are considering. This is a problem in professional practice, and also in educational settings. Design fixation is an important subject to understand because it impacts on creative outcomes by reducing designers’ ability to generate innovative solutions. The papers present two different approaches used to study design fixation experimentally. We'll discuss both papers in the session, identifying the advantages and disadvantages associated with the two approaches and reflecting on how experimental research on design cognition can inform the development of tools and/or training interventions aimed at improving design practice.