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Engineering Design Centre

Engineering Design Reading Club (RC15)


Engineering Design Reading Club (RC15)

Engineering Design Reading Club (RC15)

RC15 will not run in 2021; it will next run in Lent 2022. The course details (topics, texts and facilitators) will be determined prior to the start of that term. The details below are from a previous year and are representative of the breadth of topics covered. Students wishing to take the course should email the course leader to register their place.  


Leader: Nathan Crilly (

Timing: Lent Term 2022. 

Location: [TBC]

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. Specifically, 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 of each student's performance on the course will be based on two elements:

(1) The student's contribution to the session. Attendance at all sessions is expected and facilitators 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 facilitator (copying the module leader) within one week of the session that was missed.

(2) The student's reflection on the sessions and the course overall. Each student must write a 100-word reflection at the end of each session and send it by email to the module leader before the next session (with message header: "RC15 reflection"). Your reflection should briefly describe (i) what you learnt from the session (e.g. from the literature, method, findings, writing, group discussion, disagreements, etc.) and (ii) how that might relate to your own research (e.g. how it might be planned, conducted, communicated, etc.). At the end of the course, students must write a 1000 word essay on what they learnt from the course and send it by email to the module leader before the end of the Lent term (with message header: "RC15 essay"). This essay should synthesise what you learnt from the course that is most relevant to your own research. It is perfectly acceptable to reuse some or all of the previous reflection documents for this.


NOTES AND POSSIBLE CONTENT (for Lent 2020 but based on Lent 2019)


Week 1 (DATE)"Human behaviour in design" 

Facilitator: Dr Nathan Crilly (

Text 1: Jansson, D. G., & Smith, S. M. (1991). Design fixation. Design Studies, 12(1), 3–11.
Text 2: Cross, N., & Cross, A. C. (1996). Winning by design: the methods of Gordon Murray, racing car designer. Design Studies, 17(1), 91–107.
Notes: The two texts focus on the topics of creativity and invention in design. The first text is generally considered to be the first experimental study of 'design fixation', a form of a psychological block that impedes creative design work. There have subsequently been many similar studies based on this method. The second text is an interview study (or case study) focussed on understanding the creative work of an expert designer. There are a few other similar papers from the same era and cases such as these often form the basis of materials used in design education. Reading the two texts might raise interesting questions about the nature of creativity and about how designers work. In addition to considering such questions, you should also consider how design behaviour (or human behaviour more generally) can be studied. What aspects of design behaviour does each text emphasise and what aspects do they not emphasise? What kinds of claims can be made on the basis of the two different kinds of data generated? Are these factors determined by the methodological choices the researchers have made or could each method be modified or augmented to give a more complete description of the behaviour they are examining?         



Week 2: "Artificial Intelligence”

Facilitator: Dr Chih-Chun Chen (

Text 1: Tim Smithers, Alistair Conkie, Jim Doheny, Brian Logan, Karl Millington, Ming Xi Tang. (1990). Design as intelligent behaviour: Artificial Intelligence in design research programme. Artificial Intelligence in Engineering 5(2), 78-109.

Text 2: Jia Cui and Ming Xi Tang. Towards generative systems for supporting product design. (2017). International Journal of Design Engineering 7(1).

Notes: Two texts that describe the application of “Artificial Intelligence” in design. The first text was published almost thirty years ago while the second was published only a couple of years ago. It is also worth noting that the two articles share the same last author. In the session, we will compare the assumptions and vision of the two articles in terms of both Design and Artificial Intelligence. You should not worry if you do not understand the technical details of the computational aspects, but you should think about the models and paradigms (both Design and AI) they reflect.


Week 3: "Qualitative methods"

Facilitator: 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"

Facilitator: 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"

Facilitator: 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: "Healthcare Research"

Facilitator: Dr James Ward (

Text 1: Engineering better care: A systems approach to health and care design and continuous improvement (2017). Royal Academy of Engineering.

Text 2: Walshe, K. Pseudoinnovation: The development and spread of healthcare quality improvement methodologies (2009). International Journal for Quality in Health Care 21 (3): 153–159.

Notes: The NHS in England undergoes constant change, driven by political pressures, by changes in population health and by a general desire to continue to improve quality. 'Quality Improvement' (QI) occurs when such changes are conducted in a systematic fashion. It can be argued that QI is a form of design - it follows the broad principles of exploring a problem, creating and evaluating solutions. This session examines various QI strategies in the context of design. In a departure from other sessions, Text 1 is a report rather than a scientific paper. Unlike academic papers, this report was produced by committee and discusses how systems engineering can contribute to QI. The discussion will focus on the first 38 pages of the report. Those with particular time limitations may wish to focus on the Introduction, and Sections 2-5. Text 2 critiques various common QI methods and looks at their prevalence over time. We will first examine both Texts independently, and then consider each text in the light of the other.


Week 7: "Systems Design"

Facilitator: Dr Alexander Komashie (

Text 1: McDaniel, R. R., Lanham, H. J., Anderson, R. A. (2009) Implications of Complex Adaptive Systems Theory for the Design of Research in Health Care Organisations. Health Care Management Review, 34(2): 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 -- health, 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 with an opportunity to enter the debate from our own perspectives, experiences, interests and observations. The session will focus on discussing McDaniel et al.'s argument for why studying healthcare systems as complex adaptive systems has implications for how we design the research and Checkland's argument for a Soft Systems Methodology and explore how they can be complementary or different. 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 8: "Human Factors Perspectives on Inclusive design"

Facilitator: Dr Pat Langdon  (

Text 1: Langdon, P., Lewis, T., & Clarkson, P.J., (2010). Prior experience in the use of domestic product interfaces. Universal Access in the Information Society 9(3): 209-225.

Text 2: Neville A. Stanton , Catherine Harvey , Katherine L. Plant & Luke Bolton (2013) To twist, roll, stroke or poke? A study of input devices for menu navigation in the cockpit, Ergonomics, 56(4), 590-611,

Notes: Human factors as a field of study can be distinguished from HCI or Psychology by its origins in engineering applications (very often control) and its focus on applied methods. Here are two papers, one (text 2) representing the state of the art in Ergonomics of user interface design in 2013, the other (text 1) representing a similar approach but with an inclusive motivation. The idea is to compare and contrast the two papers concentrating on each aspect of research: Motivation, background, literature review, method, results, analysis and discussion and conclusions. Both papers are methodologically well-founded. Be prepared to discuss the use of methods in detail, concentrating on what and how the research was done.