Design & Research - Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching

Postbaccalaureate Research 2021-2022

University of Washington


1 year
My research work at the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching (CELT) under direction of Dr. Cindy J. Atman involved developing curricula, lead undergraduate and graduate level seminars, curating and installing exhibits displaying student work, as well as designing and implementing a website highlighting the center’s research.

The Seminar - Research 

To develop the seminar curriculum for the Dear Design seminar at University of Washington I engaged in a deep data analysis of previous CELT seminars to determine what was successful and what could be improved upon. The research and data analysis consisted primarily of qualitative coding student responses and reactions to previous seminars, deep investigation of quantitative data provided by student survey responses, and an analysis of previous course plans. Through this research, with my co-worker Yuliana Flores, I was able to develop a 10-week course plan, curriculum structure, as well as detailed learning objectives/outcomes and research questions.

The Seminar - About

The concept of a “design signature” is woven throughout the seminar. Every time someone engages in a design process, formally or informally, a tracing of their design process activities is generated; this is what that we refer to as a “design signature”. Design signatures vary across different types of design projects, with different goals, constraints, and deliverables. The goal of the seminar is for students to deeply reflect on the types of design signatures that they are generating as they engage in design projects, and for them to develop an awareness of who they are as a designer. The student’s final postcards are their “Ideal Design Signature”, a representation of the way they hope their design processes will look in the future.

For each of the 9 weeks of the Dear Design seminar, students are asked to create representations of their design process on a postcard. Using a different lens each week, students represent and interpret past design projects, projects that they capture specifically for the seminar, and projects they observe.  Example lenses include: “what counts as design”, “many design models”, “expert design processes”, and “good designers do ‘X’.”

The Seminar - My Role

Along with the months of planning and research that went into creating the Dear Design Seminar. I was able to lead the 10-week Dear Design seminar during the Winter 2022 quarter at University of Washington. Working with Yuliana Flores, each week we created class slides, developed in-class activities, and created assignments for students to complete during the week. During the 2 hour seminar, I talked to the slides explaining design awareness concepts to the students, ran the in-class activities, and explained the homework to the students. The lecture portion of the seminar was followed by group discussion leading into the in-class activity for the week.

Although we had developed an in-depth course plan and curriculum materials prior to the seminar we continued to adapt our material and educational approach throughout the seminar. These adaptations came from a combination of our personal reactions to certain course material as well as student’s learning needs and reactions.

During week 7 of the quarter Yuliana and I realized that we were not comfortable teaching the material that we had planned to. We had many conversations between the two of us, consulted texts such as Design Justice by Sasha Costanza-Chock, and consulted the director of CELT, Cindy Atman. We ultimately decided to rethink the previously planned curriculum for that week, upholding our own morals and beliefs in collaborative, representative, and inclusive design, and design learning. This week became a turning point in the quarter not only for me as an educator and designer but was also reflected through student’s reactions and work.

Seminar Course Materials 

The Exhibit

The intention of the exhibition was to showcase student Dear Design work to our department, Human Centered Design & Engineering, along with other colleagues across the University of Washington campus. The exhibition also served to spark conversation about design processes and design awareness. The Dear Design Spring 2022 exhibition is an interactive installation featuring 40 “Ideal Design Signatures” created by participants across five Dear Design seminars in 2020 and 2022. Individually, each wooden block displays two different students’ ideal design signatures and has two solid blue faces. Collectively, the blocks can be arranged to display a “cascade shape”. This shape was identified through design process expertise research and is an illustration of an expert design process.

I worked closely with Cindy Atman to determine the intention of the exhibit in efforts to showcase CELT’s work for the first time to our larger educational community. I created and presented a proposal with three different exhibition alternatives to Cindy and her colleges. After deciding on the proposed exhibition idea, I created a final proposal outlining the purpose of the installation, sketches of the installation, my process for developing it, the materials that would be needed, as well as an estimate of the cost of materials and resources. It was important to me that the exhibition be interactive and engage with the greater community to highlight student’s work and CELT’s research.

For the exhibition itself I handmade 20 individual wooden blocks, four hanging hardwood shelves, and a printed flipbook of all student postcards included in the exhibit as a key to understand the display. I also created supplementary graphic collateral for the exhibit including, two large scale posters, a museum plaque, and an exhibition take away card. It was important the collateral for exhibition be graphically consistent and cohesive with each other. Thus, I began developing the distinct Dear Design and Design Signatures brand.

The Website

The Design Signatures website is built to showcase the research and work done at the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching and is composed of three main components: Dear Design, The Design Signatures App, and the original research on design expertise. To create the Design Signatures website, I drew prototypes and created a presentation outlining the goals and user needs for the website. I presented these to my collogues at CELT and we discussed next steps and iterations to the prototype. After these conversations, I created an interactive prototype and user test survey to obtain feedback.  Implementing feedback from multiple rounds of user testing both in-person and survey responses I finalized designs and began creating the Design Signatures site on Webflow. To create a cohesive visual language for the website I finalized branding for the Design Signatures project, as well as the branding for Dear Design. In addition to the visual aspects and functionality of the Design Signatures site I led the content creation for the site.

The Dear Design portion of the website is the most in-depth and presents interactive materials that invite learners to reflect deeply on how they engage in the design process. The materials are drawn from a 10-week seminar called “Dear Design: Creating your ideal design signature.” This website presents 198 postcards from 23 students who participated in the seminar in the winter quarter, 2022. Along with the 198 postcards from 2022, the website presents all materials that are used to teach the seminar re-adapted for web use.

View the Design Signatures website here!