Engineering design educators often provide their students a task (or “prompt”) to guide their design projects. Similarly, engineering design educational researchers also provide research participants with a design task to guide their activity during experimental sessions. In both contexts, there is a fundamental underlying assumption that the design task has no significant effect on the students’/participants’ design cognition. Specifically, the authors test the hypothesis that a design task does affect a student’s design experience. Failing to disprove this hypothesis could significantly impact both design education practice and design education experimental research.

To determine the effect of a design task on students’ design cognition, experimental sessions were conducted wherein student design teams worked together to solve a speculative design task. The student teams were presented with two nearly identical design tasks; however, one featured an additional design requirement. A task-independent protocol analysis method grounded in the Function-Behavior-Structure design ontology is performed on audio and video recordings of the design sessions to provide a common basis for comparing the two groups. Differences in design cognition are identified by analyzing and comparing the percent occurrences of the design issues and design processes and the Problem-Solution indices.

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