Design is a concept that means different things to different people. Even in the engineering design research community, there is little agreement on a consistent definition of design. This study looks into how engineering students understand product design, using a concept mapping exercise to elicit the key concepts and relationships present in their mental models. An analysis of concept maps from 130 third-year undergraduate engineering students shows how these students think about design, the common themes and relationships that are seen across the population, and variations across different groups of students. By understanding how students in the midst of ABET-accredited programs conceptualize design, conclusions can be drawn regarding the effectiveness of existing curricula in instilling a complete understanding of holistic product design. This can lead to recommendations regarding future engineering design learning objectives, teaching materials, and activities.

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