Design Competencies

Thanks to the work of Professor Alice M. Agogino (UC Berkeley), this year’s workshop featured a collective thought board about design competencies with input from many of our participants. Here are the key points from the board, divided up into eight sections.

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Personal Qualities

  • Comfort with ambiguity
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Resourceful
  • Persistent
  • Open-mindedness
  • Relax & have fun; good humor
  • Be willing to step aside and have students step up.
  • Student self-confidence to lead the show
  • Risk-taking ability
  • Confidence in ability to ask questions and come up with ideas
  • Recovering from failure
  • Proactivity (go ahead) & fearlessness (take risks)
  • Giving credit where credit is due
  • Collegiality & trust
  • Ability to identify and actuate passion
  • Humility
  • Judgment on knowing when to get help
  • Knowing when you’ve exhausted too much time plus resources to one design step
  • Fail with grace
  • Letting your idea go away
  • Curiosity

Evaluation & Testing

  • Comparing & evaluating solutions
  • Modeling & analytical skills
  • Ability to “listen to” tests, experiments with prototypes, etc.; exploit  what you hear and interpret (for debugging)


  • Ideation, brainstorming
  • Offset with decision making tool to assess risk and potential failure
  • Generate a variety of novel solutions that are feasible
  • Think outside the box
  • Creativity thinking skills
  • Create unexpected solutions that are innovative

Problem & Opportunity Identification

  • Problem identification
  • Identify constraints
  • Problem discovery problem definition situated in work, service learning, dorm rooms, etc.
  • Ability to determine a market and assess a market opportunity
  • Understanding context of problem you are solving
  • Optimism, seeking opportunities (even among constraints)
  • Identify customer needs and opportunities for innovation

Communication & Teamwork

  • Oral/written communication
  • If you can’t communicate with your team, client, or other stakeholder, you are handicapped
  • Teamwork
  • How to select the right kind of team members (i.e., identifying individual strengths)
  • Be able to listen to others and really hear what they have to say

Knowledge Creation & Thinking Processes

  • Abstraction
  • Being able to transfer knowledge from on area to another area
  • Asking good questions
  • Ability to search the patent literature
  • Know how to recognize unknowns/assumptions/ limitations
  • Application of domain knowledge to other domains
  • Ability to abstract and detail (rolling up/down in representations)
  • Ability to think on multiple levels; what is in front of me; what was I doing before then next; what is this process about; how do I change this process
  • Gather information
  • Recognize you have a cultural lens
  • Know how to get information
  • Know what to record/save/document/share (when, why, who, how . . . )
  • Ability to search for information . . . and critically analyze it . . . and categorize it . . . and determine its relevance
  • Troubleshoot a non-functioning device or prototype to I.D. the root cause of a failure
  • Critical thinking
  • Knowledge capture, maintaining for re-use
  • Learning to learn
  • Ability to teach themselves
  • Graduates should be able to self-assess their core competencies so as to seek out opportunities for improvements. Also they should be willing to unlearn defunct/obsolete knowledge, ambiguity their crystallized skills and reorganize their faculties to meet new challenges

Making  Things

  • Prototyping skills
  • Knowing when to model or prototype
  • Building (less talk, more action)
  • Use tools to build
  • Iterative prototyping (i.e., build/ test, change, rebuild)
  • Realization of multiple repetitions of divergence/ convergence process in idea generation
  • To be able to build or provide required information to be able to manufacture a product. Building skills are generally required
  • Implement an idea that can be built and mass-produced
  • Sketching
  • Drafting/CAD/SolidWorks

Technical Fundamentals

  • 2nd order ODE’s
  • Bernoulli
  • Control volumes & transport
  • Use engineering fundamentals to guide design and to model concepts to predict performance
  • Functional identification
  • Regardless of design or communication capability, students must develop technical competence – CORE to professional engineers
  • Making user centricity real
  • Building to learn
  • Make innovation tangible and digestible
  • Building collaboration not ownership
  • Ability to search out information
  • Critically analyze it
  • Categorize it
  • Determine relevance
  • Ability to listen to tests, experiments with prototypes, etc..


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