Design Technology: Understanding the I A Criteria (Planning) – Defining the Problem (Aspect 1)
Many students fail to gain a “complete” mark for Aspect One of the planning IA criteria due to lack of objective evidence to justify “the need or opportunity”. Often students merely state their own opinion based on assumptions or they choose a design context because they want to make a particular product.
It is important that students explain their reasons for focusing on a particular context. This may be prompted by constructive discontent. For example, concern for the environment and dissatisfaction with the amount of waste produced at school/college which is not recycled. A personal view may be a starting point for identifying the problem but it needs to be backed up by objective research. In this context the student should ask themselves a number of questions:
Why is there not a suitable recycling scheme in place?
Has a scheme been considered and rejected?
Who would be responsible for a system?
What are the economics involved?
How is the waste collected and would a recycling scheme require use of a different company?
What is the attitude of students and staff on the campus?
There are other questions which could be asked but a list such as this is sufficient for a student to decide on what strategies to employ in order to gain evidence to support the brief and specifications.
Some kind of user research is normally required. This may be in the form of consulting a focus group to gain views of a representative sample of the student body. Usually a focus group consists of people who are particularly interested and/or experienced with a problem. Use of a focus group can also be on-going in order to gain feedback at different stages of the design development process such as which idea from a number generated to take forward to the final solution stage and also for testing and final evaluation of the finished product/system.
Many students conduct user research in the form of a questionnaire. Although questionnaires can be useful they are notoriously difficult to construct in order to elicit firm evidence and the majority of students use the results of the questionnaire to justify the need for a particular type of solution when the feedback is too vague to come to that conclusion. A questionnaire may be a useful starting point to gain a general consensus but individual interviews will often be necessary to gain more detailed information.
For obvious reasons there is a tendency nowadays for using literature search with the internet to be the main or only research method used. The internet can be good for researching existing solutions, patents etc. and perhaps establishing the price parameters but sole use of the internet is rarely good enough to provide enough evidence to underpin the brief and specifications.
An expert appraisal may be required in order to gain the views of people who have detailed knowledge/experience of what is required. In relation to the recycling scheme mentioned earlier “experts” might be local authority officials responsible for administering recycling schemes in the area or perhaps senior staff in the school/college who have already conducted much research into the possibility (and costs) of adopting a recycling scheme.
Guidance from teachers can be absolutely critical at this early stage to show students how to tease out the important information needed for compiling the brief and to ensure that research strategies are appropriate and to help the student to differentiate between research required to establish the “need or opportunity” and research post- brief to explore the specifications stated and underpin the generation of ideas.
The scope of the project needs to be established taking into account time and resources available. For example, will a recycling scheme for the whole campus be too extensive for the project so should the student focus on one building or a particular activity such as consuming food and drink? It is always feasible that the student can show how a successful design can be scaled up for the entire campus at the evaluation stage of the project even though more R & D will be required.
As a design project needs to be sustained over quite a lengthy period of time it is important that a student is able to maintain interest and enthusiasm beyond just the need to complete a project for the course. It is a good idea therefore to guide students to work on a context which they are interested in and have some knowledge of. Hopefully they will already have a range of contacts due to their involvement. For example, a student may be an active surfer and though not necessarily an expert they become aware of design opportunities such as the problem of storing valuables safely when on the beach or a simple security device required for their board. The student will be able to gather research evidence from other surfers and from experts such as surf shop owners and instructors without having to spend a great deal of time finding the contacts. It may also be possible to use the contacts at different stages of the project to gain feedback on ideas and models/prototypes.
Teachers should be wary if students state that the “goal” of their project is to re-design an existing solution in order to make it cheaper and hence, increase the market. Often products which appear more expensive than they should be have been designed with extensive R & D (much more than the student can undertake) and the price of the product is determined by the cost of development/manufacture and what people are prepared to pay. A student may end up with a cheaper product but one which does not provide the same or better performance than the existing design and so will not have market appeal.
A common enquiry by teachers new to IB Design Technology at diploma level concerns whether a student may identify a design problem which will not have a solution in the form of a finished prototype. As manipulative skills section of the IA criteria is used in relation to the design project only, it would seem that a physical outcome must be provided in order to apply the manipulative skills criteria. Often a working prototype is the best type of outcome for a student’s project as the development process is more tangible with a physical object as the goal and the student can gain objective feedback from experts and potential users as outlined earlier. The nature of the final outcome depends largely on the nature of the problem and how far the student can proceed with a solution. The criteria for manipulative skills clearly refers to planning procedure for practical work and competent handling of materials and equipment and so the final outcome of the project must allow enough scope for assessing the student’s skills in this regard.