EC.720J | Spring 2010 | Undergraduate

D-Lab II: Design


This page presents descriptions of the homework assignments.

Homework 1: Design@MIT 
Due: Session 3

Consider the objects and products you encounter every day while at MIT—all of these were designed. When looking at a design, it’s important to be critical, but in a constructive manner. It’s also important to recognize that there are very few instances where a design is totally great or totally terrible; there are typically good parts of a poor design, and vice versa.

Take a picture of two very different objects or products, one that you believe is a relatively bad design, and one that is a relatively good design. Discuss the pros and cons of each design, and why you have come to your overall “good” or “bad” conclusion. Also discuss what trade-offs and constraints the designers likely faced in developing these products, and how these challenges were managed.

Finally, for the “bad” design, explain how you would improve it, providing a sketch to represent your idea, as well as accompanying text.

Homework 2: Discussion Questions 1 
Due: Sesssion 6

Write short answers to the following questions and submit them to the class website.

  1. Consider the technology that you reviewed during the Ses #2 class (Q-drum, LifeStraw®, etc). How well does it adhere to the principles of appropriate technology, participatory development and co-creation discussed in class last week?
  2. What are Paul Polak’s three myths of poverty alleviation? Do you agree or disagree with them?
  3. Compare the distribution model of the FreePlay Radio and that of drip irrigation kits and treadle pumps of IDE. Comment on the effectiveness and sustainability of each distribution model.
  4. What did you find to be the most controversial idea presented in the Out of Poverty reading?

Homework 3: Technology Critique 
Due: Session 3

Technology Critique worksheet (PDF)

Homeworks 4–7: Mini Project – Affordable Rainwater Harvesting System

The goal of the Mini Project is to design an affordable rainwater harvesting system that is made up of several small storage units that can be fit with attachments for drinking, cooking, hand washing and irrigation (and possibly other applications too). We will have a chance to experiment with some of the technologies that may influence the design (SODIS water bags, tippy tap hand washers and IDE drip irrigation kits) in class Ses #4.

To start with, you should be collecting information about rain water harvesting systems, possible uses for the water which is harvested and stored, and existing devices for these applications. Either record this in your notebook, or just print up useful articles, and then add them into the Information section of your notebook. As you learn more, ideas will pop into your head about possible solutions. Write these down in the Ideas section of your notebook. We will do formal idea generation in class Ses #4, we just want to be sure that you capture your initial impressions. We will be collecting these notebooks at the end of the project, so please be sure that they are complete and up to date as we go through the project.

In order to be able to finish this project in the short time we have available, we will to assign you to teams to work on particular aspects of the project. This will allow you to focus your research, and to narrow down the scope for your initial ideas. We will be working on six areas of the project:

  1. Domestic use: working on a bag that can be used for drinking and cooking.
  2. Hand washing: working on a bag that can be used as a hand washing station.
  3. Irrigation: working on a bag that can be used in irrigation or for other agricultural purposes.
  4. System for filling the bags: devising a system that will allow many bags to be filled at once, without the user having to go out into the rain to fiddle with the system.
  5. System for transporting the bags: how to get the bags from the filling station to where they will be used.
  6. Deployable harvesting structure: a system for collecting rainwater in situtations where there is no rooftop for mounting a harvesting system.

Specific homework deliverables are as follows:

Homework 4: Mini Project Idea Generation 
Due: Session 4

Homework 5: Mini Project Concept Evaluation 
Due: Session 5

Homework 6: Mini Project Testing and Evaluation 
Due: Session 7

Homework 7: Mini Project Presentations 
Due: Session 7

Homework 8: Discussion Questions 2 
Due: Session 10

Write short answers to the following questions and submit them to the class website.

1. What is the effect of constraints (technological, environmental or otherwise) on entrepreneurship? How do they promote or stifle it? Give examples from Out of Poverty (or outside sources and experience) to support your answer.

2. Discuss some of the major obstacles to market creation in developing areas. How might these barriers uniquely affect the acceptance and scalability of the product you are designing?

3. What are the similarities between the experiences of urban and rural poor. What are the unique advantages of being in a rural area vs an urban area when it comes to the creation of markets?

4. What are the shortcomings and strengths of Polak’s argument that creating markets and lifting people out of poverty will aid in other areas of development? Comment on the market-based approach versus the donation model for lifting people out of poverty, and give examples of when each can be more effective.

Homework 9: Project Selection 
Due: Session 8

After the in-class presentations and discussion about the design challenges (Ses #8), fill out and submit the Project Selection form (found in the Design Challenges section of the Projects page.)

Homeworks 10, 11, 13: Design Project Phase 1 – Information

This set of assignments prepares for and follows through on the Phase 1 Design Review. Its purpose is for you to get feedback, so you should not only be prepared to present your work, but also to ask questions and seek advice. Each team will have up to 10 minutes to present and 20 minutes for feedback and discussion. You should present the findings of your research, the different project framings that you explored, your problem statement and your design specifications.

Homework 10: Information Gathering 
Due: Session 11

See description in the Design Packet, Phase 1.

Homework 11: Problem Statement and Design Specifications 
Due: Session 11

See descriptions in the Design Packet, Phase 1.

Homework 13: Refined Problem Definition and Product Specifications 
Due: Session 12

Using the feedback you received from the Phase 1 Design Review (Session 11), revise your Homework 11 documentation.

Homework 12: Build-It Module Wrap Up 
Due: Session 11

Build-It modules are hands-on opportunities to learn how to use a variety hand tools, machine tools and prototyping equipment in project-based training sessions. You choose which module to take based on your interest in the project / skills taught, and are encouraged to coordinate with your teams to gain a variety of experiences that you can then share with each other.

The Build-It modules offered this semester are:

  • Charcoal press: drilling, cutting, sanding, filing, welding
  • Sheet metal corn sheller: sheet metal fabrication, cutting, filing, fasteners, spot-welding
  • Heat sealer: foam modeling, casting, drilling, tapping, sawing, filing, sand blasting
  • Cast aluminum corn sheller: 3D printing, casting, sawing, grinding, filing

The deliverable is the finished part, due in class. Teams meet after the modules have been completed to hear each member report back on their experiences and what they built. This is an opportunity to share and reflect on what was learned, which may be applicable to the design project.

Homework 14: Idea Generation and Concept Evaluation 
Due: Session 13

See descriptions in the Design Packet, Phase 2.

This is a lot to get done in under a week, so I’d get cracking as soon as you can. Here’s how I’d approach it:

  • Meet for an Idea Generation session and come up with lots of strategies for solving your root problem; hopefully, team members will have some initial ideas before the meeting.
  • Organize the ideas into overarching categories and then use a Pugh Chart or similar to evaluate these groups. The point of Concept Evaluation is to identify a few promising leads and to throw-out approaches that most surely won’t work. Once you have your set of promising leads, break off into sub-groups for testing. During this step, you’re not trying to build an intricate system; just create a bare-bones mock-up to see if the fundamental approach is feasible.
  • Finally, meet again quickly to present what you all have found and select a final concept (or maybe two) accordingly.

The new Design Notebook has examples for each step of the design process which will further detail the approach I just described.

Homework 15: Detail Design, Analysis and Experimental Results 
Due: Session 17

See descriptions in the Design Packet, Phase 3.

This assignment prepares for the Phase 3 Design Review of detail design, analysis and experimental results. 

NOTE: Within one week after that review, each team is required to meet with their assigned mentors. Be prepared to review your design choices and concept evaluation, the results of your analysis and experimentation and your timeline going forward. From this point, there are only two weeks left until the design review session of first working prototypes; and two more weeks beyond that until the final presentations, when you are expected to deliver a working solution that addresses your design challenge. Be sure you channel all this energy, motivation and hard work down the right path!

Homework 16: Book Group 
Due: Session 23

The four books that comprise Reading Assignment #7 are divided among four groups of students

  • Small is Beautiful: 4 students
  • Gaviotas: 6 students
  • Cradle to Cradle: 7 students
  • Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: 7 students

This homework assignment consists of both a group deliverable and an individual deliverable.

  • Per group: One write-up, four pages long, single spaced. The first two pages should summarize the main ideas presented in the book, while the other two pages should synthesize the group discussion, as a result of your meeting. In the second part you can address such questions as: What did you agree with? What did you disagree with? What points lead to the most discussion…
  • Per person: One-page individual reflection piece addressing questions such as: What did you learn? What were the insights you gained? What was surprising?

Both deliverables are intentionally short, so grading criteria will specifically include conciseness and synthesis, as well as writing style and quality.  Here are two examples:

  • Slides on Cradle to Cradle (PDF)
  • Group writeup on Gaviotas (PDF)

Homework 17: Wheelchairs and Cook Stoves Assessment 
Due: Session 17

Worksheet for Homework 17 (PDF)

Homework 18: Design for Usability 
Due: Session 17

Observe and reflect upon good and bad user-friendly designs that you encounter on-campus and off.  We will share some of these in class.

For example, we have discussed a microwave that required buttons to be pressed in such a non-intuitive order that even MIT students had trouble figuring out how to use it without instructions.

Homework 19: Reaction Piece on Paul Polak / Shawn Frayne Talk 
Due: Session 17

Write a one-page reaction piece to Paul and Shawn’s class on Monday. Please include any insights you gained, questions you had or thoughts it provoked.

Homework 20: Final Presentation 
Due: Two days before Session 25

The Final Presentations will take place at the MIT Museum on the Saturday before our last week of class. The schedule of the event will be as follows:

  • The instructor for each class will give a 2 minutes introduction for the class and introduce the projects
  • Each team will give a 1 minute presentation about their project
  • Each team will be given a space at the Museum to showcase their project. You will be asked to bring your prototype and a poster that gives an overview of the project

Thus, for the final presentation your deliverables include:

  • Your final prototype
  • A 24 inches x 36 inches poster describing your project
  • A few slides for your 1 minute presentation.

Homework 21: Embodied Energy Evaluation 
Due: Session 23

This is a team assignment intended to support your team project. The four sets of data handed out in class should provide a good starting point for finding embodied energies (or heating values) for your materials and processes. However, you will likely need to find additional sources of information to complete the assignment.

  1. Estimate the embodied energy associated with constructing your team’s device, which includes the energy associated with the materials and manufacturing processes that go into making it. You will need to create a spreadsheet listing the approximate masses in kg of each of the major components and processes and their specific embodied energies in MJ/kg to complete this step. Except for exceptional materials, it’s often safe to ignore the materials found in relatively small quantities to simplify the analysis.
  2. Estimate the energy consumed by your team’s device during its use over its entire life in MJ. Note that you may need to distinguish between heating value, which is the energy obtained from burning a fuel such as a wood log, and embodied energy, which is the energy needed to extract, refine and manufacture a fuel or component such as a board made of wood.
  3. Compare these values and reflect on how you could lower the impact of your device based on knowing these values. Write two to three paragraphs of assessment. Based on step one, which materials or processes dominate? Do you have access to recycled material or reusable materials that could bring some of these impacts down? Based on step two, is your device energy efficient compared to similar devices? How could it be made more efficient? And finally, does the use phase of the life cycle dominate or do the phases needed to produce your device dominate or neither? What strategies might you follow knowing the phases that dominate your device’s energy demand?

Homework 22: Final Report 
Due: Session 27

Design reports give design engineers the chance to catalog the design process, describe how they came to the decisions they came to, and explain the rationale behind those decisions.

As a team, write a 10–15 page report describing your project. This should be a summary of all the work you have done throughout the semester. In it you should include:

  • A description of the prior art in your field.
  • A brief review of the design concepts you considered and the reasons why you selected your final design.
  • A detailed description of your design, including reasons for your design decisions. Include pictures, drawings, and calculations as needed to fully describe your design.
  • Methodologies and results of tests you performed in designing and refining your prototype.
  • Discuss how your design incorporates the following:
    • design for sustainability
    • design for affordability
    • design for failure
    • design for human use
    • design for manufacturability
    • design for assembly

Discuss the extent to which your final design meets the design specifications, and if there are shortfalls, indicate how these might be addressed in the future.

For archival purposes, please also append a standardized summary in the following form:

  • Problem Statement [50 words max]
  • Design Specifications [150 words max]
  • Prior Work [150 words max]
  • Concepts Evaluation [150 words max]
  • Proposed Solution [200 words max]
  • Future Work [150 words max]
  • 4 photographs relevant to your project
  • 5 selected references (if any)

Deliverable: A 12 to 15-page written report outlining the above with properly formatted references. One report per team.

Homework 23: Suprio Das Reaction Piece 
Due: Session 22

Write a one-page reaction piece to Suprio’s class. Please include any insights you gained, questions you had or thoughts it provoked.

Homework 24: Bernard Kiwia Reaction Piece 
Due: Session 23

Write a one-page reaction piece to Bernard’s class. Please include any insights you gained, questions you had or thoughts it provoked.

Homework 25: Design for Production 
Due: Session 24

When designing a product that is to be produced beyond just the prototype stage, attention must be given to the resources that are available and to the sustainability of the manufacturing processes. Some of these considerations include:

  • material selection
  • waste source reduction
  • material use reduction
  • energy use reduction
  • recyclability
  • reusability
  • repairability
  • life extension

As a team, determine the appropriate scale of manufacturing for your project: will they be made in the tens, hundreds, or millions? What design changes will need to be made as you shift from manufacture of a single prototype to the production of multiple units?

Deliverable: A one to two-page document that describes the large-scale production of your product and discusses the impact on both material selection and manufacturing processes. Include sketches where appropriate. One report per team.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2010
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Projects with Examples
Design Assignments
Written Assignments
Activity Assignments with Examples