The concept of a “design signature” is the foundation for this work. Every time someone engages in a design process, formally or informally, a trace of design process activities is generated. We refer to such a trace as a “design signature.” Design signatures vary across types of design projects, with different goals, constraints, and deliverables.

The Design Signatures project is built on research by Cindy Atman and the team at the Center For Engineering Learning & Teaching (CELT) and is composed of three main components: Dear Design, The Design Signatures App, and the original research on design expertise.

Dear Design. Dear Design began as a seminar taught at the University of Washington through the Human Centered Design & Engineering department and has expanded into workshops, as well as this online learning platform which contains a set learning resources and supports a growing community of individuals exploring their design processes. The Dear Design seminar explores broad aspects of the design process and enables participants to reflect on their own design processes, develop their personal design signatures, and deepen their design awareness all through the creation of postcard representations.

Design Signatures app. The Design Signatures app was developed to enable users to track their design processes, either synchronously or asynchronously, and create a timeline representation of their design activities. Users are then able to visualize their design process in order to reflect on it. Over time, the aspiration of the Design Signatures app is for users to reflect on themselves as designers and develop the capacity to be aware of their design processes (which we call “design awareness”).

The research. The design process research that informs this work started in 1992. This research, from an expertise orientation, leverages verbal protocol analysis to deeply understand the design processes of 177 engineering designers with various levels of experience doing design. The findings have resonated with both designers and stakeholders in engineering education.
Acknowledgments: This work was supported by National Science Foundation grants 9358516, 9714459, 9872498, 012554, 0227558, and  0354453; the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching at the University of Washington, the Mitchell T. and Lella Blanche  Bowie Endowment and the Mark and Carolyn Guidry Foundation.