Welcome to the home page for Dr. Durward Sobek's National Science Foundation CAREER Award entitled, "The Role of Representation in the Synthesis Process" (NSF Award # REC-9984484).

Click here to see the official award abstract on the NSF website.

Vital Statistics

CAREER: The Role of Design Representation in the Synthesis Process.
5 years, starting May 15, 2000
Education and Human Resources DirectorateResearch
Evaluation and Communication Division
National Science Foundation
NSF Proposal Number:


The Project in Brief

The research proposed is a cross-disciplinary study of the design processes used by student design teams at Montana State University. The study unit will be senior design (or ‘capstone’) projects in 5 engineering disciplines and 2 non-engineering disciplines. Investigation will center on the role representation plays in designers’ reasoning and creative processes based on an emerging theory of design representation.

Data collection will attempt to characterize the design process of each student team, and measure project outcomes. Design process data will include design representations used, time/effort expended designing with these representations, design progressions, and timing of key decisions. Project attribute data will also be collected, such as team composition and diversity, motivation, technical skills, resources available, and so forth. Qualitative thematic analysis will look for patterns that distinguish “good” projects from “poor” projects. Statistical analysis will correlate design process attributes to project outcomes such as person-hours spent on the project, creativity and completeness of the final design, feasibility of final design, and whether design objectives have been met.

The proposed education activity will incorporate the research results into instructional materials and/or intervention strategies designed to enhance students’ synthesis capability. These will be implemented into one or more courses, and outcomes assessed to determine the impact of the intervention and/or new materials. This will also serve as a test for the newly developed theory on the synthesis process.

Proposal Documents

The following links are to the original proposal documents: