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Conceptual Design Theory in Education Versus Practice in Industry: A Comparison Between Germany and the United States

[+] Author Affiliations
Christoph Maurer

University of Applied Sciences, Munich, Germany

James Widmann

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA

Paper No. DETC2012-70079, pp. 277-283; 7 pages
  • ASME 2012 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 7: 9th International Conference on Design Education; 24th International Conference on Design Theory and Methodology
  • Chicago, Illinois, USA, August 12–15, 2012
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division, Computers and Information in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4506-6
  • Copyright © 2012 by ASME


The early stages of product development are arguably the most important in the design of successful products. This paper describes different approaches to the conceptual design phase of product development, how they are taught to undergraduate engineering students, and how they are practiced in industry both in Germany and in the United States. The authors note that teaching the early stages of product development to future engineers at German Universities is more focused on methodology and processes. In the United States teaching design is more about being creative and overcoming individual constraints in order to find good and unconventional concepts. To understand how the conceptual phase is implemented in industry, the authors interviewed 16 companies in Germany and the United States. A thematic analysis was performed on the responses. In German industry, the authors observe uncertainty about how to apply process management in the very early stage of product development where different concepts are developed and evaluated. In U.S. industry most companies do not claim to follow a process during the early stage of concept development. Observing the differences between what is taught to engineering students in school and what is practiced in industry some conclusions recommendations are drawn. The observations demonstrate a weakness in process reliability during the early stage of product development both, in German and U.S. industry that should motivate academia to adapt its pedagogy in order to enable future engineers to create successful concepts.

Copyright © 2012 by ASME



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