Reverse engineering and redesign: Courses to incrementally and systematically teach design

Kristin L. Wood*, Daniel Jensen, Jozeph Bezdek, Kevin N. Otto

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

155 Citations (Scopus)


A variety of design-process and design-methods courses exist in engineering education. The primary objective of such courses is to teach engineering design fundamentals utilizing repeatable design techniques. By so doing, students obtain (1) tools they may employ during their education, (2) design experiences to understand the "big picture" of engineering, and (3) proven methods to attack open-ended problems. While these skills are worthwhile, especially as design courses are moved earlier in curricula, many students report that design methods are typically taught at a high-level and in a compartmentalized fashion. Often, the students' courses do not include opportunities to obtain incremental concrete experiences with the methods. Nor do such courses allow for suitable observation and reflection as the methods are executed. In this paper, we describe a new approach for teaching design methods that addresses these issues. This approach incorporates hands-on experiences through the use of "reverse-engineering" projects. As the fundamentals of design techniques are presented, students immediately apply the methods to actual, existing products. They are able to hold these products physically in their hands, dissect them, perform experiments on their components, and evolve them into new successful creations. Based on this reverse-engineering concept, we have developed and tested new courses at The University of Texas, MIT, and the United States Air Force Academy. In the body of this paper, we present the structure of these courses, an example of our teaching approach, and an evaluation of the results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-374
Number of pages12
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2001
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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