Analog of the bone

Introduction to design for engineers


In 2008 and 2009, I had the opportunity to teach three semesters of a design fundamentals course to first-year graduate students in the Integrated Product Design program at the University of Pennsylvania. Working closely with my mentor, co-teacher and chair of the undergraduate architecture program, Richard Wesley, we developed the curriculum for this new course. The students required to take the course were usually those coming from engineering without a strong background in design.

Exercise 1: The bone

The human skeleton was presented as an analog of both figural contents and field of operation upon which forces, kinetics, and the possibilities of attachment could be mapped and also projected.

Students were asked to draw the bone as accurately as possible without the use of any traditional measuring device. Through drawing, we believed that formal characteristics of the bone gave rise to is potential qualities.

Exercise 2: Analog of the bone

The analog was developed by observing these qualities present in the bone, which were then translated into Euclidian forms via hand drafting. We wanted to show that simple forms have an inherent legibility that is common to all people. Using a restricted language, students learn that it is possible to grow richness and complexity from the basics.

Analog drawings

Exercise 3: Parametric modeling

The analogs developed on paper were modeled as assemblies of solid parts in SolidWorks. Once the analog was seen in 3D, forms and joints were revised. An ABS prototype model was 3D printed when the design was complete. The students presented their drawings and models in a critique at the end of each semester. The jury included members of the PennDesign and IPD faculty.

A constellation of issues

At a time when parametric modeling was just beginning to take hold in an educational setting, particularly among architects, we believed that this type of tool was revolutionary in how it directly acknowledges the non-linear path designing often takes, comprised of a constellation of issues that connect, diverge, and affect one another to some degree. We tried to convey to the students that, as designers, we must consider our creations holistically as unified bodies in tension with their issues.

3D printed prototype 3D printed prototypes

Student work

  • Nicholas Araujo
  • Nat Bender
  • Kelsey Brown
  • Adam Libert
  • Amy Montgomery
  • Matthew Nowicki
  • Kerim Yehia

More images

Next project: The panel project