Design Problem : Materials and Structures

Students have been exposed to the different types and properties of materials in previous lessons. They have also tested and been made aware of the importance of choosing the right material in regards to safety and environmental impacts. Students will now apply what they have learned to a design problem using the design process as their guide.

Problems exist everywhere, and they vary in their degree of complexity and importance. Regardless of how problems are identified or from where they come, engineers use the design process to creatively and efficiently solve problems.

Problems are most often solved by engineering teams. These teams work together, constantly communicating with each other, to create the desired product. The team may receive a problem for which they are expected to create a solution with very few constraints, which allows them to be quite creative.

In this lesson students will work in teams to solve a materials design problem. They will use the knowledge and understandings developed throughout the unit to solve the problem. It is important for students to understand that an acceptable solution is one that fits the constraints and specifications of the design brief.

K1 – Know the purpose of each part of a design brief. 
K2 – Describe a step-by-step, iterative design process. 

S1 – Brainstorm and sketch possible solutions to an existing design problem. 
S2 – Create a decision making matrix for a design problem.
S3 – Select an approach that meets or satisfies the constraints provided in a design brief. 
S4 – Create a detailed pictorial sketch or use 3D modeling software to document a proposed design. 
S5 – Present a workable solution to a design problem. 



download a design brief template

PLTW Design Process

A design brief is a concise document (no more than one page) that identifies the client, clearly states his/her problem or need, details the degree to which the engineer will carry out the solution, and lists the rules and limits within which the engineer must perform.




A design process is a series of steps that engineers follow when they are trying to solve a problem and design a solution for something; it is a methodical approach to problem solving. There is no single design process that everyone uses, but most processes are similar.




A decision matrix is a design tool that is used to compare design solutions against one another using specific criteria. Design problem constraints are identified by the customer in the workplace (or by the teacher in the classroom). The decision matrix is set up so that the solution with the largest point total is considered the best solution to the design problem. A decision matrix is a part of the design process.





Pictorial sketches are an important part of design work. A popular means of illustrating a 3D object is with an isometric sketch.


Download instructions for creating an isometric sketch.


Download blank isometric graph paper.


Autodesk® Inventor® 3D CAD software can also be used to draw (and even

3D print) a design.







Unit 2.4 Design Problem - 

click on the icon to enlarge the PLTW Design Process

download a decision matrix template

Common criteria used on a decision matrix include:

  • cost (material, development, manufacturing)
  • development time
  • manufacturing complexity
  • testability
  • robustness
  • aesthetics
  • size
  • safety

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