ES4F7: What I’ve Learnt about Creative Design
Perhaps the most refreshing things about starting fourth year was the massive list of modules available to choose from. Whilst the first three years consisted mainly of Things Civil Engineers Must Know, which led to some subjects best described as ‘dull but necessary,’ I was able to pick five out of my seven modules this year. Looking back I’m happy with my choices – I’ve found all of them pretty interesting, and I’ve managed to avoid the topics that really aren’t for me. One of my best modules this term has been Creative and Conceptual Structural Engineering Design (AKA ES4F7) which has really changed the way I’ve looked at the design process.
This year is the first time the module has been offered and I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up rewriting the whole thing based on our feedback, so don’t expect the exact same thing if you do arrive at Warwick. The module ran entirely in seminars every Tuesday morning, and is assessed entirely through coursework – so right from the outset that’s one fewer exam to worry about! Each week we’re given a design task to take away until the next session, where we then show off our wonderful creations to the class. Obviously we’re assessed on the quality of the work we produce, but a good chunk of the overall grade I receive will be based on the feedback I give to everyone else, as well as my reflections on my own designs. Writing up the evaluation has provided me with a handy stash of opinions, so I’ve decided to share the key lessons I’ve learnt so you can do a better job than I did when I started this module.
1. Design takes time. The only way you’re going to create something genuinely creative is by playing around with loads of ideas before you pick the best one to develop further. I learnt this the hard way in my third week, when I tried to design a high-rise office block in the hour before the seminar. I ended up with a hastily-scrawled sketch of a generic cuboid with a few calculations surrounding it like messy clouds. It was bad and I felt bad, but it did at least teach me not to do that again! And following from that:
2. Clarity is vital. You can have the best design in the world in your head, but if all you show is a wonky drawing the size of a postage stamp nobody’s going to be too impressed. I know some people with an amazing artistic ability, who can create beautiful drawings and sketches that capture the very essence of their ideas. I am not one of those people. I have definitely improved my presentation over the module, however – not just in terms of sketches, but also more generally – my later projects have neater calculations, cross-sections and the like. I’d like to believe I’ve become a lot more aware of how someone viewing my work for the first time might see it, which can’t be a bad thing!
R3. Rip it up and start again! I’ve realised I have a bad habit of refusing to deviate too far from my original idea, even when it would be better to back off and try something else. Towards the end of the module we were coming up with preliminary designs for a bridge, to be developed for the final week. I had a very clear image in my head, and was determined to make it work, even though it wasn’t particularly appropriate for the brief. Instead, I tried to shoehorn as much of my original concept as possible into my presentation, with each constraint imposed mangling it further until I ended up with a bit of a mess. This was gleefully picked up in the seminar by my coursemates who were eager to gain their marks for design criticism, so at least someone benefited from it! In retrospect I should have thought about which elements I really liked about the original and tried to carry them forward to a new design. Now I know I sometimes fall into this trap it should hopefully be easier to spot in the future.
One of the best things about the module is that I was able to make these mistakes and learn from them in a relaxed and friendly environment, instead of being called out for it by my boss when I start work! We only had a dozen students taking the module this year so everyone knew each other, and though the module involved a lot of both receiving and giving criticism I never felt like anyone was personally attacking anyone else or trying to put them down, but instead helping them learn and improve. Nobody likes having people point out the flaws in their work, but having that experience now in a safe environment makes me somewhat less nervous about doing it for real in the future. That’s a result I’m happy with, and is the reason why ES4F7 has been my most enjoyable module this year.
Until next time!