Faculty Publications


The effects of 3D printing in design thinking and design education

Document Type



3D printing, Architectural design, Design, Design cognition, Design education, Design models, Design strategies, Interior design, Prototypes, Rapid prototyping

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology





First Page


Last Page



Purpose: Rapid prototyping and three-dimensional (3D) printing allows the direct creation of objects from 3D computer-aided design files. To identify the effects 3D printing may have on student experiences and the learning of the design process, students were asked to create a design and create a prototype of that design. Design/methodology/approach: This study follows an experimental design involving four total courses of interior design students. After conceptualizing a design, students were randomly selected to either create the prototype by hand or given access to 3D printing equipment. The models were graded by three subject experts using a rubric that focused on three key aspects of the model project, namely, craftsmanship, design quality and scale (proportion). Findings: All three measures produced significant mean differences with a medium effect size when comparing the 3D printed models to the traditionally built models. Additional observations provided insights into the design processes approached by students using hand-constructed and 3D printed modeling. The most notable difference was the propensity for curved and rectilinear shapes by available design technologies. Research limitations/implications: The experiment showed that the design technology (3D printing) did have an impact on the designs students conceptualized. This suggests that students do connect ideation to implementation, and the availability of enabling technology impacts the design process. This research was conducted in an interior design environment and consists of primarily female students. The experimental research may be limited to design programs with similar student populations and levels of exposure to various design technologies. Practical implications: This research is designed to provide instructors and programs valuable information when looking at implementing new design technologies into the curriculum. Instructors are made aware that new design technologies do impact student design strategies. Additionally, although certain design technologies allow for revisions, it was apparent that students continued to be resistant to revise their initial models suggesting instructors prepare to address this issue in instruction. Social implications: There is a strong body of research indicating inequality in education where students have differing access to technologies in schools. This research shows that 3D printing, similar to many technologies in education, can impact the cognitive processes of content being learned. Originality/value: There is limited research on how design technologies impact design cognition and the experiences of design students. This paper looked specifically at one design technology (3D printing/rapid prototyping) and how it impacts the processes and quality of design, in addition to the quality of design products (prototypes or models). Research such as this provides instructors and faculty members an insight into how design technologies impact their curriculum.


Department of Technology

Original Publication Date


DOI of published version



UNI ScholarWorks, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa