Constructing value-based design requirements



Designers and Stakeholders

Design phase:







In this teaching activity, students will learn how to analyse their identified project values and, based on those, construct specific design requirements. In doing so, the value judgments involved will be explained in an explicit, debatable and transparent way. Value judgment is here defined as the designer’s opinion about whether something is good or bad, right or wrong. Making these value judgments explicit allows for relating them to the judgments of others.


As values are general in nature it can be hard for students to make them concrete and incorporate them into design work. In this activity the students will learn how to analyse the identified project values and construct specific design requirements, which play an important role in guiding a design process. The teaching activity is an adaptation of a method originally developed by Van de Poel (2013).

In the teaching activity, the students formulate a value hierarchy consisting of three levels: 1) the project value (identified in a previous teaching activity), 2) the design objectives, and 3) the specific design requirements. By constructing a value hierarchy, the identified project values are systematically translated into design requirements, and the value judgments involved become explicit, debatable and transparent. Value judgment is defined here as the designer’s opinion about whether something is good or bad, right or wrong. Making these judgments explicit allows for critical reflection upon the translations made, and enables the debate among the stakeholders involved.

Moreover, a value hierarchy may be helpful in pinpointing exactly where there is disagreement about the specification of values in design. A value hierarchy makes design choices, and especially the implied value judgments, more transparent to other stakeholders, which is important because design usually impacts on others besides the designers.


After the teaching activity students will be able to:

  • analyse the identified project values and construct specific design requirements,
  • explain the involved value judgments in an explicit, debatable, and transparent way,
  • relate the value judgments to the judgments of other stakeholders.


Before running this teaching activity, the students should already have identified their project values.

  • Arrange settings for group work, and prepare the worksheet provided.
  • Ask the students to put the list of identified project values in front of them.
  • Introduce the concept of the value hierarchy and what the three levels stand for (values, design objectives, design requirements), and provide examples of value hierarchies.
  • Walk through the process of the activity with the students: instructions, timeplan, worksheet, and expected outcome.


During the teaching activity the students develop a three layered value hierarchy through a systematic translation of a project value into more specific design requirements.

The upper layer of the value hierarchy consists of a project value, followed by an intermediate layer of design objectives, and then a more specific layer of design requirements at the bottom.

The upper level, that is, the project value, has been identified by the students before this teaching activity starts.

The integration of values is done in a two-step process and documented in the worksheet provided by the teacher.

Step 1 - Analyse a project value and construct one or more design objectives:

  • Design objectives here refer to properties, attributes or capabilities that the product, system or service should possess. Such objectives may include striving to e.g. “maximize safety” or “minimize costs” without a specific target.

  • Example: When designing a house for elderly people, the value “elderly autonomy” can become the objective “safe home”.

Step 2 - Construct specific design requirements.:

  • The second step is to turn the design objectives into more specific targets, here referred to as specific design requirements. The requirement should be more specific with respect to A) the scope of applicability of the objective, B) the goals or aims strived for, and C) the actions or means to achieve these aims.

    Example: When designing a house for elderly people, the objective “safe home” can be translated into the requirements “no doorstep indoors”, “10 cm heightened toilet seat”, etc.

    See the provided worksheet for an example of a value hierarchy and how to formulate design objectives and design requirements.

  • The students will create one or more value hierarchies by applying the project values identified as part of the design projects that they are working on, or a design case provided by the teacher.

  • The students present their value hierarchies and design requirements in class, and explicitly describe their value judgments and how they relate to stakeholders. Other student groups comment upon the outcome.

  • In case this teaching activity is part of a whole course, in the final presentation of the design project the students ought to refer to the design requirements and describe how they played a role in their design process.

  • The students may also be asked to formulate evaluation criteria based on the design requirements.


To assess whether the intended learning outcomes were attained by the teaching activity the following assessment activities can be carried out (in class or after class).


Assess students' learning by making them do peer feedback (authentic assessment) on each other’s value-based design requirements. Ask them to comment and pose questions in relation to how well design requirements, design objectives and values are connected and how convincing the value judgment of the designer is.

Assess students' learning by making them write a self-review with a focus on values handled in an activity (formative assessment) focusing on describing and arguing for the movement from values to design objectives and to design requirements. And reflecting on the value judgments made and to what extent it can be said to be explicit, debatable and transparent.


In the assessment activity ask students to focus on:

  • describing the construction of design requirements from objectives and values in a way that highlights the value judgments made,
  • explaining the involved value judgments in an explicit, debatable, and transparent way,
  • reflecting on how the designer’s opinion about whether something is good or bad, right or wrong can be made explicit, debatable, and transparent so that they might be related to the judgments of others.


Van de Poel, Ibo (2013). Translating Values into Design Requirements. In: Michelfelder D., McCarthy N., Goldberg D. (Eds.) Philosophy and Engineering: Reflections on Practice, Principles and Process. Philosophy of Engineering and Technology. Dordrecht: Springer.