Deepening understanding of values before creating value based design requirements


Educational setting:

Values in design,
Master’s level,
free-standing online course,
part-time (50 %),
15 ECTS,


2 x 2 h workshops (and homework in between)

Number of students:


Learning Activities

The students participating in this distance online course usually come from different places and countries. The course was thus run through using a combination of the video conference system Zoom, the online whiteboard Miro and other digital tools like presentation and video editing tools. The students worked individually and reflected upon a design project that they were involved in at the time of the course, or a design project that they had already finished. The students learned with their peers through weekly design review meetings facilitated by the teachers.

The course was structured in a way where each week of the course had a specific theme and assignment (or combination of two assignments) related to values in design. Each week started with a lecture on Mondays about the assignment topic where the assignment was introduced, and relevant literature was discussed. Then students worked on the assignment during the week and presented their assignments to each other Thursday afternoons where they gave each other peer critique.

In the beginning of the course, students worked with their personal values and with stakeholder values. Before they did the first exercise presented in this case description – the value clustering activity – they had identified four core values that were characteristic for the projects that they reflected upon in this course. The idea behind placing the value clustering activity after the identification of project values was to deepen their understanding of each of their project values before they started to create value based design requirements based on their core project values.

While running the activity the students had access to three different value vocabularies: the HuValue Wheel (HuValue, 2021), an overview of values, and 500 value words.

The students worked individually using the online whiteboard Miro for developing their value clusters and presented them to each other in class through their Miro boards, and we had a conversation about each Miro board.

After the value clustering activity, the students continued to work on creating value based design requirements using the value hierarchy worksheet. For each value word, they listed design objectives that were more abstract, in the sense that they expressed a vision behind the design. The design requirements were more concrete suggestions to specific features and materials of their designs.

Below is an example of how a student filled in the value cluster worksheet (Figure 1), followed by value based design requirements developed by using the value hierarchy worksheet (Figure 2).

Figure 1. A value cluster developed by a student on “Sustainability”.

Figure 2. Value based design requirements based on the value “Sustainability”. To be used when designing a pipette for a clinical laboratory.

For more examples on students’ values clusters, see:

  • Example 1, interpersonal communication through a digital interface.
  • Example 2, pipette to be used in a clinical laboratory.
  • Example 3, information station at a pharmacy about pharmaceutical waste.
  • Example 4, fashion earrings crafted from the material of recycled clothes hangers.

And value hierarchy worksheets:

Learning Outcomes

When going through the value cluster boards with the students, they stated that the diversity of words could be used for these purposes:

  1. extend the vocabulary used in conversations with various stakeholders during the project: careful wording in the communication would speak to specific stakeholders and concrete situations, and
  2. a selection of the words from the value clusters could be used in a marketing campaign.

Students found the exercise useful because it made them think out of the box and establish a metaphorical language around their design. We discovered that some words that emerged served as a “bridge” between the core value words, linking them together in very specific ways. Students liked the antonyms that served as a “wild card”, which also made them think out of the box.

In the value hierarchy exercise, students suggested that they would like to have more concrete and precise examples of what, for example, the value word sustainability means in terms of architectural components in one of the projects: type of battery in solar panels, type of isolation etc. In general, discussions around presentations were focused on how they could move from abstract to concrete in order to achieve the values that they wanted to have in their designs.

Other things that were brought up were questions about the kind of work environment in which one of the designs was supposed to be used, moving the focus from physical features of a design to situations and contexts, and even the self-perception of the person using the design: is the design gender-neutral? Some students started to extend the diagram by making distinctions between elements of the diagram: color coding and dashed/solid coding design requirements according to architectural or people based design requirements (example 4).

The value hierarchies provided a clear/graspable overview of how the values could be manifested in the product. These overviews can be used when communicating with stakeholders/customers e.g. about exactly how the product can be counted as being sustainable. Or how the value simplicity is being represented both in the visual appearance, but also in its marketing and packaging. The challenge with this exercise is to get from the middle to the bottom level and create a clear distinction between the two: the things mentioned or described in the bottom level should be very concrete. The peer discussions at the presentations about moving from abstract to concrete were very helpful in that regard. A teacher could support and mediate such a discussion by asking questions like: how might your design support this objective through its core components and functionalities? Which material and look and feel might best achieve this objective?


Bos-de Vos, Marina (2020). A framework for designing for divergent values, in Boess, S., Cheung, M. and Cain, R. (eds.), Synergy - DRS International Conference 2020, 11-14 August, Held online.

Boztepe, Susan (2007) User value: competing theories and models. International Journal of Design 1(2), 55-63.

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.



Teaching Activities: