Using the Charette Design Model to Bind Creativity with Technical Knowledge into One Cohesive Design Process

Presented by: Steven B. Webber

Creating good design requires both creativity and technical knowledge (Lawson, 2006), yet it appears that design students need more opportunities to bring these two big ideas together during their design education.  Achieving expertise within a discipline, such as interior design, while utilizing the knowledge base of other disciplines is necessary for reaching an innovative solution to a design challenge (Sonnenwald, 1997).  The charrette design model is perfectly poised to meet this educational need for integrating technical knowledge with the design process.  This study examined the effectiveness of a charrette as the means to training students to bring technical knowledge into the design process while achieving creative design solutions.

In October 2013, interior design student teams took part in a charrette with the goal of re-designing an existing building to withstand a zombie outbreak.  Despite its fantasy-oriented nature, the charrette had the serious goal of engaging students with professionals who possessed a technical knowledge base (urban design, architecture, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and medical triage) that would be critical to their design solutions.  Each practitioner provided the student groups a 30-minute presentation introducing their fields’ criteria for the project.  Student projects were required to accommodate 50 users and five dogs for two weeks by providing spaces for their essential needs that also addressed indoor air quality, clean water, and electricity generation.  Students and experts addressed zombie capabilities based on “The Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks (2003).  Each four-student team was organized vertically across the sophomore-to-senior student levels with the seniors having already completed a course in construction systems, the juniors were engaged in the course, and the sophomores having no knowledge of construction systems.  The charrette design model was chosen because this methodology significantly alters the typical design process and challenges peoples’ default thinking modes, so innovation is more likely to occur (Sutton, 2002).

The study examined student perceptions of the success of the charrette model to bring technical knowledge and creativity together because these perceptions indicate students’ level of engagement with the material.  The study’s student survey instrument used a 5-point Likert scale, examining, among many topics, this overarching question:
"Did the charrette affect students’ understanding of a technical design topic (Security, HVAC, plumbing, electricity) in context with the interior design process?"

Student responses show that sophomore students learned more about security, HVAC, plumbing, and electricity as a result of having taken part in the charrette when compared to the seniors (App. D).  In addition, with no changes in content to the course, test scores are higher in the construction systems course for those students who took part in the charrette prior to taking the course as opposed to those who did not.  Both of these factors indicate that the charrette contributed to improved learning outcomes.  This presentation will share further detailed results and work examples of the charrette (App. E), lending support to the premise that the charrette design model can be a valuable method to prepare interior design students to integrate technical knowledge into the creative design process.


  • Brooks, M. (2003). The zombie survival guide: Complete protection from the living dead. Random House LLC.
  • Lawson, B. (2006). How designers think: the design process demystified. Routledge.
  • Sonnenwald, D. H., & Lievrouw, L. A. (1997). Collaboration during the design process: A case study of communication, information behavior, and project performance. Proceedings of an International Conference on Information Seeking in Context, 179-204.
  • Sutton, S. E., & Kemp, S. P. (2002). Children as partners in neighborhood placemaking: Lessons from intergenerational design charrettes. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22(1), 171-189.


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