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Design Notebook

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The design process takes days, weeks, sometimes even months or years, to complete and involves many different steps and phases along the way. If you recorded all of your work in different places, it would be almost impossible to find important thoughts when you need to refresh your memory. And, it would be difficult to gather all your work to present your final solution. To avoid being disorganized, designers and engineers keep design notebooks, where they record every detail of their projects along the way. While a design notebook that you use for an engineering design project will be slightly different than a laboratory notebook you use when following the scientific method, you can still refer to the Science Buddies Laboratory Notebook Guide for guidance.

Samples of design notebook entries. Top left: a 1503 page from Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks depicts his work on water wheels and Archimedes pumps. Top right: an entry from the notebooks of Alexander Graham Bell. Bottom: entries from the notebooks of Thomas Edison involving, from left to right, the phonograph, the electric generator, and the incandescent lightbulb. Images courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park.

What is a design notebook?

A design notebook is a way for a designer or engineer to keep a history of his or her design project from start to finish. It is a place to record research, observations, ideas, drawings, comments, and questions during the design process. At the end of your project, someone reviewing your design notebook should be able to understand fully how you got to your solution. Refer to the Science Buddies Laboratory Notebook Guide for more information, but remember that an engineering design notebook will be slightly different.

What goes in a design notebook?

Everything goes in a design notebook. Your design notebook starts when you begin thinking about possible problems to solve. Write down everything you know about these problems and why you want to solve them. Then write down, draw, sketch, glue, or tape in every step of your process between this first step and your final solution.

Here are examples of what you might find in a design notebook:

  • Notes on background research
  • Interviews with users or experts
  • Drawings and sketches
  • Photos of competing products
  • Lists of design requirements
  • Questions/issues you face

What type of design notebook should I get?

Use either a quadrille-ruled (graph paper) notebook or one with blank pages. On plain or gridded paper, you will be able to not only make notes but also sketch. You can find these types of notebooks at your local arts and crafts store, art supply store, or often at the local drug store.

The size of your design notebook is up to you. Some designers and engineers prefer smaller notebooks, because they are easier to carry with them at all times. Others like larger notebooks, because the pages are bigger for sketching. This is your design notebook, so pick one that you are excited about using!