Technological Design Process: How to Teach it!

The Technological Design Process

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All equipment, irrespective of the field that they are used in will undergo changes over time. These changes come about as scientists learn about and develop materials that are safer or more user-friendly, more durable, or more cost-effective than the ones which were previously used. The process which oversees these new developments in equipment is called the technological design process.

The Technological Design Process

The technological design process is a series of steps that scientists and engineers follow to solve a problem. The solution may be to design an entirely new product which meets a certain set of criteria or accomplish a particular task, or, alternatively, it may be to modify to a pre-existing design. There are eight steps in the technological design process, some of which may need to be repeated several times to fine-tune the product and make sure that the solution is going to meet the need of the user. These eight steps are as follows:

The Technological Design Process


Think, Peer, Share...


  1. Think about the answers to these questions:
    1. Why does technology change?
    2. How does it change?
  2. Swap answers with a peer.
  3. Share an answer with the class.


Case Study: The Optical Microscope

The first microscope was invented in the 1300’s when two glass lenses were placed at either end of a tube. This design was very limited due to the poor quality of glass that was available which affected the microscope’s magnification quality, limiting it to a power of 10. However, this development would begin centuries of progress which would uncover an entire world which was previously unknown to man.

Galileo Galilei perfected the first compound microscope by refining his design for the telescope in 1609. This design used lenses with a shorter focal length than he had previously used in his telescope design. This was achieved by using a combination of convex and concave lenses. It was this design that was then modified by the Dutch spectacle makers, Janssen and Lipperhey who discovered that if different types and sizes of lenses were placed in front of each other, the magnification could be changed.

The Optical Microscope

In 1676, a biologist named Antonie van Leeuwenhoek began to carefully polish, grind and shape his own lenses which lead to a magnification of up to 270 times what had previously been achieved. His design allowed him to study blood, yeast cells and bacteria for the first time.

Leeuwenhoek’s Microscope

Leeuwenhoek’s microscope

Now that magnification of an object had been achieved, the development of the microscope changed to focus on the definition of the image.  This was solved in 1830 by Joseph Jackson Lister, who discovered that by using several weak lenses together at certain distances he was able to produce good magnification without blurring the image that he was viewing.

As a follow on from Lister’s work, in 1870, Ernst Abbe invented the condenser, which helps to illuminate the image in the microscope as well as developing the equation to calculate the resolution limit for the microscope.

The monocular microscope in use from 1897.

The monocular microscope in use from 1897.

The antique microscope in use from the early 1900s.

The antique microscope in use from the early 1900s.

Over time, the optical quality of lenses has increased, leading to the compound microscopes which are similar to the ones in current use. Throughout their development, the magnification of the microscope has increased and is currently at its maximum magnification of around 1500 times. The modern microscope found in many school labs is pictured below.

The Technological Design Process

The Technological Design Process Questions:

  1. Describe the prototype microscope initially developed in the 1300s. What was the limitation of this design?
  2. Who perfected the first compound microscope? What did he use as the basis for his design?
  3. How did the Dutch spectacle-makers Janssen and Lipperhey further develop the design of the microscope during the 1600s?
  4. What improvements did Leeuwenhoek make to the microscope?
  5. Who developed the condenser? What is it this instrument used for on a microscope?


Technological Design vs Scientific Investigation

Technological design is very similar to a scientific investigation. Both processes rely on evidence and reason and follow a logical sequence of steps to solve a problem.

Science is defined as the process of analysis and examination which clarifies the relationship between the non-living, living and designed world. Whereas, technology is the application of scientific discoveries in order to meet human need or demand by developing certain products and processes.

Technological Design vs Scientific Investigation Technological Design vs Scientific Investigation

The consequences of scientific investigations can advance science knowledge while the results of technological designs are to improve the standard of living. The table below compares the steps for each process:

Technological Design vs Scientific Investigation

Here is a Sports (Football) Engineering related lesson from Khan Academy that you can use also with your students:

Engineering Design Process with the San Francisco 49ers

The Engineering Design Process Video Lesson


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