A short design project was given concurrently to sophomore engineering students at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology (Ishikawa, Japan) and at the University of Houston (Texas, USA) as part of the first engineering design course taken in both curricula. Students were asked to design and build at least one low-cost device whose main purpose was to support a set of chopsticks while not in use. The project was introduced in the first week of the Japanese and US design classes with minimal guidance from the instructors to provide the engineers-to-be with a first experience in design. The (intentional) lack of technological challenge did not necessarily mean that the project was easy as each student population had to face its own challenges. The product to be designed, while foreign and mostly unknown to the US students, is very well known and deeply traditional in Japan. In general, the US students attempted to design devices with more than one function. Predictably, some of the US projects resulted in products, which despite their originality and functionality, were unsuitable for the Asian market as they violated some of the traditional cultural values of Asia. In the Japanese projects, the originality did not appear at the function level but in the way esthetics and recycle-ability were treated. Work samples submitted by both student groups are described and evaluated in this paper. Design trends are commented upon and analyzed in light of the cultural and behavioral characteristics of the two groups.
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