An Exploration of Automotive Design

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, August 24, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


Design is an innovative process. Often, in everyday life, we don't question why things look the way they do, even though we see examples of aesthetics vs. functionality in many designs. In this lesson students research varied aspects of car design, and create a new design for the exterior body of a car. HANDOUTS:  An Exploration of Automotive Design  and An Exploration of Automotive Design - Assessment Rubric

National Standards

Standard 1. Level IV. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 1. Prewriting: Uses a variety of prewriting strategies (e.g., develops a focus, plans a sequence of ideas, uses structured overviews, uses speed writing, creates diagrams) 5. Uses strategies to address writing to different audiences (e.g., includes explanations and definitions according to the audience's background, age, or knowledge of the topic, adjusts formality of style, considers interests of potential readers)
Standard 7. Level IV. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts 1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines, essays, primary source historical documents, editorials, news stories, periodicals, catalogs, job-related materials, schedules, speeches, memoranda, public documents, maps) Standard 4. Level IV. Gathers and uses information for research purposes 2. Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics (e.g., news sources such as magazines, radio, television, newspapers; government publications; microfiche; telephone information services; databases; field studies; speeches; technical documents; periodicals; Internet)
Listening & Speaking
Standard 8. Level IV. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes 3. Uses a variety of strategies to enhance listening comprehension (e.g., focuses attention on message, monitors message for clarity and understanding, asks relevant questions, provides verbal and nonverbal feedback, notes cues such as change of pace or particular words that indicate a new point is about to be made; uses abbreviation system to record information quickly; selects and organizes essential information) 4. Adjusts message wording and delivery to particular audiences and for particular purposes (e.g., to defend a position, to entertain, to inform, to persuade) 5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources) 8. Responds to questions and feedback about own presentations (e.g., clarifies and defends ideas, expands on a topic, uses logical arguments, modifies organization, evaluates effectiveness, sets goals for future presentations)
 Working With Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group
 Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques
 Visual Arts: Artistic Expression & Communication
Standard 1. Level IV. Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts Benchmark 1. Applies media, techniques, and processes with sufficient skill, confidence, and sensitivity that one's intentions are carried out in artworks
Standard 4. Level IV. Understands the nature of technological design 5. Knows that since there is no such thing as a perfect design, trade-offs of one criterion for another must occur to find an optimized solution

Common Core State Standards:

Anchors for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will do the following:
  • conduct Internet research
  • respond to writing prompts
  • analyze, evaluate and synthesize information from multiple sources
  • participate in class discussion
  • create a design for a car exterior
  • evaluate group work
  • create a presentation


  • "My Car, My Way" and 'Rubric Guidelines' handout links are located in the 'Introduction' at the top of this page.


  • computer with Internet access


Building Background Engineers vs. Stylists

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to explore the tension between function and aesthetics. 1. Read the following quotation from "Tough Guys and Pretty Boys: The Cultural Antagonisms of Engineering and Aesthetics in Automotive History" aloud to your class: "Throughout the history of twentieth-century America, there has been an ongoing conflict between the car as an efficient tool and the car as a carrier of cultural dreams and values." Source: 2. As a class, read the following article that describes the conflict between those who think that cars should serve a functional purpose and those who think cars should serve an aesthetic purpose. 3. Ask each student to respond in writing to the following prompts: What do you think a car represents to most people? Do you think car designers should focus on being efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly or do you think car designers should focus on creating a symbol of power, individuality, and freedom? Why? Are there car designs that combine both purposes? 4. Visit the following websites that advertise cars. Ask the students what aspect of a car's function they think each website emphasizes. Lead a class discussion based on students' responses.

Steps for Learning Collaborative Inquiry

The purpose of this activity is to allow students to explore a collection of innovative new designs in concept cars. 1. Divide the class into small groups, and tell them to browse the following websites that contain a wide variety of car designs and processes:   Tell each group to respond to the following prompts based on what they learned in their research:
  • What surprised you the most?
  • List five new things you learned.
  • What designs were your favorites?
  • Why are new cars designed?
  • What was the most innovative design?
  • What did you learn about the design process?
  • As you browsed through this information, what did you encounter that you would like to learn more about?
  2. Ask each group to share its responses with the entire class. 3. Tell the students that they will have a chance to design the outside of a car. Provide each small group with the "My Car My Way" handout.


Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their design process. Apply the following rubrics (excellent, good, adequate, poor), to these questions:
  1. How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas?
  2. Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you used to identify your problem.
  3. Rate the effectiveness of your solution.
  4. Rate how clearly you communicated the problem you wanted to solve.
  5. Rate how clearly you communicated your solution.
  6. Rate your effectiveness as problem solvers.
  7. Rate your creativity.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Independent Inquiry
1. Tell your students to visit Car Design Online at . Ask them to work in small groups and research one of the following areas of car design:
  • Aerodynamics
  • Ergonomics
  • Modeling
  • Sketching
  2. Ask each group to share what it has learned with the entire class.

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