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Advice for Answering Questions

Use all of space/lines allocated (these are carefully thought out by the principal examiner and give a reflection on the length of answer required).

Name usually requires a one-word answer and is a specific recall of knowledge – it does not require understanding e.g. Polypropylene, injection moulding.

Give is usually used with a qualifier i.e. reason, example.  This is a higher order response and requires some understanding.  Being able to give a reason demands students to answer the question why – e.g. card is strong compared to paper – one-word answers are unacceptable.

Describe questions = recall + application

Candidates need to identify the correct process based upon a process of selection - this requires a high level of understanding because they have to consider the variables.

For a Describe (process) question:

Try to learn processes in terms of input process output. It’s easier to remember and you have more chance of gaining marks

Discuss questions require high order skills. A reminder is written on the front of the exam paper telling you what the examiners are looking for:


• identify three relevant issues/points raised by the question;

• explain why you consider two of these issues/points to be relevant;

• use a specific example/evidence to support your answer.


Success is dependent upon:

  • Structure;
  • The raising of pertinent points with justification against alternatives;
  • A conclusion.

Discuss questions are purely application and evaluation using the criteria in the question – they are best illustrated with practical examples. Use phrases such as,

‘The most important issues to consider are…’

‘A good example to illustrate this is…’


General Advice about the Summer AS Exam Paper (Unit 2520)

It will consist of two sections, A and B.

Section A has 5 questions which will test:

“your knowledge of the effects of design decisions upon the environment and the pressures placed on the designers of products by such issues as energy, the environment, ergonomics, anthropometrics, health and safety, aesthetics, production volume, production technologies, fashion, product life and commercial issues.”

You will need to answer 3 of these questions and your answers will be recorded in an answer booklet. No place for waffle then, and to help you through the daunting paragraph above, I will talk through each point and explain what it means.

...the effects of design decisions upon the environment and the pressure placed on the designers of products by such issues as the environment ...

This brings in all sorts of issues.
Built-in obsolescence ~ the habit of creating items which have only a limited lifespan (or contain components which have only a limited lifespan) - headphones for personal stereos, batteries for mobile phones - knowing that this will require the consumer to buy a whole new product.
Pro’s: Often new products are more reliable, work better, have more features, offer improved safety features, are less harmful to the environment.
Con’s: The very act of designing, manufacturing, packaging, distributing, marketing and retailing a product consumes loads of energy and uses up resources at every stage. And what happens to the old product? Ends up in a landfill.

Green issues ~ where do we begin? For a start learn the vital difference between energy production/conservation, pollution/emissions and recycling. A quick recap. As a nation we produce most of our energy (electricity) by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) in power stations. This used to cause harmful pollutants to gather in the atmosphere and fall in Scandinavia as acid rain. That has been largely sorted out by much tougher legislation but, and it’s a big but, little has been done to stop greenhouse gasses (CO2) being produced and that is what causes the Earth’s heat to be retained (global warming), melting polar ice-caps and messing up weather patterns around the globe. Some of our energy is produced by nuclear power stations which are surprisingly eco-friendly. No use of fossil fuels, no harmful CO2 just loads of radioactive waste which will be around for thousands of years. Oh well. Energy from renewable sources is where it’s at. Wind farms ~ there’s one in the sea off the coast of Blackpool generating electricity for 1 million people ~ Hydroelectric, solar power, tidal energy all provide the energy for nothing but they are expensive, not 100% reliable and produce relatively small amounts of electricity.
That deals with energy production, how about conservation? Don’t ask the USA. This lot account for 4% of the world’s population but manage to use up 25% of it’s energy (producing 25% of the total CO2 output). Clinton signed up to the Kyoto treaty committing the USA to reducing it’s CO2 outputs. Bush, sponsored during his election campaign by big oil companies, decided this was having an adverse affect on the US economy and withdrew from the Kyoto treaty. Never mind the rest of the world, US interests came first. So the Americans drive around in Sport Utility Vehicles, about the size of a Range Rover on steroids, that do 10 miles to the gallon and when they’ve driven home from visiting their next door neighbours (remember Americans don’t walk) consume vast amounts of electricity to power their fridges, freezers, multiple televisions, computers, microwaves etc. This problem has been added to by the massive growth of the Asian economy. Countries like India and China are rapidly becoming world leaders in terms of manufacturing output. Their industries require huge amounts of energy and they're not too bothered about the possible harmful effects. Why should they sign up to a treaty that the Americans have rejected if it might harm their growth?

In Europe most people have a different attitude to energy consumption/conservation. We can at least buy our electrical goods on the basis of their energy efficiency. We often do the same with our cars which are getting more economical (diesels, fuel injection systems, better aerodynamics). We can fit double glazing, use integrated transport systems (trains, buses, trams) to travel short/medium distances. The UK is much better than the US here but still nothing like as good as most other European states.
Recycling? You should all know about that. Using recycled material in the production of a ‘new’ product, printing or moulding on the identification code, manufacturing it in such a way that it is easy to disassemble at the end of it’s life. Again, the UK falls way behind most of Europe in this regard.

...ergonomics, anthropometrics...

This always comes up either as a part or a whole question. Ergonomics is the science of: Human factors ~ how humans interact with equipment and their environment.
This involves a combination of factors:
Physiological factors ~ Reaction times, strength, responses to temperature change, fatigue visual acuity, colour perception, hearing etc.
Psychological factors ~ Understanding signals/messages, processing signals/data.
Anthropometrics ~ The measurement of physical characteristics and dimensions of the human body.

Some or all of these factors need to be considered when designing an object or equipment. and safety...

It is extremely difficult to be seriously injured whilst working in a factory. With the exception of sharp implements and certain workshop tools, it is almost impossible for a potentially lethal product to go on sale to the general public. It is highly unlikely that a product can go on sale when it knowingly damages the environment. And the reason for this, in a word, is legislation.
Legislation covers three core areas:
Protection of the worker/operator ~ I am responsible for ensuring that all of you and indeed all of the teachers within the department know how to use equipment safely and that you are provided with all the safety equipment you need. this is covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act (an act of Parliament that every place of work is obliged to display) and by British Standards Institute (BSI) standards covering the use of workshop tools within schools.
Protection of the user/customer ~ Again there are countless standards and regulations that govern the design of every single product imaginable from a Chicken Tikka sandwich to a child’s toy, a food mixer to a Ford Mondeo. All of these regulations exist so that there is a minimum standard of protection afforded to the consumer when using the product.
Protection of the environment ~ Again, there are strict guidelines and regulations to ensure that a product causes little or no harm to the environment either during use or at the end of its life. There are limits to the drive-by noise a car produces (a form of pollution, incidentally) and the pollution that a car can emit from its exhaust pipe.

Risk Assessment ~ The process of judging the likelihood, seriousness and detectability of a problem occurring using a high, medium and low scale. For example, the likelihood of you cutting your finger when using a craft knife is quite high, the seriousness is low and it it is easy to detect that it might happen. The likelihood of you getting your hair caught in a metal-work lathe is low, but if you did it would be seriously bad news and very difficult to detect that it was about to happen.

Hazard ~ Using the above as an example the hazard created by cutting your finger is quite minor; a bit of blood and that’s that. The hazard created by catching your hair in a lathe, however, is much greater; major scalping and head-loss.

Risk Control ~ Steps taken to to stop an assessed risk occurring.


Nothing complicated here but just be aware that there are different aspects which combine to create the aesthetics of an object ~ form/shape, proportion, colour, texture/surface finish.

...production volume...

One-off, batch, high volume (mass). Think about how the following are influenced by the volume of production.

  • Capital costs (investing in tooling and manufacturing equipment)
  • Material costs (and think of these in terms of per object or unit cost)
  • Design flexibility
  • Quality
  • Product cost
  • Environment

There are certain phrases that you may not be aware of.
Modular Production Systems’ ~ When you make something in the workshop you start on one bit, then when it’s finished you go on to the next bit and so on until all the bits are finished whereupon you assemble them. It would be much quicker if, whilst you were making one bit, someone else was making another etc so that you could assemble the parts much quicker. This is how modular production systems operate. Indeed, for some products many of the individual parts may be made by another company altogether.
Just in Time’ ~ This is where the company assembling a product will receive the components from outside suppliers (see above) at the precise point in the manufacturing process where they are required. In other words, the components don’t sit in a warehouse gathering dust, taking up space etc. This means that manufacturers can respond to demand and specification changes very quickly.
'Components/Standardised Parts' ~ Increasingly manufactures are trying to standardise key components used in their range of products so that a number of different spin-off versions can be created. Fans of the Audi TT sports coupe may be surprised to learn that underneath its slinky body is a VW Golf. The same floor-pan is also used by the VW Beetle and the Skoda Octavia. So, by using standardised components, several different products have been created selling to vastly different customers at vastly different prices.
Manufacture for Home Assembly ~ Increasingly popular for all manner of reasons.

Pro’s: Manufacturing costs saved which are passed onto the consumer, storage space is significantly reduced because products are flat-packed. They are much less likely to be damaged in transit and can be transported to the customers home (at the customers expense, of course) much more easily.

Con’s: Reputation for poor durability, assembly can be complex, manufacturers need to provide clear idiot-proof instructions and the correct knock-down (KD) fittings (dowels, hinges, bolts etc.).

production technologies...

Computers have changed everything. They are not yet capable of creating things or coming up with ideas. A computer has yet to have a number one hit or be signed up by a leading fashion house but it will probably happen in our lifetime. Instead computers have made the lives of designers and manufacturers much, much easier.
The Designer;

  • now has access to the internet as a research tool,
  • can communicate with a client using email or video conferencing,
  • can turn sketches into 3-D computer modelled renderings (Pro-Desktop).
  • create files that can be sent to rapid modelling devices (stereo lithography) that will enable them to handle an accurate prototype version of their idea,
  • use computer models to test engineering properties of their design (every major car manufacturer will ‘crash’ a computer generated model of a car before going to the enormous trouble of actually building one and sending it hurtling into a concrete wall at 40 mph).

The Manufacturer;

  • can use the CAD files and send the data to a computer-numerically controlled (CNC) machine to manufacture that component. (Be aware, though, that this is a fairly slow, wasting process and so does not lend itself to mass production),
  • uses computer controlled machinery to eliminate operator error, reduce labour costs, replace humans in hazardous environments, extend tool working life, improve flexibility at a more predictable cost,
  • uses computer controlled machinery to massively improve consistency and therefore quality with virtually all machines using feedback from sensors to monitor their own performance,
  • uses ICT keep track of stock control and to automatically respond to orders and generate orders for bought-in components (see ‘just-in time’)


Coco Channel said that fashion is what goes out of fashion. In other words it is transient and unpredictable, likely to become obsolete overnight. At the beginning of the 1980s the word ‘micro-chip’ suddenly started to appear on unlikely products such as toasters and washing machines. There were similar fashion victims created by the word ‘turbo’. Arguably the latest trend is ‘digital’, ‘virtual’ or anything linked with the internet. Designers hook into fashion to get the maximum benefit from a particular craze. This is cynical but highly successful. It is strongly related to built-in obsolescence (see above) simply because a fashionable object doesn’t need to/shouldn’t stay fashionable for long.

product life...

Remember the product life cycle.
Introduction ~ New, risky, exciting, expensive.
Growth ~ Fashionable, ‘must-have’, rapid market acceptance, more competition = lower retail costs.
Maturity ~ Sales slow, some unsuccessful models/manufacturers drop out.
Decline ~ Market saturation (no one left to buy) , sales fall, products become ‘old hat’, attempts to rejuvenate products by advertising, discounting, restyling or adding new features.

You can apply the model above either to a specific product ie Dyson vacuum cleaner, or to an entire product range ie mobile phones.

commercial issues.

Why do companies exist? To make money. No other reason. All the factors listed above will contribute in some way to the commercial success of a product. Companies will often make key decisions which can have a massive affect on them commercially. The individual(s) who decided to to relaunch French Connection as fcuk probably could not have dreamed that it would be such a massive commercial success. Richard Branson, on the other hand, probably curses the day he chose to run a train company, and it doesn’t matter what Marks & Spencer do now, bad news seems to follow/create more bad news and that is disastrous, commercially. A corporate identity or brand is a precious commodity.

Section B

Section B will consist of question based upon a specific product. The products will be set within specific material areas ~ wood, metals, plastics, card and textiles ~ and the questions will focus on materials, processes and components. You will need to answer 2 questions out of 7 and your answers will be on a seperate answer booklet.

Make sure that you are familiar with a range of materials;
their names and classification ~ eg. Polypropylene, thermoplastic
their characteristics/properties ~ flexibility, durability, hard-wearing, density, conductivity etc
forming/shaping techniques ~ from one-off to mass production
joining techniques ~ non-permanent to permanent
finishing techniques ~ painting, varnishing, plastic laminating etc.