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Design Technology Extended Essay Format

DP design technology aims to develop internationally-minded people whose enhanced understanding of design and the technological world can facilitate our shared guardianship of the planet and create a better world.

It focuses on analysis, design development, synthesis and evaluation. The creative tension between theory and practice is what characterizes design technology within the DP sciences subject group.

Inquiry and problem-solving are at the heart of the subject. DP design technology requires the use of the DP design cycle as a tool, which provides the methodology used to structure the inquiry and analysis of problems, the development of feasible solutions, and the testing and evaluation of the solution. In Diploma Programme design technology, a solution can be defined as a model, prototype, product or system that students have developed independently.

DP design technology achieves a high level of design literacy by enabling students to develop critical-thinking and design skills, which they can apply in a practical context. While designing may take various forms, it will involve the selective application of knowledge within an ethical framework.

A well-planned design programme enables students to develop not only practical skills but also strategies for creative and critical thinking.

Design in Group 4 Sciences

Both science and technology have a fundamental relationship with design. Technology preceded science, but now most technological developments are based on scientific understanding. Traditional technology comprised useful artifacts often with little understanding of the science underpinning their production and use. In contrast, modern technology involves the application of scientific discoveries to produce useful artifacts. The application of scientific discovery to solve a problem enables designers to create new technologies and these new technologies, in turn, can impact on the rate of scientific discovery.

The aim of the DP design technology course is to foster the skill development in students required to use new and existing technologies to create new products, services and systems.


Concepts and principles are specified for each topic. Guidance on each concept and principle is provided in the guide and teachers support material in order to support teachers’ planning. There are examples of International-mindedness, and links to other DP subjects, and Theory of Knowledge questions to enrich the syllabus and broaden students’ understanding of the impact of technology and design thinking.

Common core

All standard and higher level student complete a common core.

  • Human factors and ergonomics
  • Resource management and sustainable production
  • Modelling
  • Raw material to final product
  • Innovation and design
  • Classic design

HL extension

Higher level students examine four further topics designed to extend and deepen their understanding of the subject. The four additional higher level topics aim to introduce aspects of innovation.

  • User-centred design (UCD)
  • Sustainability
  • Innovation and markets
  • Commercial production


All standard and higher level students complete a design project as an internal assessment task. This design project allows them to demonstrate their investigative, analytical, design thinking, design development, prototyping, testing and evaluation skills and mirrors the design processes used across the various industries that integrate design practice. Internal assessment accounts for 40% of the final assessment.

At SL, the design project requires students to identify a problem and develop a solution. It is assessed against four common criteria:

  • Analysis of a design opportunity
  • Conceptual design
  • Development of a detailed design
  • Testing and evaluation

At HL, the design project is extended to include aspects of innovation. The design project is assessed against two additional criteria:

  • Commercial production
  • Marketing strategies

The standard level course is assessed through a multiple choice paper (paper 1), a core paper, which consists of a short response and extended answer questions (paper 2), and the internal assessment design project. At HL, paper one has more questions, and students answer an additional paper (paper 3) consisting of three structured questions based on the HL extension material, one of which is based on a case study.

Further information

Please visit the online curriculum centre (OCC) or contact dpdevelopment@ibo.org.

Learn more about design technology in a DP workshop for teachers. 

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Design Technology

These subject guidelines should be read in conjunction with the Assessment Criteria


An extended essay in design technology provides students with an opportunity to undertake in-depth research into the processes involved in the design and development of products or systems, and to make an assessment of their impact on individuals and society at large.

The outcome of the research should be a coherent and structured piece of writing that effectively addresses a particular issue or research question and arrives at a particular, and preferably personal, conclusion.

Absolute reliance on textbooks and the Internet is discouraged and no extended essay in design technology should be based exclusively on such sources.

Choice of topic

The chosen topic must be clearly concerned with issues relating directly to the subject. Where the topic may be approached from different viewpoints, the treatment must be approached from a design technology perspective. Students are expected to be familiar with the design cycle, as clarified in the current Design technology guide.

Students are encouraged to select a topic that is appropriate to their interests and abilities, and the resources available. They should avoid topics of a purely historical nature that merely document the development of a product or technology.

Essays may focus on systems design rather than a specific product, for example:

  • investigating the labelling of chemicals in transit, from the point of view of provision for dealing with accidents.
  • investigating and implementing a system for reducing food wastage in a school/college canteen
  • evaluating the feasibility of a combined heat and power scheme for a local community.

When choosing a topic for a design technology essay, students should start by exploring appropriate design contexts. For example, it may be worth considering:

  • artifacts that do not work properly or seem wasteful of resources
  • the needs of particular user groups such as the elderly, infirm or disabled
  • new technologies and how they might influence or combine with existing technologies.

It is essential that the topic chosen is appropriate fora design technology extended essay and not merely a review of a technological product or technological development.

The following examples of titles for design technology extended essays are intended as guidance only. Moreover, it may help if the student further defines the topic chosen for study in the form of a research question, followed by a statement of intent that indicates which broad process is going to be used in answering the question.ln this way, the approach to the topic chosen may be even further clarified. Some examples of this could be as follows.

Topic                                          Ergonomic design of telephones for the physically impaired

Research question                              How have ergonomic factors been considered in the design of a new
telephone for physically impaired people?

Approach                                             An essay that considers how ergonomics can be used to improve the design of a new telephone.

Topic                                      Bicycle design

Research question                          Has the introduction of new materials improved the performance of modern racing bicycles?

Approach                                         An essay that examines the use of new materials in the design of bicycles and their components.

Topic                                     Automated textile production

Research question                        Does an automated textile process provide better-quality products than a mechanized process?

Approach                                        An investigation into a specific automated textile production process.


Treatment of the topic

An extended essay in design technology may be based on literature, surveys or experiments. However, since design technology is an experimental science, many students will wish to base their essay on practical/experimental work, although this is not compulsory. Practical activity may take the form of:

  • experiments to test materials or evaluate performance
  • modelling situations and products to assess effectiveness
  • prototyping design solutions
  • full realization and Mailing of a design solution.

Because of the visual nature of design technology, it is anticipated that many essays will be significantly enhanced by the addition of relevant graphical material.

In order to promote personal involvement in the extended essay, the use of primary sources that are locally available should be encouraged wherever possible. Data should be collected from different sources using a variety of appropriate methods, and then analysed using appropriate scientific and technological techniques, otherwise it will be of little value. Data should only be included in the essay when directly relevant to the chosen topic. It is important that the topic and research question reflect a firm emphasis on design technology, and that they do not become directed towards another subject area.

The topic should be treated at an appropriate level of study: not so specific or personalized that it has no wider social, political or organizational aspects, nor so broad that there is little potential for taking orstimilating action in the problem area.

Students should identify the key issues that emerge from the investigation and assess their significance in relation to the original proposition or question. Above all, the essay must be based on an issue that be explored, and from which conclusions can be drawn and recommendations made.

Interpreting the assessment criteria

Criterion A: research question

The research question can often be best defined in the form of a question. It may, however, also be presented as a statement or proposition for discussion. It must be specific, sharply focused and appropriate design technology. This means that it must relate to the nature of the subject and not be restricted adescriptive account of a technological or design topic. An appropriate research question allows the ytoaddress comprehensively the design cycle. Whichever way it is formulated, it should be identified -ady as the research question and set out prominently in the introduction.

Criterion B: introduction

' The introduction should explain succinctly the significance of the topic and why it is worthy of Investigation, and include relevant background details. The introduction should not be seen as an excuse for padding out an essay with research details and should only include relevant information related to the research question. For example, in an essay entitled "How has the impact of composite materials affected the design of bicycle wheels?", it would not be necessary for the student to include a historical account of the development of the bicycle throughout the 20th century. However, if a particular design provided the impetus for new ideas then including that design would be relevant.

Criterion C: investigation

The sources of data and information need to be clearly identified. Because of the practical nature of the subject, most successful essays will involve some form of practical activity. The sources of data may include making, then trialling an artifact, and experiments, modelling, surveys, interviews or monitoring. The essay should provide sufficient detail to allow an independent person to repeat the exercise. Students are expected to show an awareness of the limitations or uncertainties inherent in the techniques and equipment used.

Criterion D: knowledge and understanding of the topic studied

This criterion relates to knowledge and understanding of the topic chosen, together with its context. Students are expected to understand clearly the scientific and technological concepts used in the extended essay.

Criterion E: reasoned argument

Students should be aware of the need to present their essays as a logical development of an argument. Personal views should not simply be stated but need to be supported by reasoned argument. This argument often results from practical activity and testing. Straightforward descriptive or narrative accounts that lack analysis do not usually advance an argument and should be avoided.

Criterion F: application of analytical and evaluative skills appropriate to the subject

This criterion relates to the questioning and diagnostic treatment of data and information. The most successful design technology extended essays will include a complete assessment of the design cycle, resulting in a comprehensive evaluation of the final artifact or system.

Criterion G: use of language appropriate to the subject

Students are expected to make effective use of technological and scientific terminology and, where appropriate, scientific notation.

Criterion H: conclusion

"Consistent" is the key word here: the conclusion should develop out of the argument and not introduce new or extraneous matter. It should not repeat the material of the introduction; rather, it should present a new synthesis in light of the discussion.

Criterion l: formal presentation

This criterion relates to the extent to which the essay conforms to academic standards about the way in which research papers should be presented. The presentation of essays that omit a bibliography or that do not give references for quotations is deemed unacceptable (level 0). Essays that omit one of the required elements—title page, table of contents, page numbers—are deemed no better than satisfactory (maximum level 2), while essays that omit two of them are deemed poor at best (maximum level 1).

An extended essay in design technology lends itself to many forms of graphic presentation. Most essays are enhanced by the use of charts, tables, technical drawings, sketches and photographs. The graphical nature of many topics makes these essential. Where possible, these should appear in the body of the essay, as close as possible to the relevant text. Hand-drawn diagrams are acceptable. Raw data obtained through experimentation, testing or surveys may be included within an appendix. Any material that is not original must be acknowledged.

Criterion J: abstract

The abstract is judged on the clarity with which it presents an overview of the research and the essay, not on the quality of the research question itself, nor on the quality of the argument or the conclusions.

Criterion K: holistic judgment

The most successful essays contain original thoughts and ideas, demonstrating creativity and innovation, normally resulting from practical activity. Outstanding essays demonstrate the student's ability to overcome and solve problems, and consider and evaluate a variety of alternative solutions.


International Baccalaureate Organization. (2007).Design technology. In IBO Extended essay guide, First examinations 2009, (pp. 75-78). New York: International Baccalaureate Organization.

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