Taking the Design Engine to the Museum

Taking the Design Engine to the Museum

The Design Engine is a card game that provokes, inspires, and entertains students, educators, 3D designers, artists, and engineers of all experience levels. The cards can be used to generate new ideas and projects that can be used to fuel a deeper exploration into the use of desktop 3D printing. The game can be  a handy icebreaker, or a challenging activity that sparks creativity over a period of time.

Ultimaker’s Liz Arum and  Matt Griffin created the Design Engine in the summer of 2017. They did it because they kept hearing from teachers that they were frustrated with 3D printing. Not frustrated with the mechanics of the printer, but frustrated because they didn’t know where to go after downloading and printing models.

There are many times when downloading makes sense. But remember that a 3D printer can also be a tool to help students express their creativity, and can transform them from being consumers to producers.

The goal of the Design Engine is to put the power of design in the hands of educators and students, to help them make something new and exciting.

The basic idea of the game is that you the use cards to develop problem-solving skills by facing challenges that change with parameters and modifiers. You can choose to:

  • Cooperate in teams
  • Compete head-to-head with others
  • Or use the set solo to help you come up with projects to use while you learning how to use or master software

The three minute Starter Round is our recommended way to introduce new players to the game. For the starter round, you focus on delivering “sketches” and a description. In longer rounds, there’s time to go through the entire design process (discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation, iteration). To move beyond the initial inspiration sketches to mock up your design digitally in a CAD program and then print it physically with your 3D printer.

The Design Engine set contains:

  • Over 50 black challenge cards
  • Over 60 blue parameter cards
  • 20 yellow modifier cards
  • 20 red gameplay cards
  • 10 green warm up activities

There is even an expansion pack (the blue striped cards). The first expansion pack draws on High-Brow|Low-Brow Culture. This optional expansion pack relies on players’ ability to use abstract thinking. So a card that displays the words “Cable” and “Network” asks the student to consider the philosophical difference between the ideas.

In addition to the game The Design Engine also comes with 50 maroon Contributor Cards, projects that were submitted by educators. Each card has a link to either a lesson plan or to the project itself.

As soon as the timer starts, turn over one black card and two parameter cards. Use the phrases that are right side up on your parameter cards. Come up with a quick idea for how to solve the challenge while taking into consideration both of your Parameter Cards. What you need to have by the time the timer runs out is:

  • A name for your idea
  • A one to two sentence description
  • And a rough sketch

You can use the cards, purchase them on thegamecrafter.com, download from the Ultimaker site, or play online.

It is important to share the ideas as a group. When solutions are shared, they act as inspiration for new ideas. Like: “That was interesting, but I think I’d change this,” or “I would do it this way.” So you can use the game as a way to generate lots of ideas for the entire class to choose from and refine over time. Or you can use the solutions  as a way to talk about the tools you would use to create your models. In this way, you can keep referring back to someone idea, making connections,  when explaining how a tool or technique works.

The Design Engine offers a flexible enough set of rules to suit

  • many ways of playing
  • numbers of players
  • and levels of experience

Players can discover new ways to play over time. Here is one way to incorporate the museum:

Ultimaker brought the Design Engine to Teens Take the Met, an event that happens twice a year at the Metropolitan Museum of art. 3000 teenagers descend on the MET between 5-8pm on a Friday evening, and have access to selected galleries. They participate in lots of activities, including a silent disco, spoken word slams, theatrical productions, and arts and crafts.

Ultimaker ran starter rounds with preselected challenges and added certain galleries to act as parameters. One parameter would be randomly selected from the blue parameter card and one parameter would by a gallery or piece of art.


Students can work individually or in pairs.

  1. Select at least one gallery to present to your students. If working remotely, select 7- 10 pieces from the gallery to present (choose images from the public domain).
  2. Ask students to identify one piece that speaks to them.
  3. Set a timer to 10 minutes and have students create a sketch of their chosen artwork.
  4. Set a timer to 1 minute and have students redraw their piece, but only including essential details and lines.
  5. Give each student or pair of students a challenge card and a parameter card from the Design Engine. To purchase a set, go to thegamecrafter.com.
  6. Set a timer for 3 minutes. Have students come up with their solutions and then share them. You might want to add 2 minutes to the timer if students are working in pairs.
  7. Use 3D Design software to create prototypes.

You could do your own research, select your own pieces (just remember to stay with those works that are in the public domain), or use the pieces Ultimaker pre-selected:

Ancient Near East

Openwork furniture plaque

Incense Burner

Cylinder Seal

Planispheric Astrolabe

Standard surmounted by ram

Head of Female

Object with Handle


Ceremonial Object

Finial with a Cockerel

Guardian Lion

Krishna on Garuda

Lobed Tripod Cauldron

Rectangular Wine Container

Rustic Dancer


Canopic Chest of Senbi

Cat Statuette

Cosmetic Spoon

Estate Figure

Fragment of a Queen Face

Game of Hounds and Jackals

God Horus

Greek and Roman

Bronze Head of a Griffin

Bronze helmet

Marble Column

Marble Head

Terracotta amphoriskos

Terracotta group of women

Terracotta lourophoros


Canine Bottle

Corn-Stalk Vessel

Figure Pendant

Owl Staff Head

Panpiper Vessel

Vulture Bowl


Project Objectives

  • Design new object or system
  • Presenting

Recommended age range 10+
Category: Beginner lessons+
Tags: 3D CAD, 3D printing, 3D printed, beginners, design, art, museum, brainstorming, education
Software: User’s choice
Lesson Duration: One 45 minute class for developing idea. If prototyping, provide additional time to design and print.