Several years ago a colleague and I were teaching a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) course (Introduction to Engineering Design - IED). Ironically, this course was very scripted - not very design like at all. But we always took what was there and used it as a foundation for doing PBL (adding inquiry and presentations to the engineering process).
My colleague had just read about an MIT course where the students explored something they were passionate about and they drew something that represented their passion. Then, they took that drawing and built something from it. With our students we created a class mosaic (sadly, I can't find any pictures anywhere) from small tiles. Each tile was made by the student from their artwork.
This idea, of starting with something that is personal and creating drawings that become something later is a process I have tried to replicate in other classes (both math and engineering) at the middle and high school levels. I've had various levels of success. But, at the same time, I don't see a reason to NOT continue using this idea in future years.
I haven't gotten my head around where we will go with this in my current school year, but my 7th grade Design students will be doing something with it just after the holiday break in January. Maybe some comments on here will stimulate my thought process.