The creation of an appropriate, meaningful design experience for a first-year engineering design course is challenging as the instructor must balance resource constraints with broad learning objectives and a diverse, and often very large, enrollment. In this paper, the authors present the task of developing a design project for a first-year engineering course as a problem of design. Following a structured design process, the authors articulate the requirements for a successful first-year design project including: learning objectives that are appropriate for a multi-disciplinary group of first-year students and common budgetary and time constraints. Several project alternatives are generated and evaluated in a conceptual design phase. In their description of the embodiment and detail design phases, the authors present the implementation of the selected project concept: ROXIE ("Real Outreach experiences In Engineering"). The ROXIE project, a service-learning themed project, tasks first-year students with serving as design consultants to not-for-profit community partners. Through this partnership, students are able to practice principles and tools of design methodology and project management. Preliminary survey data and excerpts of student reflection essays are provided as a means of supporting the instructors' project selection.