Design Engineering or Engineering Design?

by Idris Mootee

Design Engineering or Engineering Design?Went to the Made in Brunel opening last week, Made in Brunel showcases creations from within Brunel University’s School of Engineering and Design. The show was held at the Bargehouse, four story building on the South Bank featuring an array of technological, sustainable, humanistic and virtual innovation concepts and prototypes.

Many wonder where the name Brunel comes from, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 -1859) who was a leading British civil engineer, famed for his bridges and dockyards, and the construction of the first major British railway, the Great Western Railway; and a series of famous steamships, including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship. The school has a very good brand management program which is rare as a degree program.

There are a lot of works showcased in the Made In Brunel show and as always the quality of ideas varies. A few ones caught my attention including some concept explorations for Foursquare – the location social network by Chris Strickland, a graduate of product design engineering school. A number of mini appliance prototypes that allow people to play with information physically with their hands. By physically with the pods, people are able to combine different forms of content.

Foursquare Gaze has two components including the six Pods provide the interaction with up to the minute information and the Home which keeps the Pods charged and provides a safe place to store them. When each pod is taken away from Home, wireless connections ensure that they are kept up to date with the latest information. In this way the experience can be taken anywhere in the home.

Another interesting one is a concept to use physical items to manage utility costs at home (perfect for the modern couple) by Nick Sardar, a product design graduate. It is a physical interface (see photo below) where each cylinder is assigned to a financial aspect of your life. It is like open books household budget management.

There has always been confusions among people between industrial/engineering design and design engineering. And the same confusion applies to art school and design school which the lines are often blurred. Standford D-school was originally a engineering school, Brunel is an engineering school, Rhode Island is an art school, Arts Center is a design school, RCA is an art school but certain grad programs are more like design engineering school. The lines are fast blurring. Many students are confused.

Here are what the definitions from Wikipedia but probably can use some modifications: Industrial Design (ID) is an applied art whereby the aesthetics and usability of products may be improved. Design aspects specified by the industrial designer may include the overall shape of the object, the location of details with respect to one another, colors, texture, sounds, and aspects concerning the use of the product ergonomics. Design Engineering (DE) is a discipline that creates and transforms ideas and concepts into a product definition that satisfies customer requirements.

The definitions of these two categories of design have a fundamental difference between them: ID is an applied art, whereas DE is a discipline. This means that industrial designers have more room to dream, immerse, create, interpret or expand an idea than design engineers to design everything that they or their customers want. And for design engineers, the job is explore material, heat, modularity and other engineering constrains and at the end is to make it work. Many are still confused as to which one does what. Even prototyping means very different thing for each of the two. Although in some cases the line is not clear.

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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  1. Visit the Loughborough Design School degree show:

    http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/lds/news/events/2011/degree-show-2011.html

    Industrial Design meets Engineering Design

  2. This is an interesting article and I appreciate and find it a great opportunity to clarify a tremendous topic. There are points of this article that have caught my attention and that I would like to bring to the debate.

    Discipline or applied art? … We must remember that despite how tempting it may be the use of information from open sources like Wikipedia (and I love Wikipedia); this is not a best practices as they are not always the most reliable source for a proper conceptualization that enrich the educational debate. In this sense there are some points I want to address and I think it is appropriate to begin by clarifying some concepts:

    What is discipline? Merriam-Webster defines discipline as “a field of study” and as “a rule or system of rules Governing Conduct or activity”.

    What is Applied Arts? Is the conscious use of one or more technique (from the Greek: téchnē which means art) to a definite field intended to go beyond the aesthetic expression of the human spirit. We can as an example consider graphic design, where techniques are applied to the field of communication for practical purposes and not just aesthetic, or architectural design, where techniques are applied to the intervention of spaces in order to satisfy the requirements (functions) for which they are being transformed.

    Industrial Design is more than applied art. Even it is a truth that ID finds it origin in the application of techniques from different art sphere to industry, and that the border between applied arts and the formal discipline of design may be blurry; it is clear to any one with minimal training in design (as “a field of study”) that the ID is a formal discipline that although is interested in “aesthetic” aspects of objects, it’s also a truth that ID is responsible for the functional, structural, ergonomic, environmental, operational, productive and economic aspects of products which today integrate the human artificial eco-system or “world of objects”.

    Industrial Design is oriented to the aesthetic and ergonomic side of products … nothing but far away from truth. The misconception that ID is an applied art with space to “dream, immerse, create, interpret or expand an idea about issues such as overall shape of the object, the location of details with respect to one another, color, texture …” comes from some U.S. books (especially engineering) that define ID as an aesthetic/ergonomic-oriented design field. However, the official definition adopted for decades by the ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) says that “The design is a creative activity which has a purpose of determining the formal qualities of the products items. By formal quality, we shouldn’t understand only the external qualities, but mainly the structural and functional relationships that are the centre of a coherent unity” [1]. In other words, the ID is a discipline that is concerned in the integral aspects of products and not just cosmetics.

    In the other hand, Design Engineering is a field of action. In my own experience as an industrial designer who has worked for 8 years in the design engineering field, I can say that DE is, the way a see it, a field whereby engineering practices (as well as science and arts concepts) are applied by engineers (and Industrial Designers as well) to create, develop and maintain products.

    ID = room to freely dream? … Contrary to what someone may think (especially those who are beginning their academic studies in ID) industrial designers must understand a few things which are very important:

    1. Creativity comes from discipline (not from dreams)
    2. We Design to satisfy needs (what the customer needs / wants).
    3. We design to work (if it doesn’t work, then it is a crap). Anything can be achieved on paper, but everything that has been designed must work.
    4. We Design to be manufacturable (if it can’t be produced… then it was not well designed). This implies knowledge and definition of technologies, processes, materials, etc.
    5. We Design for the real world (dream is for free… but the design process is about money)

    In my opinion and for this subject purpose, I would define ID is a creative and technological discipline, based on the application of science and arts principles and techniques to provide real solutions to the real world.

    Thank you Idris to bring this up as I find it will serve to those interested in the topic.

    J. Daniel Adon, ID

    References
    [1] Thomas Maldonado, definition of design
    (http://www.icsid.org). ICSID, International Council of Industrial.

  3. Good article and ibteresting reply, and to resume, ID communicates needs from consummers (Marketing) to DE departement, and DE are techniques and applied sciences to products…
    In anyway Engineering is most important and has a higher relevance in Indsutrial-Production-concept process..It means that both are important but in some cases needs to be unified, specially when shapes and design itself are part of engineering study..(For exemple cars and aeronautics industry where ID field are linked to marketing and where the last product is decided AND designed by only-engineers) that’s obvious, a designer doesn’t know at all how aerodynamics variables are involved in fly.

    I think that the future of Design in high technology process will be (re) annexed to engineering departement and engineering will able to have some design approach, but essencially they have yet… Computer Aided Technologies provides to the engineer a direct prototype, skiping the so-called design marketing process that could change or difficult the implementation of new tech an research or simply decreasse performances and if so… extending Design engineering production process, and we know everyone, Time nowdays is a constraint …

    Thnks for the article !

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