Week 2 – What is engineering design?

Date 9/14

  • Topic: Introduction to engineering design

Previous Class: Week 1 – Course Overview


  1. Read below articles describing about engineering, design, and engineering design.
  2. Prepare short answers for following questions.
    1. Who is Engineer?
    2. What do Engineers do?
    3. What are unique features of engineering?
    4. How design similar to/different from engineering/technology?
    5. From the nature of engineering, which aspect do you agree or disagree? Which aspect of the nature have you experienced?

1. What is Engineering? (Sung, 2020)

The term engineering is derived from the classical Latin ingenero, which means to implant, generate, or produce something (Feinberg, 1967). It is not clear when people started using the concept of engineering, but the Oxford English Dictionary (n.d.) describes the origin of the term engineer as

“denoting a designer and constructor of fortifications and weapons.”

The description indicates that engineers are involved in designing or constructing physical activities. The term engineering first began to be used in the Middle Ages to indicate builders and operators of machines (Mitcham, 1994). In the eighteenth century, the term engineer was evolved to indicate the operators of steam engines or military machinery. However, with the development of new nineteenth-century technologies, some engineers adopted scientific and mathematical knowledge to solve engineering problems, which led to the current concept of engineering (Layton, 1971; Noble, 1979).

The Standards for Technological Literacy (STL) elaborated on the field:

“Engineers […] use a particular approach called the engineering design process. […] The engineering design process demands critical thinking, the application of technical knowledge, creativity, and an appreciation of the effects of design on society and the environment” (ITEA/ITEEA, 2000/2003/2007, p. 99).

This STL definition illustrates that engineering requires solving problems using technical knowledge and creativity based on consideration of other societal and environmental factors. Pahl and Beitz (2013) defined engineers as those who

“apply their scientific and engineering knowledge to the solution of technical problems, and then optimize those solutions within the requirements and constraints set by the material, technological, economic, legal, environmental, and human-related considerations” (p. 1).

According to Pahl and Beitz (2013), engineering includes the use of scientific and engineering knowledge as well as design optimization within requirements and constraints.

2. What is Design? (Sung, 2020)

Hales and Gooch (2004) noted,

“Design is something that we all do one way or another, and we all think we could have designed things better” (p. 4).

The term design is used as a verb for making or planning something and as a noun for a plan or product. ITEA/ITEEA (2000/2003/2007) used the term “designed world” to distinguish the technologically created world from the natural world. Cross (2000) also noted,

“Everything around us that is not a simple untouched piece of nature has been designed by someone” (p. 3).

These definitions of design inform a broader meaning of thinking, planning, and making something. Additionally, the term design is used in a variety of domains: artistic sketching, blueprint planning or building a structure.

A comprehensive understanding design is extremely challenging due to its multifaceted nature. Lawson and Dorst (2013) argued about the nuances of design as a fundamental human activity of creativity, analysis, problem-solving, learning, evolution, and integration. These characteristics quite resemble the nature of engineering. Design is not a simple thought process, but rather the result of creativity and analytical thinking. To solve design problems, designers need to use various creativity and analytical thinking abilities. Moreover, design is not the result of spontaneous ideation, but instead a product of continuous effort and invention. Design requires a certain level of knowledge and skills. Designers’ abilities vary greatly depending on their life experience and education. These characteristics make it difficult to define design and design methodology (Dorst, 2004; Kimbell, 2009).

3. Nature of engineering (Sung, 2020)

Often people call engineering as one discipline, but it consists of multiple sub-majors, and the each major has distinct characteristic natures. Ethnologists Latour and Woolgar (1986) described engineering tasks as follows:

“One area of the laboratory contains various items, apparatus (section A), while the other contains only books, dictionaries, and papers (section B)” (p. 45).

Engineers in section A are in charge of cutting, sewing, mixing, shaking, screwing, and making. On the other hand, the engineers in section B wear white coats and spend long periods of time at their desks. We understand the two engineering sections as one profession; however, their “engineer” tasks are very different. Each engineer has different working styles, which might be rooted in their different educational history or job experiences. The divergent nature of engineering makes difficult to study the engineering design process in and of itself.

Koen (2003) argued that engineering problems feature the characteristics of change, resource, best, and uncertainty. The change feature is explained by the argument that “engineers cause change” (p. 11). Engineers continually deal with various changes during their problem-solving. As noted in the definition of engineering, engineering solves problems under certain constraints and given resources. Design problems explicitly or implicitly contain criteria and constraints that limit the boundaries of problem-solving. Engineers also solve design problems to the best of their ability. There is no definitively right solution to a design problem. Engineers make decisions that influence the next phase of their problem-solving. Lastly, engineering problems are uncertain. Real-world engineering problems lack clear definitions. When solving a problem, engineers often begin by framing the boundary problem-solving in order to define the problem (Buchana, 1992).

Engineering design is a social process. Bucciarelli (2003) described its social nature as

“a process which engages different individuals, each with different ways of seeing the object of design but yet individuals who in collaboration, one with another, must work together” (p. 9).

This quote emphasizes the sociotechnical aspect of engineering design. Engineers work as a team on most design projects. Engineers work with other individuals who have different experiences, cultures, and interests. The sociotechnical aspect can be extended to the client side. Engineers communicate with their clients via design outcomes. When an engineer designs a solution to address the problem, the client may understand the intention of the design in his or her own way. The sociotechnical nature of engineering is a distinct feature of engineering design.

Henry Petrosky (1992; 2006) mentioned that the nature of the failure is imperative to engineering. He noted that the first goal of engineering is to avoid failures; necessarily, engineers experience various failures throughout the design stages. Over the course of engineering history, engineers have accumulated significant knowledge and experiences. However, one cannot deny that most of this knowledge was acquired through engineers’ failures and efforts to overcome them. Bucciarelli (2003) also noted that engineers should be tolerant of failure because engineers cannot fully control how the process of engineering actually works.


  • Download Class PPTs.
  • Warm up. Share anything related to engineering or technology.
  • Engineering design challenge
    1. Solve this design problem within your design group.
    2. Time limitation: 45 minutes.
  • Discuss “what” and “why” questions related to engineering, design, and engineering design.
    • What are the relationships between technology and engineering?
    • Why does technology and engineering education need design?
    • What is the role of design in technology and engineering education?
  • Create an online portfolio using Google Sites by Instructor (Sung, 2020)


  • Create an online open portfolio and submit the site address to Blackboard.
    • Due 9/21 5 pm.
  • Post a reflection on the week 2 on your open portfolio.
    • Due 9/21 5 pm.
  • Assignment: [Essay ] What is engineering design? So what?
    • Due 9/29 11 pm
    • Submission
      • MS-Word format.
      • No title page.
      • Double-spaced less than 4 pages. (no minimum pages)
      • Assessment Rubric
      • Submit to Blackboard
      • 100 points

Next Class: Week 3 Physical Fabrication Basic