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An introduction to design engineering
An introduction to design engineering

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1.1 Design is more than aesthetics and appearance

It can be easy to think of design as only styling, fashion or the appearance of objects. You only have to look at the variety of similar products in shops to see that some design products have an obvious focus on appearance. External variations in kitchen appliance design often take place without actually changing the underlying product, in order to remain up to date or fashionable, or to fit in with other market drivers (Figure 4).

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Figure 4 Aesthetic and external variation in products with the same underlying function

In this course, design is presented as much more than this – as something that is valuable as both a process and the outcome of that process. Good design brings aesthetic and functional elements together to create something that is greater than the individual parts. Many designers would argue that good design embodies both – the aesthetics are pleasing because of the utility, and the function is expressed in the appearance.

Consider bridges, for example, where the function of the bridge often relates directly to the shape of it – how the bridge looks is related directly to how it works. The Forth Rail Bridge is over 100 years old and fulfils its function by supporting very heavy moving trains using three balanced cantilevers. These cantilevers give the bridge its distinctive shape, and this shape is also aesthetically pleasing – it looks attractive (Figure 5). People have written books, poems and songs about this bridge – and it has also had cameos in film and computer games! The effect of this piece of design engineering goes far beyond solving the single problem of crossing water.

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Figure 5 The Forth Rail Bridge demonstrates a practical and aesthetic solution to the challenge of designing a bridge

Good design is more than simply looks and aesthetics – the best design engineering is a result of blending both the aesthetic and the functional. As you will see later in the course, this comes from blending different types of thinking and approaches in the process.