An introduction to design engineering
An introduction to design engineering

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An introduction to design engineering

2 Inspiring design engineering

When you study and practise design, you are exposed to many ideas of what design engineering is. Many of the examples might be familiar to you, but some might be quite new or appear odd to be included as design engineering.

This is the real value of good design engineering: because it is not one fixed thing it can be applied creatively in different ways to any project in order to drive innovation.

Activity 1 Interesting design engineering

Timing: Allow 15 minutes to complete this activity

Watch the following video in which the T192 course team present some interesting examples of design engineering.

As you watch the video, use the list from Design is more than products and objects to note down which type(s) of design each example in the video might be:

  • product
  • specification
  • process
  • service
  • system.
Download this video clip.Video player: t192_2016j_vid001_640x360.mp4
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This is the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, home to some of the most important and influential designed objects in the world. Many of them were created during the Industrial Revolution, a time of incredible engineering and design progress. Some of the objects in this building have literally changed the world and inspired generations of design engineers.
We asked the T192 Team what design engineering inspires them. Some of the results might surprise you.
My sample is the whole life cycle design project. That’s not just the product, but also how it’s used, how it’s reused, and also how it’s decommissioned. So for example, some companies will offer whole lighting systems like this one, here, and that’s not just about the fixtures and fittings and the wiring, it’s about servicing that lighting, and it’s about improving efficiency and energy efficiency over time.
For a building like the V and A, they’ve managed to reduce their energy by over 25 per cent in the last four years, so, design engineering is going to be absolutely essential to our sustainable future.
This is about a bit more than just this object; a nut and bolt. It’s actually about how this particular nut and bolt is like any other nut or bolt of the same size. To manufacture that requires a standardisation. It’s not enough to simply say make all bolts this big. You need systems and specifications to sort out tolerances, differences in manufacturing, how to measure them, methods of testing, and systems of control. In fact, it needs proper systems thinking around the object.
One of my favourite parts of the V&A is the Susan Weber Furniture Gallery, which is up at the top of the museum and presents a history of 500 years of furniture making. There are examples of standardisation here as well, as furniture making moved from being predominately a craft activity to more likely to involve mass production and self assembly of standard components.
I’m particularly interested in how new materials like plastics and new manufacturing methods like 3D printing have allowed furniture making to develop in new directions. For instance, new colours and new shapes have become possible. And there are some examples here of the imaginative use of recycled materials in furniture.
So I’ve stepped out of the V&A in London, and I’ve come here to Discovery Point in Dundee, the site of the new V&A building that you can see behind me here. This complex project wouldn’t have been realised if it weren’t for digital prototyping. That’s the process of virtually creating a building before you actually go to construction and manufacture.
That means that you can test ideas. You can push and pull shapes in geometry. You can run analysis. You can do lots of different things before you actually spend the resources and time in actually making it.
There’s one final benefit that it offers. Because lots of different stakeholders, lots of different people could be involved, specialists, members of the public, designers, and so on, it means that lots of different viewpoints can be captured in the same model, and that could radically change the way that we do design engineering in the future.
For me, the roundabout is something we don’t even think of as designed. But it’s actually a really complex example of design engineering. There’s essentially two basic rules, go around it clockwise, and give way to the right.
But for it to work effectively and efficiently, you actually have to engineer the geometry very carefully, indeed. A tiny tweak to the exit curves can make a huge difference to how the traffic flows. Optimising that to work really well is both a design and engineering problem.
Design engineering isn’t just about machines and objects, it’s about people. Behind every amazing piece of engineering and design ingenuity is a complex team of people with diverse roles and expertise that helps make it a reality.
This is the only way that complex projects like the extension of the V&A can be achieved. Detailed projects like this have many constraints, conditions, and considerations which simply can’t be achieved by one person. Meticulous planning and management helps to ensure that these criteria are met while still producing a stunning design. Proving that it’s not just the design that makes the design, it’s the people around it.
So there we go. You’ve seen several examples of design engineering, and some of them you might not have even thought of as design engineering, but every single one of them has had to respond innovatively to some context, problem, or need. That means that the they’ve had to use both creative processes and skills as well as analytical process and skills. In other words, they’ve had to use good design engineering.
End transcript
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Six examples were presented by the course team. Here are a few notes on each; you may have come up with different observations and that’s absolutely fine. But see how your ideas compare to these notes.

Whole life cycle lighting design: this was an example of products (the light fixtures and fittings), systems (the control of the lighting components) and a service (a level of service to provide light). The focus in the example was on the service aspect and how continuous design consideration throughout the operation had improved energy efficiency.

Standardised components: the nut and bolt example showed how important specifications and systems are in producing these components. Such products have to meet a commonly agreed specification to ensure accurate and predictable replication of component parts.

Manufacturing and materials: the examples of chair designs showed the importance of manufacturing and materials in the design process. Design cannot take place without such considerations and it can even be inspired by new developments in both.

Digital prototyping: this is the process of creating something virtually, before physically making it. When used as part of an overall design process it can change how people design and how they work together in a project.

Roundabouts: the roundabout is an example of a product that is also part of a designed system (the road system), and perhaps even a process (of dealing with traffic at intersections). It shows how a change at the product level can make a change at the system level.

The extension to the V&A in London: the final example was about the complexity of modern design projects such as the new V&A extension in London. Making this a successful design requires a diverse set of people with a range of skills who all work collaboratively towards a common goal.


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