Rationality and Creativity in Engineering Design

The lack of clear criteria for evaluating the outcome of design processes also affects discussions about the role of rationality in engineering design. The ABET definition suggests that the decision-making in engineering design is strongly governed by instrumental rationality, that is, choosing the right means for realizing a given end. The objective is set from outside, and the design process is about finding the optimal means to realize this objective. The fundamental norms or values on which instrumental rationality is based are efficacy and efficiency; these would constitute the main criteria for evaluating the outcome of the design process. This view on the role of rationality in engineering design is problematic. As already remarked, the objective itself may have to be adjusted. Decisions on how to redefine the objective, however, fall outside the scope of pure instrumental rationality. Furthermore, engineering design is not just about rationally choosing the best alternative from a given set of options (even, that is, from the point of view of rational choice theory not always a straightforward matter; problems arise in case various options have to be evaluated against multiple criteria [Franssen 2005]). Engineering design is also, and often primarily, about generating the various options (means) from which a choice can be made. Here, decisions have to be made about how many options to generate, about which options to drop ...

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