What does it mean to design something? Is engineering design different from other kinds of design?


PEOPLE HAVE been designing things for as long as we can archaeologically uncover. Our earliest ancestors designed flint knives and other tools to help meet their most basic needs. Their wall paintings were designed to tell stories and to make their primitive caves more attractive. Given the long history of people designing things, it is useful to set some context for engineering design and to start developing a vocabulary and a shared understanding of what we mean by engineering design.


What does it mean for an engineer to design something? When do engineers design things? Where? Why? For whom?

An engineer working for a large company that processes and distributes various food products could be asked to design a container for a new juice product. She could work for a design-and-construction company, designing part of a highway bridge embedded in a larger transportation project, or for an automobile company that is developing new instrumentation clusters for its cars, or for a school system that wants to design specialized facilities to better serve students with orthopedic disabilities.

There are common features that make it possible to identify a design process and the context in which it occurs. In each of these ...

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