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Industrial Design And Engineering Design Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4380 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper gathers views in the literature on design thinking and representation of design processes from the point of view of industrial design and engineering design. The paper conducts a critical review of texts dealing with differences and similarities in design processes in the field of industrial design as opposed to engineering design, with particular attention to the elements of creativity in product design. The design of a consumer electrical appliance such as a hair dryer and the larger dimensions of car design are areas where what an industrial designer might do and what a design engineer might do can be usefully compared and contrasted.

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The paper goes on to survey the field of product design from a different perspective, that of art. It takes up the challenge to traditional design by the Bauhaus movement in Germany in the1920s to 1930s, and the Memphis movement of the 19760s to 1980s. It is a valid question, apart from the how of product design, to ask whether new movements or initiatives might easily change the what of the design world, and through emphasis on fashion and style both industrial designers and engineering designers might find themselves creating new, more creative patterns and products.


The combined shortage of designers and demands of manufacturers led to criticism of industry by such designers as William Morris and John Ruskin who could see that separation of design from the processes of production had influenced esthetic quality (Haskett 1977). This paper explains how industrial design focuses on user interface and esthetic quality. At the same time engineering design has become a key element in product design, applying engineering principles to developing components, systems and processes to meet specific needs.

A concept of an artisan, craftsperson, who is totally free to invent art forms and create designs, with no restriction, is not reflected in the history of art and craft, whether in Europe or in Asia. There is the economic restriction that there must be a user who purchases the work or supports the craftsperson; and it should be kept in mind that craft requires a properly equipped workplace and usually workers. There is the social reality of the acceptance of the work of a craftsperson and the general estimation of its value. Thus in focusing on the inseparability of invention and execution as it may be applied to design, the anachronistic idea of individualism need not be introduced in order to understand the creative process.

A key condition is the ability of craft to produce the designs that emerge. Technology has, essentially, made that a very possible prospect. Further, in terms of a reciprocal effect of design on craft, the use of computerised design and the production of computer software to meet designers’ demands, along with the common feedback effect on production of new computer hardware, can mean that craft and design can contribute to each other. The Collins English Dictionary defines technology as ‘the application of practical sciences to industry or commence,’ or ‘the total knowledge and skills available to any human society for industry, art, science, etc.’ (1995). Barras (1986) has argued that the typical course of development in services has been from process innovation and focus on the new product design and market, then moving to achieving economies of scale and low costs. ‘The decline of the traditional craft apprenticeship system meant that craftspeople became more familiar with others in interior, industrial, theatre and product design, and with architecture, fashion, and performance art’ (Margetts 1989, pp.9-10).

Although an industrial-design profession did not exist in the late nineteenth century, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright articulated its principles in 1901 by advising artists create prototypes for factory reproduction rather than to produce craft work. After 1900, manufacturers tried to give new form to electrical appliances, cars and other new technologies. In the 1920s, some decorators took up French modern styles, and Art Deco was adopted in the late 1920s. The Bauhaus school of art and design, closed by the Nazi regime in 1933, established a relationship between design and industrial techniques as well as between fine and applied arts (Chilvers & Glaves-Smith). From there, there has been rapid growth in the design of manufactured products.

Henry Ford’s ‘rigid standardization, interchangeable parts, and special-purpose machine tools complemented Ford’s introduction of the assembly line in 1913, resulting in vastly increased production volume and relentless cost reduction.’ Global competition in the 1980s and 1990s impelled designers to give form to the hardware and software of the information age. Quality became a key criterion also (Volti 2005).

‘Affective design’ that is able to translate human affections into product design specifications has been widely accepted as an effective tool for product development. It enables designers to identify product features that can meet consumer needs to feel satisfied with a product. Affective design knowledge can help designers improve product design (Zhai et al. 2009). Environmentally friendliness of consumer products is another aspect of design, but it has been observed that consumers need to be reminded of ecological issues when actually using the product. It is worth noting that it is a holistic, life-cycle-based analysis that will enable the designer to assess the environmental impact of design options: environmental damage can occur as toxic emissions during production, energy consumption during use, or toxic waste during disposal (Saue et al. 2002). As far as the larger environment is concerned, the US electrical industry has contributed played a part in the use of consumer goods (Carlson 2001). Design encompasses these issues.

Industrial Design

Industrial design may be defined as

The ideation, specification, and development of functions, properties and concepts of industrially manufactured products and systems, mainly regarding aspects of user-products interaction, aesthetics and identity considering a totality of ergonomic, usability, technical, economic and social factors (Warell 1999).

Industrial designers are concerned with communicating the quality and function of a product as well as the reputation of the manufacturer object by visual means. The product should be easy, comfortable and safe to use (Dieter 1991, p.111). The industrial designer emphasises the user and the purpose of the product; its esthetic nature, including not only style and appearance but what the product will convey to the owner in emotional terms; and product identity, which may apply to strategic positioning within a specific market and linkages with other products. In the design process the designer has considerable freedom to decide on how an optimal result is achieved (Green & Bonollo 2004). This illustrates the way in which creativity informs industrial design.

Design is a part of product planning and development that come from the business strategy of the client company and are marketed and distributed in order to await success at the hands of the consumer (Cross 2000, p.198). Analysis of features of competing products, the use of benchmarking, or research into user needs and preferences may take place. Specifications may be elaborated and concepts critically examined (Green & Bonollo 2004). Conceptualisation refers to highlights in the creative process. Synectics is a group technique which draws on analogical thinking, identifying parallels between apparently dissimilar topics (Dieter 1991, p.113). A process of ‘rough visualisation’ through sketching may follow. At some point an industrial designer will have a basic idea of the concept to be embodied in the product-how it works, the overall shape and so on.

In this phase the schemes are worked up in greater detail and, if there is more than one, a final choice between them is made. The end product is usually a set of general arrangement drawings. There is (or should be) a great deal of feedback from this phase to the conceptual design phase (Cross 2000).

Before selecting a concept, industrial designer needs to consider the availability of technology: if there is no existing technology that can be used for a design, the industrial designer will need to consult with engineering designer. Dorst (2003) argues that ‘the interaction itself has to be designed:’ the industrial designer should use design techniques such as scenario-based design and storytelling to deal with this issue effectively. A Rapid Prototype model may be made in order to finalise design details.

In addition, industrial designers may carry out ‘styling,’ where components of style are built into their own designs. This can involve materials or techniques, environmental influences or social trends (Mayall 1967). Detailed design issues follow: component parts, nesting, packaging, shipping and marketing issues may be relevant. Colour and placement of the brand name are important (Cross 2000, p 32).Finally the industrial designer uses three-dimensional computer programs such as Solidworks to create actual size 3D models and engineering drawings to be used in production.

Engineering Design

Engineering design tends to relate to the technical operation of mechanized products rather than their esthetic characteristics. In the automobile industry, ‘stylists’ were used at General Motors as intermediaries between the mechanical engineers and consumers. What these stylists did was to give cars a visual identity through the shape of the body, grille or dashboard design, or colour choices and interior fabrics (Woodham 2006, p.141).

Engineering design is ‘design with particular emphasis on the technical aspects of a product. It includes activities of analysis as well as synthesis. ‘ This definition broadly describes what engineering designers do. They may be concerned with aspects of engineering consideration that includes machine elements, solid mechanics, strength of materials, aerodynamics, fluid mechanics, hydraulics, electronics engineering, software and systems engineering, quality engineering, industrial economics and human-factors engineering (Warell 1999).

A formal definition of engineering design is found in the curriculum guidelines of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). The ABET definition states that

engineering design is the process of devising a system, component, or process to meet desired needs. It is a decision-making process (often iterative), in which the basic sciences, mathematics, and engineering sciences are applied to convert resources optimally to meet a stated objective.

Engineering design should be creative and use open-ended problems and modern design theory and methodology. The approach process of engineering design is more systematic and problem-focused than industrial design. Engineering design is a sequential process consisting of many design operations. It may include exploring the use of alternative systems, formulating a mathematical model of the best system concept, or specifying subsystem components. It could mean selecting a material from which to manufacturer a part (Birmingham et al. 1997). In the product planning and task verification phase, the roles of engineering designer and industrial designer are similar, though a particular concern of the engineering designer will be what the client requested.

Conceptualisation for the engineering designer involves determining the elements and mechanisms to be used in the product. This will often involve formulating a model, either analytical or experimental (Dieter 1983). Before moving to the embodiment stage, it is important for the engineering designer to understand the strengths and weaknesses of mechanisms, concepts or material and be able choose the one most appropriate to the product function. An excellent technique to guide the designer in making the best decision is a scoring matrix, which forces a more penetrating study of each alternative against specified criteria (Haik 2003).

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Embodiment involves the clear determination of the physical processes which govern the main flows and conversions of material, energy, and information. This stage of engineering design includes building and testing experimental models. Dieter (1983) notes that this phase lays the basis for good detail design by means of a structured development of the design concept. Most of the time engineering design requires experimentation where a piece of hardware is constructed and tested to verify the concept and analysis of the design as to its work ability, durability, and performance characteristics. The design on paper is transformed into a physical reality. Three techniques of construction are available to the designer: the mock-up, generally constructed to scale from plastics, wood, cardboard, and so forth. It is often used to check clearance, assembly technique, manufacturing considerations, and appearance. It is the least expensive technique, provides the least amount of information, and is quick and relatively easy to build. The model is a mathematical representation of the physical system. The prototype is the most expensive experimental technique but the one producing the greatest amount of useful information (Haik 2003):

In the detailed design stage, the engineering designer may find many complex interrelationships involved in the product. The quality and cost advantage of a product are determined by the level of quality detail. Manufacturing specialists may also be involved. This is now a tested and producible product. The arrangement, form, dimensions, tolerances and surface properties of all individual parts and the materials and manufacturing processes are all specified (Dieter 1983).

Communication and preparation for production now follows a sequential flow of operations. Tooling and machinery are laid down. Production cost estimates will be available, but close collaboration with mechanical engineers is necessary and high costs could mean changes in materials and even in design.

The colour of a car is usually applied as paint, but paint goes beyond merely esthetic and cosmetic features. Consumers and manufacturers have to face the fact that new investment in vehicles is extremely expensive, and consumers are not inclined to accept alternative or radical designs. Paint is a comparatively cheap way out of this, and plastic components are painted as well. Paint thus keeps the car looking good, but it no doubt inhibits the use of new alternative materials or new manufacturing initiatives in design this in turn could inhibit the extensive adoption of new and alternative materials (Nieuwenhuis et al. 2006).

The engineer manages schedules and uses resources after research in the car industry. He or she is also participant and communicator of design. The desire to be more ecologically and environmentally aware has had a major influence on automobile design. Automobile design factors will need to be covered as a broad range rather than just by focusing on particular single consumer requirements. The car has to meet human needs but also to be environmentally friendly. This will entail:

(1) technological support for automobile design, (2) product innovation for various automobile prototypes (low emission car, high efficiency car, friendly car, advanced safety car), and (3) design methodologies (e.g., CAD-CAE-CAM, real time simulations, rapid prototype systems, parameter design technologies) (Ardayfio 2000).

Design innovation, often pushed by customer needs and expectations, enables companies to gain leadership in an extremely competitive global marketplace. But products need to go beyond customer expectations. Industrially also, innovation is needed to remain competitive (Ardayfio 2000).

Art and Design

Apart from the creativity of design, there is the excitement of design. Bertola (2003) argues that design is a multifunctional activity. It can take many forms to adapt to ‘contextual infrastructures,’ that is different organizations and purposes. Design can act as a knowledge broker, flowing from outside to inside companies. Design, if it is seen as a knowledge process that can adapt, can also be seen as an opportunity to support innovation in a particular context.

This paper began with reference to creativity in product design. Button (2000) takes up the concept of ethnography in relation to design. Ethnographical field work has tried to analyse foreign cultures from the inside, developing theories about exotic cultures. But design in a Western culture can also be seen in terms of ethnography. This is particularly so in the context of industrial design, whose origins are quite recent. Ethnomethodology suggests that it is just not possible to go beyond the knowledge possessed by members of a society about what they do. Whatever explication given by the ethnographer may not be of interest to design engineers, for example, but the substance of his or her report should be recognisable to them. From an anthropological or sociological point of view, there is some logic in this. However this paper, building on what has been said about industrial design and engineering design, argues a further point: that the concept of design as allied to art can easily be misplaced or forgotten in an organisational situation where the concern is to produce a product. A Bauhaus or Memphis, even a postmodernist initiative, may not emerge from a tunnel of emphasis on products as products. This is where product design, along with architecture, has a place in the overall scope of Design and Art. There is an imagination within the desire to produce something novel. This is a field that allows the operation of graphic art, and a sculptured three dimensional impression that includes the artifact as well as the common consumer purchases.

If modernism and postmodernism are currents, then they may be described as floating currents because they are difficult to locate precisely. The two currents interact at some points. In art, modernism may be said to date from about 1860, and became an orthodox school in the 1920s. Modernism tended to stress form more than content and to reject traditional esthetic values. It was very influential until about 1960, and then postmodernism came into vogue. It has been related to poststructuralist writers Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, whose writings embodied a radical relativism which was able to be used to deconstruct the status quo. It is important to note however that there have been ‘250 years of intellectual-literary-artistic alienation’ when from Rousseau onwards artists tried to stand aside from mainstream culture. Modernism and postmodernism are part of that overall movement (Murphey 1999).

The Italian design group Memphis was a flash of artistic input to interior design. It is said to be part of postmodernism. The trend crystallized in Memphis was away from the decorative styles of the Arts and Crafts movement. Symbolism, pattern and of course ornament were relegated essentially to the modern era. The Bauhaus designs with their geometry dovetailed into a simplicity which in Italy focused on furniture design. The Memphis Group emerged. Austrian-born, Italian-educated Ettore Sottsass formed Memphis in 1981, with a loosely-formed group of designers. The designs that emanated out of the Memphis group included limited productions of unusual and functional designs, characterized by plastic laminated surfaces and bold colours and patterns.  The interpretation of the group has involved making a political statement: high and low classes should share perceptions and ideals.

Meecham and Wood examine the proposition that ‘as art itself has fundamentally changed in the modern period, so have ideas about it’ (1996, p.1). Postmodernism may be said to differ from modernism ‘in that it returns art to a representation of the world…attempts to restore art to its external references…Representational art is back, but it tends to be critical rather than celebratory, stressing bleak and shocking images rather than the beauty of nature or intimations of divine order’ (Veath quoted in Murphey, 1999).

A group of designers of furniture and household accessories, who were known for erratic, illogical, avant-garde and anti-establishment style, Memphis in being concerning with juxtaposing reality infiltrated the world of the imagination, in a way that was deeper and different from the modern. There is a need to look back to compare with the modern, because in many ways this is a necessary context for the description of the postmodern. The Modernists had disliked decoration and colour, but Postmodernism used them with enthusiasm. Allegory, multi-historical and multi-cultural references came into new design. Memphis bad taste was an ironic bad taste. Pattern and ornament are characteristic of the works, just as they were alien to Modernism. The impression is kitsch, cheap and nasty materials, and bad taste throughout. Whether it is self-conscious or even self-mocking, the point is made that this is not modernism (Reed 1984).

The bright and careless style of some of the Memphis design will have been trendy once, and some people will have worn them at some times. However these designs are bold and brazen. They seem directed to a middle class or intellectual section of society that likes to be overexpressive and does not care even if there are consequences for being like this. That is the impression I had, and that was the impression I gained from overhearing two possibly third year students who seemed to have generally quite mature attitudes on art. A group of designers of furniture and household accessories, who were known for erratic, illogical, avant-garde and anti-establishment style, Memphis in being concerning with juxtaposing reality infiltrated the world of the imagination, in a way that was deeper and different from the modern. There is a need to look back to compare with the modern, because in many ways this is a necessary context for the description of the postmodern. The Modernists had disliked decoration and colour, but Postmodernism used them with enthusiasm. Allegory, multi-historical and multi-cultural references came into new design. If accused of bad taste, Memphis would have said, ‘Of course.’ Their bad taste was an ironic bad taste, but there was bad taste in their work. These attributes of Memphis no doubt related to its short-lived presence in the art world (Watson 2002).

In a sense furniture design itself is an activity that can easily push against the boundaries of modernism, if only because small aspects of furniture design can jump past the outrageous modern stage into a stage which inverts and turns around artistic insights at will, lampooning commercial motives as it goes. The postmodern impulse that seems to be emerging from every joint is somehow trying to say, or saying, that this is something to sit on and it will probably hold you up, too, but you need to see it as something a little funny, a little amusing. Memphis asks not to be taken too seriously. This whimsical face of furniture design has a certain class aspect inasmuch as the poor and the working classes cannot afford to see their houses and what goes in them in terms of play. The question will be more often whether they can afford to buy furniture. Modern art and particularly postmodern art go beyond this basic complexion of need.


A striking thing that comes out of this survey of writing on the role of industrial design versus engineering design is the interdependence of the two. This may not mean an interrelated operation or a simultaneous operation involving the two aspects of engineering, but it is clear that to present an optimally designed product in the industrial sense means that it must work in the engineering sense. And engineering designers must be able to locate the device or consumer good within a framework of its production and ultimately its marketing and use. There are many articles on this issue that could have been referred to here, or summarised, or responded to in some way. However the coverage here is no doubt adequate to show how industrial and engineering designs are complementary.

What has emerged most strikingly from the whole context of industrial design is its potential responsiveness to the culture in which it exists. It is possible to look back at various movements that have shaped the consumer products with which people are so familiar in their everyday lives, and where their parents have seen changes over the years. The Bauhaus, now a long time past, had a distinct and revolutionary approach to design. Memphis similarly had an avant garde approach which vanished into air. Whether such movements will resurface in some other form will probably not be the doing of the design engineer. But it may arise out of the imaginative design of the industrial designer. It may also arise as a resolution of forces in society that may flow conservatively for a time and then suddenly change direction. This can affect everyday objects-the hair dryer, the car, the television set, the computer and so on. It has certainly affected the miniaturised communication device, the mobile telephone. The fuel consuming, polluting yet status symbolic institution of the automobile will no doubt respond to pressures to change. There is an art in design that over time is likely to surface in different ways and in different places. In this context, the industrial designer along with the design engineer is likely to be closely involved.


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