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What is Engineering Design?

Engineering design is the method that engineers use to identify and solve problems. It has been
described and mapped out in many ways, but all descriptions include some common attributes:

Engineering design is a process.

This powerful approach to problem solving is flexible enough to work in almost any situation. Engineers

learn important information about both the problem and possible solutions at each step or phase of the


Learn about different models of engineering design.

Engineering design is purposeful.

The process always begins with an explicit goal. If it were a journey, it would be one with a specific

destination – not a random sightseeing trip.

Engineering design is “design under constraint.”

Designers must choose solutions that include the most desired features and fewest negative

characteristics. But they must stay the limitations of the given scenario, which could include time, cost,

and the physical limits of tools and materials.

Engineering design is systematic and iterative.

It is a process that includes steps that can be repeated, although not always in the same order. Steps

include things like planning, modeling, testing, and improving designs.

Engineering design is a social, collaborative enterprise.

This process is often done in small teams that include people with different kinds of knowledge and

experience. Designers are continuously communicating with clients, team members, and others.

Browse through LinkEngineering’s collection of resources on engineering design to learn more about the

process and its real world applications.

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How are engineering design and science inquiry different?
Science is commonly described as the study of the natural world through observation and

experimentation. In PreK-12 settings, it usually refers to “natural” sciences: physics, chemistry, biology,

and earth, space, and environmental sciences. Like engineers, scientists also use a reasoning process
to solve problems: scientific inquiry.

Science inquiry and engineering design use similar cognitive tools such as brainstorming, reasoning by

analogy, mental models, and visual representations. Scientists use these tools to ask questions about

the world around us and try to deduce rules that explain the patterns we see. Engineers use them to
modify the world to satisfy people’s needs and wants.

“Scientists discover the world that exists; engineers create the world
that never was.”
Theodore von Karman, co-founder of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

In the real world today, engineering and science cannot be neatly separated. Scientific knowledge

informs engineering design, and many scientific advances would not be possible without technological
tools developed by engineers.

Explore the differences between engineering and science practices through resources available on this


What does it look like in Prek-12 Education?

All PreK-12 engineering experiences involve some form of the engineering design process. However,

the process does not look the same for every experience. Numerous engineering education programs

for K-12 students have been developed in recent years, and many include their own version of
engineering design.

Produced by Washington STEM

Engineering design also tends to be described differently for students of different ages. Older students

are often provided more specifics and challenged with more complex problems. Browse

through LinkEngineering’s collection of original and reviewed lesson plans to see the variety of ways

that engineering design is used in learning at different grade levels.

There is no single right way to implement the engineering

design process.

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For example, the LinkEngineer homepage displays a version of the engineering design process

developed by Engineering is Elementary (EiE) at the Museum of Science, Boston, for grades K-5. This

five-step model is appealing because it is simple and uses terms children are familiar with rather than

technical jargon to describe the process. Learn about different models of engineering design. What

works well for one classroom or after-school program may not as well in another.

B. Vocabulary
Accuracy : The quality of being near to the true or desired value

Analysis : Breaking an object or process into smaller parts to examine or evaluate


Argument : A persuasive defense for an explanation or solution based on evidence

and reasoning

Assessment : An evaluation of the cost, quality and/or ability of someone or


Causation : The relationship between cause and effect

Claim : A response made to a question and in the process of answering that question

Communicate : To share information orally, in written form and/or graphically

through various forms of media

Constraints : A limitation or condition that must be satisfied by a design, including

materials, cost, size, labor, etc.

Control : A variable that is kept the same across all tests for use as the comparison

Correlation : A predictive dependent relationship between variables that may be

positive or negative. Changing a variable creates a corresponding change in another
but does not imply causation.

Criteria : Attributes of a design that can be measured; a set of standards upon which a
decision is based

Design (v.): To generate

Effectiveness : A determination of how well a solution meets the criteria

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Efficiency : The measurable relationship between a solution and the amount of
resources it requires

Error : The difference between a measured value and its true or accepted value;

Random Error : An unpredictable result from a consistent measurement process

Systematic Error : A predictable and consistent deviation from a value (true or

accepted) or a process

Evaluate : To determine significance

Evidence : Data used to support a claim

Failure : The inability of a device, process, or system to perform a required function

Function : A specific task that a system or part of a system performs or is intended to


Hypothesis : A possible explanation that can be tested with an experiment

Impact (n.) : A strong effect or influence on someone or something

Implication : A suggestion about or connection to a future outcome that is not stated


Inference : Forming an opinion based on known facts or evidence

Investigate : The process of gathering or examining information systematically;

generating data to provide evidence to support a claim based on a stated goal,
predicted outcome, and planned course of action

Limit : The minimum or maximum permissible value

Model : A diagram, replica, mathematical representation, analogy, or computer

simulation used to analyze a system for condition flaws, test a solution, visualize or
refine a design, and/or communicate design features

Observation : To become aware of an occurrence using the senses

Parallax : A perceived line of sight displacement while viewing an object

Patterns : Significant predictive features identified through analysis

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Performance : The required action of a device, process or system

Plan (n.) : A systematic approach to solving a problem

Precision : The quality of being reproducible in amount or performance

Predict : To determine a future outcome

Problem : A situation to be changed; a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or


Process : A series of steps that form a pathway to a solution

Prototype : A model that tests design performance

Qualitative : Non-measurable and described through observation; subjective

Quantitative : Measurable and can be represented in numeric form; objective

Reasoning : A logical, objective thought process based on data, information, and

evidence to form a conclusion or judgment

Refine : To improve through small changes

Reflect : Analyze a past course of action, process, or experience in order to generate a

future improvement or modification

Relevance : The capability of someone or something to help solve a problem

Reliability : The ability of a device, process or system to perform an intended function

without failure for a given time under specified operating conditions

Repeatability : Consistently repeating the same measurement procedure on a system

or part of a system with the same tool used under the same conditions by the same

Reproducibility : The consistent ability of a tool to reproduce the same measurement

on a system under the same conditions no matter who operates the tool

Requirements : What the design must do; may be used in place of criteria

Scale : The relationship between the size of an accurate representation of an object

and the actual object itself

Simulation : The use of a model to learn how a device, process or system will behave

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Specifications (Specs) : A detailed written record specific to the criteria needed to
solve the problem; the technical information about “what” is needed to solve the
problem but not “how” to solve it

Test (v.) : To determine whether or not a design, model, process, system or theory
meets the criteria as a possible solution

Theory : An idea or set of ideas used to explain a fact or event

Trade-Off : An exchange of one idea for another that may involve losing a quality or
aspect of a design

Trueness : The closeness between the average value of a large series of

measurements results and the true or reference value; quantitative

Uncertainty : Quantifiable doubt about a measurement result

Variability : The extent to which data points differ from each other; how far apart or
how close together

Design: To envision, conceive or fashion in the mind; invent, to develop, to formulate

a plan. To compose, layout, assemble. To seek and define artistic style and form –
semantic meaning – perception of form, based on the intended purpose, pleasure to
the eyes. May be 2, 3 or 4 dimensional, not always functional.

Industrial Design: (ID) is an applied art based on scientific, mechanical & electrical
engineering principles whereby the aesthetics and usability of products may be
improved for marketability and high volume manufacturing production. ID strives to
improve attractiveness, reduce component costs, assembly and manufactured
packaging costs, seeking to satisfy customer needs and capture market share and
profits. The role of an Industrial Design consulting firm or Industrial Designer is to be
the voice of the end users. It is his or her job to know what the consumer wants to
purchase and use. ID is used to create and execute “accessible” human-centered
universal product system, design solutions working with the sales & marketing,
engineering, manufacturing & production team leaders.

Innovation: The act of developing something new; the introduction of something

new; a significant step or “leap frog” quality. A market changing new idea, method or
device; the successful exploitation of new ideas or technologies; change that creates
better performance.

Brainstorming: Brainstorming is a group creativity technique designed to generate a

multiple number of new ideas for the solution to a problem. Researchers propose
that groups can double their creative output by using brainstorming. Although
brainstorming can be productive in sparking unique or previously thought of

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solutions, directions or associations, its effectiveness for enhancing either quantity or
quality of ideas generated is not proven. WD relies on the saturation method of
emerging the development team into the problem, becoming users, to generate real
human insights into solving the problem.

Ideation: Ideation is the creative exploration of new possibilities based on an idea.

This is how designers find different concepts to choose from. Many times, ideation is
a process of: think, sketch/prototype, evaluate, and repeat. When this is the case, the
best concepts are usually found when more time is invested in the ideation process,
because more ideas get the chance to build on one another.

Concept Development: Concept Development is the process of generating ideas and

problem solving leading to solutions. Development leads to building on previous
ideas, merging ideas, and evolving ideas into more authentic new solutions.

Design Research: Design research refers to the intentional and specific practice of
using research m techniques and practices such as field studies, literature and
periodical research, focus analysis telephone and personal interviewing, video
recording, to expand knowledge and understanding or insights into a particular
subject, application or market

Product Development: (PD) is the art, science and engineering of industrial design and
development of mass production manufactured products. A “product”, can mean a
physical object, or services, or software. New Product Development is typically led by
Industrial Designers and Engineers teaming with the sales, marketing, and
engineering management and leaders to define the product development criteria
goals, objectives and scheduling protocols.

Aesthetics: Aesthetics is a artistic concept or perceived pleasure to the eye striving for
simplicity, beauty, pure form follows function.

Ergonomics: Ergonomics is the science of creating products, spaces, and experiences

to fit the human scale and natural expectations of users.

Semantics: Product semantics is a design methodology used to evaluate product

design, form or geometric styling which should based on prior references, intuitively
communicate the purpose and user interface direction of the product.

“Form Follows Function” Defined by architect Louis Sullivan, the phrase “form follows
function” is representative of the thought that the way a product functions is more
important than and should dictate how the product’s form should look.

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Product Styling: Product styling focuses on the experienced perception of the of
product, device or machine design based on geometry, semantics, composition,
materials, colors, texture and appearance of a product. The perception may be
categorized into a historical or artistic style such as; art deco, streamlined, or with
defined attributes such as; utilitarian, sleek, high tech, organic, cool.

Design Engineering: (Eng) The application of scientific and mathematical principles as

applied to the design, manufacture, and operation of efficient and economical
structures, products, machines, procedures, or methods, processes & systems.
“Engineering” encompasses a wide spectrum of sub disciplines including; design,
systems, mechanical, electrical, electronic, biomechanical, biomedical, chemical,
materials, polymer, plastic, metallurgical, human factors, user interface, ergonomics,
manufacturing, tooling, production automation, acoustic, optical, hydraulic,
pneumatic, nano, etc.

Thumbnail Sketch: Within the field of product design, thumbnail sketching represents
an efficient way to quickly communicate product ideas and simple concepts using
small line drawn 3D perspective and orthographic drawings quickly and clearly.

Product Rendering: A product rendering is a 2D visual illustration of a product

typically drawn in 2 or 3 point perspective using light, shadow and perspective
drawing technique to create the perception of a 3D or photograph of the object.

CAD: Computer-Aided Design 3D virtual modeling software & hardware.

CAE: Computer Aided Engineering 3D virtual simulation (Predictive Analysis)

CAM: Computer Aided Manufacturing – CNC

Color Study: A color study is an visual tool exploring and selecting a variety of colors
or schemes to be applied to a product or product family. Whether or not a color
combination is successful is assessed in the visual balance and harmony of the final
composition. Use of successful color combination begins with the understanding and
investigation of color relationships.

Design for Manufacturing: When designing a product for manufacture, it is critical to

develop the design direction sufficiently enough to ensure that your design intent is
developed and communicated correctly.

Assembly Drawing: An assembly drawings’ principal purpose is to check all parts and
assembly, part details. It is an important drawing check prior to tool release.

Materials and Materials Science: (See materials engineering) study of engineering

materials properties and their mechanical behavior in general (such as stress,
deformation, strain and stress-strain relations), mass (weight), volume, texture, color,

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touch (temperature), hardness (resisting shape change), strength, considered in
terms of yield strength, compressive strength, tensile strength, and shear strength

Bill of Materials (BOM): A summary list of component parts identifying part numbers,
drawing numbers, design revision level, part name, manufacturing process, quantity
of parts per assembly, sub-assemblies, material type and grade, material colors.

Prototype: A prototype is an original type, form, or instance of some thing serving as

a typical example, basis, epitome, or standard for other things of the same category.

Design Patent: is based on ornamental drawings and is valid for a 14 term limit.
Design patents can be invalidated if the design has practical utility, (i.e. the shape of a
simple gear).

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