on April 29th, 2014

Dear Colleagues,

We all do design engineering at some time or other. Whether you are an electrician undertaking a rework of the wiring for a switchboard or designing a state-of-the-art oil refinery.

Who is a designer today?

In the twenty first century, perhaps someone who wears bright clothes, speaks French, has a gigantic beard, easily rejigs the interior decoration of a home, sports a tattoo and drives a MG sports car to work?

Or designs integrated circuits, diesel locomotives or the grille for a new car?

Probably all of the above and a lot more.

The critical issue is to know your field of engineering very, very well. You have to especially know all the old designs extraordinarily well. What worked well, what and when they failed.

Engineering School is too Superficial for a Good Designer
One thing is for sure at engineering school at college or university – generally you don’t learn much in detail on a particular topic. You probably cover a wide area of engineering but nothing much in-depth.

Fascination is the Key
Certainly, you have to be absolutely fascinated and interested in the field you design in to plumb the depths of your subject. Almost like the most enthusiastic hobbyist. So that you can decide when to use an old circuit design or when to pioneer new areas when the old ways of doing things simply won’t stack up. As a result you become intuitively good and don’t need to rely on gut feeling only or a computer analysis only. You also need to draw on the expertise of your colleagues and competitors.

A designer mustn’t only think of the specifications. Although that is obviously important in today’s legal contract focussed world. She has to think like the customer – what would make her happy – deliriously happy, in fact and to avoid like the plague - things which the customer would become distressed and irritated by.

You also have to put your marketing director hat on and think of features that would make the customer ecstatic. And naturally, the design has to be economically viable and easily able to be made in production. And which is safe under all conditions. Even stressful conditions where your design is pushed to the limit.

You also have to learn from your mistakes. Regard these as an opportunity to learn more to improve your next design.

Bold, Self-Reliant, Arrogant and Overbearing
Recently, some outstanding engineers were described by the publication American Heritage of the Invention & Technology as: bold, self-reliant, independent, secure, powerful, daring, resolute, and sometimes, arrogant and overbearing.

There is nothing new there about designers.

Thanks to the fabulous analog design engineer Bob Pease of Electronic Design for one of his well-written articles: What’s All This Designer Stuff, Anyhow? RIP Bob.

Yours in engineering learning,


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