The Engineering Design Process – A Five-Step Process
To solve engineering problems, engineers follow a series of steps called the “Engineering Design Process.”
Because the EiE Project serves young children, we’ve created a simple Engineering Design Process (EDP) to guide students through our engineering design challenges. This EDP has just five steps and uses terms children can understand.
Engineering design process – “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 the engineering sciences are applied to convert resources optimally to meet these stated needs.” (ABET)
“Who did it?” is the primary distinction between science – the study of the natural world and engineering – designing objects and structure (man-made).
- Scientific inquiry is concerned with what is, while engineering design is focused on what can be. …
Engineering – NASA engineers, engineering design process – video
- NASA Now: Designing a New Martian Rover (video 6:20) – Aerospace engineer Jennifer Keyes shows how NASA engineers developed “TumbleCup,” a concept rover capable of traveling large distances on Mars. Engineering Design Process (4:33) – ask, imagine, plan, create, experiment, improve – YouTube
diagram – design process – prototype, iteration, failure – find / fix, do-over, test / evaluate
Making the world work better (video 9:56) – Four distinct stories of progress show how a challenge once considered unsolvable was addressed: Sending a man to the moon, sequencing the rice genome, making medicine personal and reducing traffic congestion. Across the diversity of these examples, the film reveals how progress was made possible by a combination of people and technology, and by taking a distinct approach to making the world work better — seeing, mapping, understanding, believing and acting.
Building anything takes several steps. You have to decide you want to build it and what you have to do to build it. You have to get the materials you need and maybe get help from people who know how to do it. Then you can build it.
To illustrate engineering in the real world, we have selected existing machines and man-made structures – the “results” – solutions to engineering design challenges. There is a story about each “engineered solution”. Each story includes some information about the challenge and examples of the questions engineered asked. Following the Engineering Design Process, engineers came to understand the requirements before considering possible designs and building the final object or structure.
We can’t stress enough that engineering is about communication. Having great ideas is important but that is only a small part of the job of engineers. Showing other people how these ideas work is essential. Understanding the solution well enough to explain it to others is critical. Each design challenge includes suggestions for “Show and Tell” as a reminder that you aren’t done until you communicate your ideas to others.
Work through the story of the challenge on your own. Lots of information was needed to understand the problem and to come up with this solution. Think about all the decisions that had to be made to come up with the final solution. Would you do something different based on what you know and the materials and technologies that are available today? Imagine how these challenges will be solved in the future as new and exciting developments in engineering become available.
These are yours to discover. Get those creative juices flowing. Imagine. Enjoy!
What’s the problem?
What were they thinking?
Every Design Challenge starts with a introduction and a “statement” to outline the need for an engineering solution. We think that you should figure out what the questions are. What do you need to know to design a solution for the challenge? We are here to help.
To guide your thinking and problem solving, we include questions and some additional information associated with the questions. These correspond to steps in the Engineering Design Process.
- ASK (video 1:51) What? Ask questions, understand the need, identify the problem
There are usually some specific need or requirements and limitations or constraints for the challenge. To really understand the problem to be solved, you will need a lot of information. By asking a lot of questions now, you will better understand the need so you will be solving the right problem. It is really easy to come up with a great solution, only to find that it doesn’t solve the design challenge need.
Identify the assumptions in the project – the real customer needs, the cost of the product, the duration of the service – and test them early and often. That’s the mechanism that leads to effective innovation.
- IMAGINE So what?Imagine, brainstorm, explore
Ok, now you understand the need and you can really start thinking about solutions. Put your curiosity, creativity, innovation and imagination to work here. Spend time exploring existing solutions to similar problems. What about interesting solutions to different problems? Could they be adapted or applied to this problem? Think about it. Make notes and sketches. They don’t have to be perfect or even possible. Do research. Talk about your ideas. Consider everything.
- PLAN Now what? Plan, design
Once you have sorted through the ideas and narrowed down the options, it is time to figure what it will take to actually build your solution. Time, resources and cost must be considered. Use them wisely. Usually you have to work to a schedule and a budget. There are often limits on the availability of resources – people, skills, materials, space, whatever. But you still need to get your solution built and delivered.
- CREATE Do it, Create, try it out
Finally, it is time to do the work. If you have done a good and thorough job on all the previous steps, the building phase should go smoothly. It rarely does, but it would be worse if you hadn’t done all the prior steps.
- IMPROVE If this then what? Improve, make it better
Think you are done? Nope – this is rarely the end. There is always something else. Maybe something was missed. Perhaps something doesn’t work right. There are requirements that are just coming up now because everyone assumed that everyone knew these were requirements. Be prepared. This can be both frustrating and exciting as the solution takes shape and becomes even better.
There are other versions of the steps. The Process of Innovation defines the steps: Seeing, Mapping, Understanding, Believing, and Acting (SMUBA).
Engineering school teaches the basics and provides engineering students with years of experience figuring out what the problem is and how to solve it. In That’s engineering we make a connection to the basics that engineers learn as part of their education.
Engineering ideas Engineering vocabulary, concepts
There are specific terms that you need to know to talk with engineers working on these challenges. Engineers must learn about the basic structures, mechanisms and materials to produce safe, cost effective design solutions that can be built. We include some of the specific concepts that were used in this challenge.
Now it is your turn. Here are some challenges for you to work on… We think that everyone including engineers and designers learn best by doing and telling others about it. So we suggest some things that you can do, too.
Engineers always work as part of a team, so communication skills are an essential part of the job. We have included “show and tell” as a way to practice these important skills every time you come up with great solutions for the design challenges.
Come up with your own ideas. Think of wild and crazy alternate designs. Suggest a “better” solution. Remember, design engineers always have limitations as well as opportunities. The solution here may not be the “best” but it was what was build in the end. In some cases millions of decisions were made and thousands of really good ideas had to be left out. That’s just the way it is with engineering design challenges. So it is possible that you can come up with a better solution.
- Engineering Design Process form – Google docs
- Engineering.com Designers Edge – online magazine featuring new and interesting engineering designs. Updated frequently.
The internet is a great place to explore and find more information about any subject. Sometimes finding the good stuff is hard. We include links to information that we found that was helpful in creating this design challenge. It is a place to start.
- NASA podcasts about each step
- Try Engineering – Engineering Design Process
- The Engineering Design Process – A Five-Step Process
Design – products, services, structures
- first, do no harm – nice concise design lesson
- Introduction to Engineering Design – from Engineering Fundamentals and Problem Solving
- Design Process Creates Creativity – Having a design framework doesn’t just help you design better, it helps you communicate what happened better. And if someone is paying for your design work, I guarantee they will enjoy being on the inside of your process a bit more.
- Marshmallow Challenge – identifying the assumptions
Engineering Design Process
- Engineering – ABCDEF – Ask, Brainstorm, Construct, Decide, Evaluate, Finalize