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Title: Let's not build barriers with words

Pages: 26 - 31

                  

Author: W. H. Mayall

Text: Let's not build barriers with words
Most people would accept that closer co-operation between industrial and engineering designers is of cruciial importance in improving engineering products. But co-operation involves communication. Too often the most basic design terms-'design' itself, for instance-are more of a hindrance than a help. W. H. Mayan (a qualified engineer who is a ColD industrial officer for the engineering industries) offers his personal interpretation of the problem, and suggests how it might be broken down.
One word spoils the growing use of industrial designers in engineering design teams -'design'. It is so often used as if it were a piece of personal property by both the industrial designer and the engineering designer. In fact, neither uses the word precisely according to the dictionary - though each can claim that the dictionary supports his interpretation; which, unfortunately, does not always stay the same.
The definitions overleaf display the kind of differences which can exist. And when these differences become apparent, words become barriers rather than aids to progress. The important task in designing engineering products, especially at this moment' is to improve performance and reliability while reducing manufacturing costs. Other objectives are coupled with these salient requirements safety, ease of maintenance, ease of operation, good appearance, and so on.
But when good appearance sometimes becomes 'good design', the unknowing engineer cannot be blamed for being either resentful or, at least, perplexed. Whatever we may accept elsewhere, can we tolerate this schismatic use of 'design' while bearing the main objectives of designing engineering products in mind ? Moreover, does it help good teamwork ?

Two meanings to every term
Not all the differences of meaning set out overleaf, may be accepted. But at least the majority can be recognised.
One may wonder whether any barriers are set up as this list is being read. Perhaps the worst is that which puts industrial design with the 'arts' and engineering design with the
'sciences'. The arts notion of industrial design in engineering stems, of course, from that pretentious expression 'industrial art'. Redolent with nineteenth century ideas of pasting up
This table gives some interpretations of design terminology as it may be used by engineers and industrial d esigners. But these interpretations are by no means exclusive to each profession. Each uses the other's, depending upon the context - and there can be other variations.

(table)
expression
1.design
2.a design
3.good design
4.design policy
5.design management
6.detail design
7.industrial design
8.engineering design
9.designed by
possible industrial design meaning
1.aesthetic quality; external form and 'fitness for purpose'
2.external form of a product
3.good aesthetic quality
4.a group of objectives concerned with establishing good aesthetic quality in everything produced by a company
5.executing the above
6.good aesthetic quality in the component parts of a product
7.variously: the aesthetic quality of products made by industrial processes; or
the task of designing products made by industrial processes when they were once made by so-called craft processes; or
in engineering, that part of the design task concerned with how the product will be handled and how it will form the environment
8.solving 'mechanical' problems
9.work undertaken by the industrial designer
possible engineering design meaning
1.process or activity deciding the nature of the product
2.description of a product, usually in drawing form, to enable manufacture
3.often, but not always, an elegant or ingenious solution for the product's basic purpose
4.a group of objectives concerned with making the design task efficient, economical and productive
5.executing the above
6.the task of producing drawings for component manufacture
7.variously: appearance design; or
styling
8.as for 'design'; devising a mechanical system (using 'mechanical' in the broadest terms)
9.responsibility for conceiving the product
products with artistic forms, 'industrial art' has been responsible for spoiling the looks of more than enough good engineering equipment. And those who think and design in this vein are still spoiling it.
Three main influences
The external forms of engineering devices emerge from three main influences (see illustrations 5 - 8):
1 those elements in which these devices may operate or upon which they rely in order to work (like aircraft and boats);
2 the forces which they must structurally be capable of handling and
3 the people who will handle them, and in whose environment they will exist.
The machine designer (using machine in its widest sense) uses the results of scientific research and mathematical techniques to deal, say, with aerodynamic or hydrodynamic effects, or with stresses, deflections, vibrations and material fatigue (when he is concerned with structural aspects). But he must also rely on personal judgement in deciding how he uses research findings and mathematical systems. He may then use the results of research (anatomical, physiological and psychological) when forming products 'to suit people'; he may even use mathematical techniques. Indeed, he will have to when his work begins to be aided by computer systems. But, once again, he must also use judgement.

(caption)
1 - 4 Singer's first sewing machine, 1,employed a structural system discernable in a machine made 30 years later, 2. Yet the contrived shapes and applied motifs of the latter create a distinct difference in appearance. This is 'industrial art' at its most blatant - only possible when forms can be manipulated without much effect upon performance and cost. It took 50 years for the sewing machine to lose the worst excesses of industrial art, a. But even this machine has traces of it in chrome trim and pseudoheraldic shapes; 4 achieves a form conditioned by function. However, industrial art persists in other products and unfortunately is still mistakenly regarded as 'design'. Now, if we arbitrarily separate this machine designer into two parts, one dealing with physical effects (so-called engineering designer) and one dealing with human effects (so-called industrial designer), both parts use, or can use, a measure of ordered knowledge (usually designated 'science') and a measure of personal judgement (sometimes designated 'art'). How then can the arts/science attitude be upheld ?
The barrier, based upon our two-culture complex, is entirely imaginary; entirely irrelevant to designing engineering products in a comprehensive sense. On one side, this complex has been responsible for inhibiting our further knowledge of how we see things, our understanding of perception, by lumbering us with the word 'art'. On the other side, it has prevented us from seeing, where we can, the engineering aesthetic of a new concept.
The wicked poacher
For example, the Moulton bicycle needed time for assimilation. Other products may need this assimilation period simply because of a lack in the observer of what is usually called technical expertise. Not much of this expertise is needed - but how much is lost through our bi-cultural fallacy! The art and science of designing engineering products,
Let's not build barriers with words

(caption)
5 - 8 'Design' in an aesthetic sense may be cliff cult to use when products are conditioned by the medium in which they operate. Today, for subsonic and supersonic flight, the form may not even be fixed, as with the F111 tactical fighter using the swing-wing principle, 5. Loading requirements may establish particular forms as with the shape of a crane hook, 6. Human requirements may also produce forms such as the saw handle improvement by Professor Zdenek Kovar, 7. These forms emerge from scientific data, yet each may give aesthetic pleasure. In some products these influences have a collective effect and combine with manufacturing needs and spatial requirements for working elements. The form of the E-type Jaguar, 8, is but one example. Some product forms may be almost entirely conditioned by these considerations, while others permit differing degrees of aesthetic judgement to be used.
now usually undertaken by a team, cannot be carried on in the face of a barrier that is mounted simply upon differences.
These differences can also give rise to that curious amour propre which, on occasions, becomes infuriating. While few engineering designers or industrial designers can define precisely what they do, simply because their activities merge and overlap, they frequently suggest that one or other appears to be poaching.
For example, engineers conversant with the double meaning of design sometimes ask for a definition of 'good design'. And what they are really seeking is a neat formula for good appearance; perhaps something a little more solid than the time-worn epigrams. If the definition involves performance or manufacturing considerations, they object that these are 'engineering matters'. Since relatively few industrial designers attend engineering lectures, the reverse situation occurs less frequently. But it has happened, and then one sees the spectacle of the engineer gaily subscribing to functional doctrine-though in his own jargon.
This jargon usually insists that a solution to the design problem using the physical processes will inevitably 'look right'. This frequently happens, of course, when the determinants of the first two influences on machine form (elements and forces) can be applied. But it is so obvious that it does not and cannot always happen that an industrial designer would be right to query the assumption.
It should be said that we no longer accept a doctrinaire concept of aesthetic value, whether 'form follows function' or anything else. Unfortunately, the designer's query is quite likely to suggest that the engineer is encroaching on his territory.
Getting away from abstract definitions
Once again, that schismatic word 'design' leads to schismatic attitudes. In this respect more than any other, a common language should considerably improve matters. The art/science aspect is a pleasant pastime for pundits, something for common-room colloquia or after-dinner addresses. Kept in these areas, it can even be mildly
stimulating. But the poaching problem affects the practitioners, and this we cannot afford to allow.
However, the oddest differences can occur when the engineering designer or the industrial designer manipulates 'design' and 'engineering' in the ambivalent manner in which 'architecture' is often used.
For example, the dictionary says that 'architecture' is the "science of building". Thus it is a function or activity. But 'architecture' may also be used to identify a class of building, or a desirable requirement in buildings. When used in these senses, those of an abstract noun, interpretations of 'architecture' vary according to inclination. Thus Nikolaus Pevsner says "A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture", and so restricts the word to certain sorts of buildings. Again, many books on 'architecture' are simply studies of facades and so limit the word to one particular requirement.
'engineering' end 'design' lend themselves to the same confusion. The worst trouble comes when products are said to be igood'or Bad' examples of 'architecture', 'engineering' or 'design' - they become, in a sense, as abstract as the words themselves.
But there is a simple answer. After all, we are not concerned with examples of design, but with well designed products. The extent to which they are well designed will, of course, still need expressing with some care. But, by avoiding the temptation to get involved in abstract interpretations, we would stand a better chance of avoiding those awkward inter-professional misunderstandings. Forthe inter-related factors which determine function and form would certainly be sensed, if they could not always be stated precisely. 'Designing' would always emerge as the art and science of achieving a variety of requirements within a corporate entity. This is not a dictionary definition. But it is one which every kind of designer knows well.
And when designers get together in a team, they know that the most important part of attaining their individual goals is to attain them in conjunction with those of their colleagues.
Definitions must not be imposed
No doubt clearer and more widely accepted definitions of design could help. But it would be pointless to attempt to impose them on the practitioners. Too much artificial culture, too many vested interests and too little analytical thought still exist for this to be possible. Indeed, it is the practitioners, not the pundits, who will eventually reveal design as a unifying activity and so remove the confusion we now have to tolerate.
At present, the best way to deal with the differences is to accept them. Then there are no barriers. But, of course, we have to know about the differences. Not everyone does.

(caption)
9 - 10 The engineer and the industrial designer can have different sorts of aesthetic judgement. The Hotpoint 6041 cooker, 9, may appeal to industrial designers, but some engineers would see only a well shaped box. A device for removing yarn hanks on a textile machine, 10, might have more appeal for the engineer, though it is contained in an old fashioned structure, because it provides a clever solution to a particular problem. But see 11.

(caption)
11.The two sorts of aesthetic illustrated in 9 and 10 frequently coincide. The Braun tangential fan combines the cleverness of the tangential fan principle with a well controlled overall appearance.

 

 

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