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Engineering and Industrial Design: An Integrated Interdisciplinary Design Theory

[+] Author Affiliations
Alexander N. Brezing, Manuel Löwer

RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany

Paper No. DETC2008-49495, pp. 351-357; 7 pages
  • ASME 2008 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 5: 13th Design for Manufacturability and the Lifecycle Conference; 5th Symposium on International Design and Design Education; 10th International Conference on Advanced Vehicle and Tire Technologies
  • Brooklyn, New York, USA, August 3–6, 2008
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division and Computers in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4329-1 | eISBN: 0-7918-3831-5
  • Copyright © 2008 by ASME


It is generally accepted that superior products result from a balanced consideration of both “technology” and “aesthetic design”. Nonetheless, the gap between the two professions of the “design engineer” and the “industrial designer” has not been bridged since their origination in the course of industrialization [7]. One possible approach to enhance the collaboration of both disciplines is to teach the basics of the respective other’s. In Germany, the main work following this approach of trying to prepare engineers for design collaborations is the VDI guideline 2424 (“The Industrial Design Process”) [21], which was worked out and released in three parts from 1984 to 1988 by a group of engineering design researchers and industrial designers. As no accepted industrial design theory could be identified at that time, the authors of the guideline tried to apply some of engineering design methodology’s proven methods taken from the VDI guideline 2221 [19] that seemed to fit to industrial design. That approach ultimately failed, as the authors of the guideline had to conclude themselves in the opening remarks of its last part [21]. Even if the guideline is still officially in use for the lack of a replacement, it is hardly used in engineering education. Since then however, accepted theoretical approaches have been produced by industrial design research that allow for the definition of an interdisciplinary theory on product development. This paper introduces these approaches and arranges them together with models of engineering design methodology to serve as a basis for a design theory that explains both domains’ competences and responsibilities. A function-oriented product model is set up that illustrates existing interdependencies by classifying a technical product/project according to the relative importance of its technical function (engineering’s competence) on the one hand and its semiotic functions (industrial design’s competence) on the other. The realization of industrial design’s competence as signification and the organization of its devices according to the model of semiotic functions explain existing organizational problems of interdisciplinary design practice. It is demonstrated why industrial design cannot proceed according a purely technical design process such as the one defined in the VDI guideline 2221 and what implications that has on interdisciplinary design projects.

Copyright © 2008 by ASME



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