Sunday, September 7, 2008

Engineering and Design

In the initial stages, many products, images, buildings or anything else made by people are often more engineering than design. Then, as we come to understand it better we see how to integrate the engineering into more coherent and efficient forms. This is design.

Think of the early automobile, with parts tacked on (running boards, bumpers, door handles, mirrors), in comparison to new, sleek, contemporary cars with elements integrated into a coherent design. Perhaps the most graphic examples of this evolution are the robot characters WALL-E and EVE in the popular animated movie "WALL-E". We see, side by side, the early, un-designed form represented by WALL-E and the later, coherent, integrated design of EVE.

I think the national robotics competitions that have been gaining such popularity in schools across the country are in similar early stages of development. Currently, most of the attention is being paid to engineering and basic functionality. The designs, like early cars, flaunt each new feature by tacking them on in such a way that they can be seen and admired. We can see by the evolution of myriads of other designed objects that this early stage will give way to more sophisticated, integrated, coherent designs. Next to the next generation of robots, these early robots will look quaint and old-fashioned - like a Model-T next to a Ferrari.

It is up to design educators to start working with technology educators (graphic, industrial, electrical, mechanical, etc.) to start evolving engineering projects into more beautifully designed, coherent next-generation versions.

It doesn't take much to see from where the inspiration for the design of Eve came. Click on the heading above to read how Apple Computer's top designer, Jonathan Ive, helped create the look of EVE.

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