The relationship between industrial design and design engineering is arguably one of the most important factors in the success of a design project. Get it wrong and it’s going to impact on development costs, time to market, and most importantly, the quality of the finished product.
While this is well understood in theory, the practicalities of bringing these teams together harmoniously is a surprisingly common struggle which all too often results in organisations reverting to traditional silo structures and inefficient over-the-wall engineering practices.
Agreeing and sharing a clear ambition at project level is the cornerstone of a good relationship, enabling cross disciplinary teams to discuss issues in a common context and reduce the potential for confusion or conflict over what the teams expect to achieve. At an organisational level, a clear mission statement forms the basis of a cohesive culture, which positively feeds back into project teams.
It is vital that teams communicate early and often, starting with scheduled workshops. After that, emails and digital communication are useful ways to communicate but nothing compares to face-to-face collaboration. Written and verbal communication is rarely enough when design teams translate an idea for engineers; you need hand models, sketches, CAD or prototypes that are immeasurably more illustrative than just an email.
Involving engineering early in the design process enables issues to be identified and resolved more quickly. Both parties will gain a much fuller understanding of complexities by allowing engineers to work in CAD at the concept and exploratory phases and iterate in conjunction with designers. This early collaboration transforms the hand-off period into a fluid, naturally evolving process of development and refinement. It allows the designer to focus specifically on design itself rather than the implementation of the design in CAD, allowing them to work more freely, knowing that there is some degree of oversight on their work.
Sharing a work area encourages natural and fluid interactions that can’t be matched by scheduled meetings or online interactions. Sure, you could organise weekly/bi-weekly or daily meetings but it is hard to the replace the value of spontaneous micro-meetings that happen when disciplines live together. Some of our most innovative ideas come from impromptu “collisions” between engineers and designers rather than organised meetings. It is also much easier to spread and embed a company culture across disciplines when teams interact naturally on a daily basis.
Engineering cannot rely on traditional techniques or practices to solve novel problems that arise from a creative design team that’s driving product development. They have to be far more adaptable and innovative and take cues from the design process. They should use exploratory and iterative techniques to progress a project, in much the same way that designers do. Combine this approach with traditional analytical engineering and you will develop a creative and user-focused team that can interface more easily with design professionals.
While engineers and designers are fundamentally different – and this difference is important to the development process – don’t underestimate the engineering capabilities of designers or the valuable insights engineers can bring to a design discussion. By leveraging individual capabilities regardless of background, you tighten relationships between teams. More importantly, you gain valuable team members that bring different perspectives to the project.
Integration of design and engineering is a way of life at Design Partners. All of the above have been instrumental in forging the culture of the company. Our engineering teams iterate and explore like designers; our designers appreciate the importance of analytical engineering. The result is a much more creative and user-focused team that works together to deliver quality products, on time and in budget.
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