The Design Thinking In Engineering

Nov 21, 2015. | By: Dongmei Hu

"All relevant design decision have been considered together and have been integrated into a whole by a well organized team empowered to fix priorities."
- Sir Ove Arup, 1970

Some have such a stereotype that design is only for people in the so-called creative field like advertisement, branding, interior design and so on. In other traditional fields, more specifically structure engineering and electrical engineering etc, there are only formulas and Code of Practise that is very stringent and a must to follow. Some people claims that, engineering is too boring and has no design at all.

That is not true, at all. Design Thinking exists everywhere.

Working as an Electrical Engineer in Arup for three years, I have immersed myself in the design thinking in daily engineering work, and impressed by the company’s design culture on every single day. Regulations and Code of Practise are just the fundamentals to ensure the functionality and safety of the design. More have to be considered: usability, efficiency, production and the way of presentation are the key factors determining whether a design is bad, good or excellent.

Let me share some stories with you.

I used to work on a project for a high-profile bank to review and improve the resilience of its existing infrastructure system. During in a field trip to its data centre, the IT manager complained about an enclosure design for an important circuit breaker in the main circuit. This equipment works like a gate keeper for the data centre’s power system: to ensure electrical power runs smoothly into the data centre and prevent any electrical fault from propagating to other system which might affect to the banking system, or even cause a complete shutdown (except for system with battery backed).

This circuit breaker shall be regularly checked and maintained. However, the team is unable to carry out the maintenance, as the cabinet is designed to packed and technician is unable to reach the cable connection that is designed at the back of the equipment and hidden inside the enclosure. Only a monitor with display on device status, and ON/OFF switch are set on the front face of the enclosure with easy access. (the ON/OFF switch only shut down the function but electrical power is still connected and not safe for maintenance). The gap between the equipment and the enclosure is so narrow that a technician is unable to put his hand through the gap to disconnect the electrical cable, while there is no door to be open at the back of the enclosure. Image if any technical failure happens in the data centre and the team was unable to fix it due to this design failure, how much loss would it be for a bank run 24/7? What would be the expression on the IT Director when receiving the report from his staff that such an important equipment cannot be maintained monthly scheduled but only once a year during the annual shutdown?

It sounds like a silly mistake by the designer. Why does it even happen? The designer just thought about how to make it connected and how to squeeze the device into the confined and precious space in the data center. The designer might never ever think about the who would be the user and how the equipment would be used and maintained. This failure in the product took root when the designer failed in adopting a holistic design thinking from production to maintenance.

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