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The Many, Many Faces of Design

Narratives are finally emerging that make the case for discernment (see below) rather than negation by assumption or assertion which is too often the case. This is a healthy trend.

For example see Donald Norman's focus on the term 'product design':

Forwarded Message -----
From: Don Norman <>
Sent: Sunday, December 15, 2019, 01:31:56 PM MST
Subject: Product Design means too many different things to be a useful description
There is product design, and then there is product design.

The request for lists o product design courses is understandable, but not
only not useful, but it is not nearly specific enough. A financial product
is very different from a medical one, which is different than a bridge, or
building, or automobile. These are different than kitchen
appliances. Engineering design courses tend to focus on, guess what,
engineering aspects. Etc.

If taught in Mechanical Engineering or Civil, they will tend to be about
the physical, mechanical aspects of the design.

If taught in bioengineering, they will often be about the chemistry,
biology, sensors, and other medical components with little attention to the
physical components.

If taught in computer science they will tend to be about software products.

In almost every one of the above areas, what they tend to lack is any
discussion of people, especially how people might interact with the system,
how to design it so that it is understandable and usable, and how to design
it so that when things go wrong, the people involved can understand what
happened and how to respond. But in courses that focus on human
interactions, there is often very little instruction about some of the
standard tools of engineering design. or the standard concerns in
Industrial Design courses about shape, form, materials, ... Design for
manufacturing courses will focus primarily upon physical devices on how to
source the parts, and design in a away to minimize cost of components, of
manufacturing, and shipping. Supply chain management is critical here as

Many universities now have entrepreneurial courses, which include product
design. These courses will mostly concentrate on the
financial feasibility of the idea, on concepts such as Minimum Viable
Product (MVP), on funding, team structure, marketing, and such critically
important things such as explaining the concept and elevator pitches.
(Seriously -- if you can't master this, your product is doomed).

Courses in business schools vary a lot, from consideration of operations,
team selection, creation, and management, costs, pricing, margins.
Competitiveness. MVP. Marketing. Sales. Handling returns. etc.

If taught in Design Schools, who knows what they will cover.

Terry says that engineering courses tend to be stable because

worldwide, engineering programs are typically linked to professional
engineering registration processes and the national and international
institutions that provide such registration. It takes years for a course
to attain registered status and the amount of change that can occur without
reregistering is typically small - so engineering programs curricula (and
hence their product design courses) tend to be relatively unchanging at
least at the macroscale.

My experience differs. I have taught and taken courses at MIT, Northwestern
University, and the University of California system (which has 10 campuses.
I have never experienced the issues that Terry talks about (this does not
mean that he is wrong -- it does mean, however, that his comments do not
apply universally). In the United States, licensing is required only in
some of the older disciplines. That term is NEVER used or discussed in the
UC San Diego engineering school. Moreover, product design courses pop up
everywhere, changing monthly. We have them in the medical school, business
school, and at least 5 departments in the school of engineering, and in
non-credit courses taught by the multiple entrepreneurial services on
campus (who are tryng to synchronize and cross-list their offerings so as
not to compete -- but even though they try, it is difficult for them to
keep track of all their offerings.)

Getting a professional license is only required in some life-critical
disciplines. I have two degrees in Electrical Engineering and have worked
as an engineer in a number of companies (I am also a member of the US
National Academy of Engineers). Of all the hundreds (thousands?) of
engineers, i work with only a handful have professional accreditation.

In most work, it simply is not needed. Even in medicine, where programming
or design errors can (and do) kill people, no license is required.


Don Norman, UC San Diego
Director, Design Lab <>
Executive Assistant:
Olga McConnell, +1 858 534-0992
PhD-Design mailing list <>
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