More ID 101 for Engineers?

The article from Grey Holland couldn’t have come at a better time!

I’ve just started working with a group that’s used their ME to do their ID work for the last 25 years. He and They have no clue that it’s somehow different let alone better. I’m having the same age-old fights about every little fillet - I’ve never seen it this bad, and don’t have time to teach them about ID from the ground up.

Please, can anyone reccomend other breif introductions that have worked for them in the past?

That’s weird, someone suggested a similar thing at our place. We have a company full of engineers and I’m the only ID guy (now in a management roll). Someone suggested training the MEs in ID so they we don’t need to use design consulting firms or hire an ID guy. Our products look VERY mechanical and there is a new initiative to make them more aesthetically appealing.

  • Can you teach an old dog new tricks? In some cases.
  • Do you need to break old habits first? Yes
  • Is it a matter of having a few classes on design appreciation? No
  • Will it take several years? Probably

I’m in the research phase of this project now and haven’t found many instances of companies doing this (successfully).


I teach design thinking to engineering students also. The fundamental issue the center of each profession.

Engineering is technology-centered
Design is user-centered

It is this difference of center that really keeps engineers from designing

TimF- Try telling engineers that what they’re doing isn’t “Design”.

I work within a huge technology company and the distinction you make is simply not understood. ID is about “look and feel” and little else.

Sadly too: Interaction designers- …“But we’ve got lots of software engineers, why do we need interaction designers?..”

I’m with you, but the realities of working as a “Designer” within a technocracy are brutal.

Timf’s got it right: It’s not “design” it’s “user-centered design.” Mechanical Engineers cannot stake a claim in that.

One-word-plastics: I’ve heard that one before! You’re taking the right approach by researching it. Trust me, you won’t find any examples. …But ask yourself, what’s behind the motive of asking the question “can we teach our ME’s to do design?” Pick apart the motives and you’ll be better able to answer the question.

One thing I’ve done is set up clear requirements for certain user-centered things (perceived simplicity, safety, actual speed etc.) We have users rate these, and if they don’t meet the baseline scores, it’s back to the drawing board. This makes engineers really nervous, so they’re happy to defer that “soft stuff” to us. Again, it’s about the users!

Useful approach CG.

Back on task, my engineers don’t know enough about ID to realize how little they know - how do you give them enough understanding to appreciate the scope of our proffession and get out of the way and let me just do my job!

I use a project where they have to go through the design process, including:

  1. Open question framing
  2. Interviews
  3. Personas
  4. Scenarios
  5. Prototyping and then further user feedback

Our process is nothing like what they have gone through. They think everyone wants more and more complex technology. Taking them through the user process shows them that people want 'solutions to their problems" and “simplicity”.

Until they have seen it in action they won’t believe it.

from a lifetime being sole industrial designer in a crowd of engineers…

I believe personality type is largely responsible.

The practice of engineering within most corporate departments is a very collaborative solving of many independent problems usually with clearly defined parameters.

Several times engineers have said to me they could not do design starting from a blank sheet with only a vague product concept predefined.

I remember huge presentation I was managing. I did the ID, very talented mechanical engineer followed with an absolutely stunning engineering solution; he started his presentation with why he was using M4 screws in the assembly!

In the past, when faced with doubts, scepticism, dismissal or disinterest, from those that matter and should know better, I have come back with data as Timf is discussing presented in engineering spreadsheet format, checklists sometimes, including data source and/or responsibility. While not universally applicable of course, it helps to “speak their language”. Also, project managers love this sort of data presentation and will usually incorporate it into their own, and it helps to be accepted when others start referencing your information and methods.

I am also the only ID guy at an engineering firm. Its has been a marathon and not a sprint, but slowly the engineers are understanding just what ID can do for a product. You have to pick your battles and you wont win them all, but as long as you keep educating it will eventually click. Try to do a few presentations profiling successful designs, pointing out specific details on what good design is. It will help the engineers and also open up a dialogue between the two disciplines.

Isn’t that the truth!

On a recent major project, the concept downselect process that R&D came up with included “engineering coolness factor” but not a single mention of the user! When confronted by this disparity, the VP defended it, saying that he needed to throw his engineers a bone. Amazing.