Softening up the facts: engineers in design meetings

Lloyd, Peter and Busby, Jerry (2001). Softening up the facts: engineers in design meetings. Design Issues, 17(3) pp. 67–82.



Engineers are commonly stereotyped as being machine-like in their obsession with technical facts and traditional representations of the engineering design process have only tended to support this view. In a series of conversational vignettes, taken from three design meetings held at a small engineering organization in the United Kingdom, this paper shows that the traditional stereotype is badly mistaken. The group of design engineers studied reveal a subtle mastery of rhetoric, and great skill in drawing out the consequences of ‘factual’ – that is to say commonly agreed - information. The vignettes show just how far the process of engineering design is a process dependent on sketching out possible futures in words, then exercising aesthetic judgement in choosing one particular course of action. The paper concludes by suggesting that if these skills are indeed a large part of being an experienced engineering designer, then perhaps they should be explicitly taught at undergraduate level. This would certainly be a significant step in liberalising traditionally conservative engineering design education.
Presents information on a study which examined some of the findings about the use of language in the engineering design process using a discourse analytic method. Study of language in the design process; Segments of engineering design conversation; Discussion and conclusions.

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