Engineering design

  • Peter Kroes
Part of the Philosophy of Engineering and Technology book series (POET, volume 6)


The notion of design plays a pivotal role in my characterization of technical artefacts and technical artefact kinds. In this characterization the term ‘design’ is used as a noun, as in ‘phrases like ‘the design of this engine’. However, the term ‘design’ may also be used as a verb; then it refers to the activity of designing, to a process the outcome of which is a design. Designing is a crucial phase in the making of technical artefacts. It is in this process that a design or in Thomasson’s words the largely correct substantive idea of a technical artefact kind is elaborated. Apart from designing, the making of technical artefacts also involves their actual production, that is, the physical realization of a design or the execution of a largely correct substantive idea. Again I turn to engineering practice to see how engineers conceptualize the designing of technical artefacts. They mainly characterize designing as a process of “translating” a function into a physical structure and so the same key notions that play a role in their characterization of technical artefacts reappear. The outcome of the design phase, though, is not a physical structure or a technical artefact but a technical design. Engineers often describe a technical artefact as an object that embodies or is based on a design. This calls for not only a clarification of the notion of a design but also of how this conception of a technical artefact relates to my analysis of technical artefacts presented so far. My aim in this chapter is present a view of engineering design that is very much in line with the dual-nature view of technical artefacts and to review a number of philosophical problems related to the notion of design (in both the verb and nominal sense). I start with a discussion of how engineering design relates to the physical making of technical artefacts (section IV.1) and to science (section IV.2). Thereafter I turn to an analysis of engineering design as a process of translating a function into a structure, and of how engineers model this process (IV.3). The process of translating a function into a structure is all about finding (constructing) the appropriate means for realizing a function. Therefore, means-end reasoning is of paramount importance in engineering design. Unfortunately, a philosophical/logical analysis of this kind of reasoning is still lacking (section IV.4). The next two sections focus on the nature of the output of engineering-design processes, that is, on design as a noun. First I turn to an interpretation of engineering design as the development of use-plans instead of designs for technical artefacts (IV.5). Then I analyse the meaning of the notion of a design and explore how the idea that a technical artefact is a physical object with a particular design is related to the dual-nature conception of technical artefacts (IV.6). For various reasons engineers are very much interested in formal representations of the design of a technical artefact. In contrast to the formal representation of the physical properties of a technical artefact the formal representation of its functional design features turns out to be very difficult. In order to see why, I compare the modelling of physical and technical systems and argue that this is due to the mind-dependent nature of functional design features (section IV.7). Finally, I discuss the basic assumptions underlying the traditional design paradigm and some recent developments in engineering that put the applicability of this paradigm in question (section IV.8). A brief conclusion closes this chapter.


Engineering Design Formal Representation Technical Artefact Heating Device Emergent Phenomenon 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Kroes
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands

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