Engineering and industrial design : an integrated interdisciplinary design theory

Brezing, Alexander Nikolaus (Corresponding author); Löwer, Manuel

New York, NY : ASME (2009)
Contribution to a book, Contribution to a conference proceedings

In: Proceedings of the ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference - 2008 : presented at 2008 ASME International Design Engineering Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, August 3 - 6, 2008, New York City, New York, USA / sponsored by the Design Engineering Division, ASME; the Computers and Information in Engineering Division, ASME Vol. 3: 28th Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
Page(s)/Article-Nr.: 351-357


It is generally accepted that superior products result from a balanced consideration of both "technology" and "aesthetic design". Nonetheless, the gap between the two professions of the "design engineer" and the "industrial designer" has not been bridged since their origination in the course of industrialization [7]. One possible approach to enhance the collaboration of both disciplines is to teach the basics of the respective other’s. In Germany, the main work following this approach of trying to prepare engineers for design collaborations is the VDI guideline 2424 ("The Industrial Design Process") [21], which was worked out and released in three parts from 1984 to 1988 by a group of engineering design researchers and industrial designers. As no accepted industrial design theory could be identified at that time, the authors of the guideline tried to apply some of engineering design methodology’s proven methods taken from the VDI guideline 2221 [19] that seemed to fit to industrial design. That approach ultimately failed, as the authors of the guideline had to conclude themselves in the opening remarks of its last part [21]. Even if the guideline is still officially in use for the lack of a replacement, it is hardly used in engineering education. Since then however, accepted theoretical approaches have been produced by industrial design research that allow for the definition of an interdisciplinary theory on product development. This paper introduces these approaches and arranges them together with models of engineering design methodology to serve as a basis for a design theory that explains both domains’ competences and responsibilities. A function-oriented product model is set up that illustrates existing interdependencies by classifying a technical product/project according to the relative importance of its technical function (engineering’s competence) on the one hand and its semiotic functions (industrial design’s competence) on the other. The realization of industrial design’s competence as signification and the organization of its devices according to the model of semiotic functions explain existing organizational problems of interdisciplinary design practice. It is demonstrated why industrial design cannot proceed according a purely technical design process such as the one defined in the VDI guideline 2221 and what implications that has on interdisciplinary design projects.


  • Chair of Engineering Design [411610]