Designers vs engineers: a designer's perspective

Designers and engineers often think and act very differently

Designers and engineers often think and act very differently

In product design, designers and engineers often get along like oil and water. Designers say, “Engineers have no aesthetic sense. How can products be attractive without us?” On the other hand, engineers say, “Designers are dreamers without restraint. Without us, how can products be created?”

As designers chase after the most visually pleasing results and engineers push for the most functional solutions, the two seem to be completely incompatible. But which is more important? Should a design prioritise form or function? Who is more important: the designer or the engineer? Who should be responsible for the birth of a new product?

The nature of a product

Let us start by looking at technically simple(r) products, such as many household items. Fundamental technologies in these products tend to already be in existence, and almost all competing products can fulfil all user requirements. Therefore, the key differentiating features are in aesthetics, stylistic choices, materials and ergonomics; these lie squarely in the domain of designers. Round one to the designers then.

On the other hand, as technology gets more deeply ingrained into our daily lives, more and more “hi-tech” products flood our markets. While these products feature exciting, stylish and futuristic exteriors, they also give us innovative new features and continuously improving functionality. It is important to remember that such products often arrive from the results of technical R&D and are then packaged in a way that would suit the market. In terms of the value added to such products, engineers no doubt take the lead. Round two to the engineers.

Let us take a look at luxury products next, those products that have high quality, great styling, and an aura of prestige attached to them. To achieve the level of quality and performance expected of a luxury item demands excellence in every aspect of its engineering and manufacturing. At the same time, a luxury product is also viewed as a work of art, emanating a sense of character and a visual appeal to those who see it. A true luxury item needs to excel in both form and function to stand out from the ranks of competitors, making both designers and engineers indispensable in their development.

Truthfully, the relative contributions of designers and engineers, while highly dependent on product type, are both significant in product development.

Product development cycles

Since we cannot find a winner by looking at products alone, let us take a look at the longer cycle of product development for a more complete picture.

To meet user requirements, engineers develop new technologies for new products, while designers take these technologies, give them character, make them user-friendly and attractive. As time moves on, user requirements change, and the engineers need to develop more technologies to meet the new demands while the designers continue to try new methods to bring excitement to users.

The history of product development reflects the progression of our society, and this cycle of product innovation and development has continued to improve our lives. Engineers created product functions that makes lives easier; designers changed product interactions to bring more colours into peoples’ lives.

In reality, designers and engineers are not rivals; they are the perfect partners in making this world we live in a better place.

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Bernard Wong