Quality. There is nothing more satisfying than a device that boasts quality of concept, quality of design, quality of components, quality of assembly, quality of appearance, and quality of operation.
Redesign. If designing from scratch is akin to art, is redesigning akin to art criticism?
Sketch. At the conceptual design stage, a sketch can be worth a thousand sentences.
Theory. Throughout the history of technology, there has been the desire to make devices, like the steam engine and airplane, for which there was insufficient theory on which to base design decisions. Sometimes engineering accomplishment has to precede scientific understanding.
Unknown Unknowns. Designing something that goes beyond the envelope of experience necessarily involves venturing out into unknown territory, where the "unk-unks" hide.
Vision. Design without vision is like eyeglass frames without lenses.
Worry. According the British aeronautical engineer James E. Gordon (1913-1998), writing of innovative designs, "It is confidence that causes accidents and worry which prevents them."
X. Embarking on a radical new design is like striking out into the unknown. While the letter x is associated with the unknown, it also marks the spot.
Yes. Confronted with a design challenge, it is scientists -- who think they know Nature's secrets -- who are likely to say, "No, it can’t be done." Engineers are more likely to say, "Yes, we can do it."
Zen. In 1974, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by the American writer Robert Persig, was published; it has been assigned reading in many an engineering design course since. The book is a meditation on the nature of design and the idea of quality, good things for any designer to reflect upon.
Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. His latest book, An Engineer’s Alphabet: Gleanings from the Softer Side of a Profession, has just been published.
See Prof. Petroski's October column, Distinguishing Between Scientists & Engineers.