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Why the Engineering Design Process is Important

Learn all about the engineering design process, including how to manage an engineering design throughout a project’s life cycle in 11 steps.

By Brier Cook  •   January 18, 2023  •   7 min read

If you work in engineering, you know how important processes are to the success of major projects. A structured process will describe how a task should be completed for the outcome to be successful. 

Structured processes can help engineers progress through a project’s life cycle. Process-oriented engineers are known to reduce project costs, produce high-quality projects, and deliver reliable products to their customers. One of the best ways you can become a process-oriented engineer is by using the engineering design process. 

Read on to learn about the engineering design process, why it’s important, and the 11 steps you can take to implement the system in your work. 

What is the engineering design process? 

The engineering design process is a series of steps that engineers follow to find a solution to a problem. The process combines mathematics, applied science, and engineering sciences to optimize and meet the requirements needed for the project to succeed. 

The steps in the engineering design process aren’t always followed in a particular order, but when adjusted based on a team’s needs, they can be used to evaluate which course of action will lead to the highest chance of success. 

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Why is the engineering design process important? 

There are endless benefits to the engineering design process. Since the process is based on objective raw data, it can add structure to your projects, help you make decisions, and solve problems without bias. 

It can also help you view your past experiences in a different light. The process teaches you that setbacks and failures can be useful sources of future data. Additionally, the engineering design process can help you break big decisions into smaller, more manageable steps. 

Steps in the engineering design process 

1Outline a problem

The first step of the process is defining the problem you want to solve. If you’re designing a product, you would select the target audience and identify why it’s important to find a solution. You might also ask what potential issues you could run into as you move through the rest of the process and what the limitations of the final product will be. During this step, ask critical questions that will help you determine current and future challenges. 

2Conduct research 

Conduct research on what your team and others have done before that can help you move forward with this project. Speak to colleagues, engineers in your professional network, and other individuals who have worked on similar projects to gain insight. This step is important because it will introduce you to possibilities you may not have considered. 

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”

Zora Neale Hurston, American author

3Hold a brainstorming session 

The third step in the engineering design process is to use brainstorming techniques as a group to find solutions to the problems you’ve identified previously. Brainstorming leads to creative thought and encourages team members to share their unique ideas, no matter how out there they may seem. During your team brainstorming session, develop possible solutions in a list format. Let the ideas flow and try not to judge the proposed designs at this stage. 

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4Decide on criteria

Now that you’ve outlined potential solutions and have completed the research phase, establish the criteria you’ll use to see if your product is successful. It’s during this stage that you should establish what factors could constrain your work moving forward. Criteria may include the cost, the scope, and the time it takes to deliver the final product. If it’s helpful, revisit the work you completed in the previous steps to see if any ideas are relevant now. 

5Establish clear next steps

The fifth step of the engineering design process is to establish the concrete next steps each individual on the team needs to take to move forward with the project. During this stage, leaders on the team should assign clear action items to each person involved. Action items can be delegated during a team meeting and should live in a project management tool (like Fellow!) where everyone can see progress in real-time.   

“Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eyes fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.”

Dag Hammarskjöld, former Secretary-General of the United Nations

With Fellow, you can assign, visualize, and prioritize all your meeting to-dos in one place and sync them with tools like Jira, Asana, and Zapier. Additionally, Fellow makes it easy to visualize and organize your upcoming tasks in the action items section, so you can focus on your priorities and start each day feeling in control.

6Consider alternatives

Good solutions aren’t possible without good alternatives. Generate a list of potential alternatives that could effectively solve the problem identified in step one. Having a carefully thought out set of alternatives along with a detailed document that outlines their consequences, key differences from your chosen solution, and the potential response from customers, clients, and stakeholders with respect to the trade offs can make all the difference. Considering other options at this stage will make it easier to determine solutions for future challenges. 

7Develop a proposal 

Refine and improve your solution with a design proposal. A proposal will include materials like reports, drawings, objectives, statements, and models. This step may be ongoing throughout the project’s life cycle. For example, if you’re creating a product for a client, you may develop multiple proposals for different ideas suggested during the brainstorming stage. Your proposals should include the project background, objectives, methodologies, deliverables, and a proposed timeline. 

8Create a prototype

Creating a prototype has many advantages, but most importantly, it simulates the real future product. If you’re creating a prototype to show a client or customer, this stage will help you determine if there are any changes that need to be made before allocating the resources needed for implementation. It also gives your team the opportunity to test the design’s correctness and check for errors before putting it into production. 

If the goal of your product is to be mass-produced for consumers, having a good prototype will be an attractive feature for investors. Investors want to see the product in its physical form; they aren’t interested in spending money on a device that could work, so be sure to invest in a quality model. 

“Prototype as if you are right. Listen as if you are wrong.”

Diego Rodriguez, business designer and enginee

9Test and evaluate the prototype

The ninth step is to test your prototype to see how the final product will perform. Prototypes are often made from different materials than the final version, so make sure that your prototypes are made of high quality materials so they operate as similarly as possible to the eventual final product. If possible, have future users test the prototype and provide your team with feedback about the product. The testing phase is the perfect opportunity to iron out last-minute details and ensure everyone will be happy with the final product. 

10Refine and reevaluate 

Now that the testing phase is complete, your team can revise and improve the product. This step can be repeated several times based on the feedback you receive from teammates, management, clients, customers, investors, and stakeholders. 

It’s at this stage that your team’s communication skills will be put to the test. Creating any product requires a team of engineers who can effectively communicate their ideas and concepts with one another. During the refining and reevaluating stage, you may have conflicting feedback, but team members will ultimately have to come together as one to determine what the final product should look like. 

11Create the solution and communicate your results 

The final stage of the engineering design process is to decide upon and create your finished solution for the product—this may take the form of a polished prototype, for example. Once the product is complete, communicate your results in the form of a report or presentation, or by using another method. Keeping sufficient documentation at this stage will help you bring the finished product to manufacturers if necessary. 

Parting advice

The engineering design process sets a path forward for engineering teams to execute both small—and large-scale ideas. While the process is highly iterative, with parts that may need to be repeated many times before others can begin, it can create the foundation for an incredible final product. 

The next time you and your team are tasked with a project, follow our 11 steps to give yourself a high chance of success.

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