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Howard K. Birnbaum Memorial Lecture: Why Should Engineering Students Care about Industrial Design? And if They Don't, How to Enlighten Them?

Event Type
Department of Materials Science and Engineering, European Union Center
Room 100, Materials Science and Engineering Building, 1304 W Green St., Urbana, IL (map)
Mar 17, 2014   4:00 pm  
Michael Ashby, Royal Society Research Professor, Principal Investigator, Engineering Design Centre, the University of Cambridge
Originating Calendar
European Union Center Events

"Why should engineering students care about Industrial Design? And if they don’t, how to enlighten them?" - Most students of Engineering or of Materials Science are attracted by the mechanistic principles and analytical rigor of their subject. To them the word “Design” means “provision of function in ways that are safe, reliable and affordable”. The language of Industrial Design describing the sensual and emotional character of materials and products carries, for them, little meaning. Yet successful products depend as much on the provision of usability and satisfaction as provision of function. Failure to understand the role and importance of the Industrial Designer is failure to engage fully with the mission of Engineering. Courses in that combine the approaches of Engineering and Industrial Design, informing students about both, exist and are very successful. But most large engineering programs do not take this approach and already have programs so full that inflating them further with new courses is out of the question. So the challenge: how to inform students in large Engineering courses, of the meaning, role and importance of Industrial Design in a single lecture and in a language they can grasp? The talk is an attempt to meet this challenge by providing some insight into the ways in which aesthetics, associations and perceived character contribute to the desirability of products.

Michael Ashby has been associated with the Engineering Design Centre since its inception, as one of the three Principal Investigators. He received his Bachelors degree and Doctorate in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge and then joined the Institute for Metal Physics at the University of Göttingen, Germany, working with Professor P. Haasen from 1962 to 1965. From 1966 to 1973 he held the post of Professor of Applied Physics in the Division of Engineering and Applied Physics at Harvard University. He is a member of the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. Since 1973 he has been a member of the Cambridge University Engineering Department where he holds the post of Royal Society Research Professor. Professor Ashby was the Editor of Acta Metallurgica from 1974 to 1995 and is now Editor of Progress in Materials Science.

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