Design Thinking & Systems Thinking for Engineers - The Art of Engineering Change


Design Thinking is one of the most impactful ideas of the 21st century. The methodology’s effect on industrial design, human-centred design, how companies solve user problems, and how we individually live our everyday lives has been overpoweringly clever and profound. Its influence has expanded far beyond business and design circles and even universities, non-profit organisations, and science labs run design sprints once in a while based on design thinking principles.


But what really is Design Thinking?


Design Thinking is a structured method that can be used to create a product, or to develop and implement solutions to any kind of social, economical or in fact even to a personal problem.


Through the Design Thinking process, one can “learn to sharpen the focus of problems by precisely specifying criteria and constraints of successful solutions, taking into account not only what needs the problem is intended to meet, but also the larger context within which the problem is defined, including limits to possible solutions” (Engineering Design in the NGSS for Middle School).


Being successful in today's highly technological and globally competitive world requires a person to develop and use different sets of skills than just having expertise in one.


One of these primary skills are Design Thinking and Systems Thinking.


Design has often been widely considered to be the central or distinguishing requirement of engineering. It has also been said that engineering programs should graduate engineers who can design effective solutions to meet social needs. Engineering curriculum have been based on models that are devoted to fundamental science, where students apply scientific principles to technological problems. However, this practice produces engineering graduates who were perceived by industry and academia as being unable to practice in industry. This concern caused leaders of engineering departments and colleges to recognize the intellectual complexities and resources demanded to support good design education.


Design Thinking has become an integral part of the design, engineering as well as business education. It can also have a positive influence in the coming decade’s education across disciplines because it involves creative thinking in generating solutions for problems.

To help students succeed in this interconnected, digital world we live in, educators should support students in developing and honing their current century skills (i.e., Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, and Teamwork Capabilities) which enhance their problem-solving skills and prepares them for an affluent life through school, college, jobs and/or entrepreneurship.


Design Thinking has received a lot of attention in mechanical and product engineering, architecture, and design majors in universities because it can change how people learn and deal with problems.


Empathy being at the heart of Design Thinking, it has gone from an outward-facing action to an inward-turned affect. Design Thinking along with engineering Systems Thinking are two complementary methods to understanding cognition, organisation, and other non-technical elements that influence the design and performance of engineering systems.


Systems Thinking sees groups of interconnected factors as a set of relationships and consequences that are at least as important as the individual components themselves. It emphasizes the rising properties of the whole that neither arise directly, nor are predictable, from the properties of the parts.


Systems thinking can be used to explain and understand everything from freight changes in a supply chain, to health hazards in third-world nations, to gender inequalities and to the seemingly irrational behaviour and trends of stock exchange.

The classic engineering mindset is expressed by the Japanese word ‘kaizen’, meaning ‘continuous improvement’, roughly. This was the design philosophy that resurfaced post-war Japanese engineering giants like Toyota, Honda and Nissan. The premise is simple: continually monitor and improve every process from the floor level to the management’s desk.


Today’s fad has driven the trend towards making things smaller, more efficient and more reliable. But, kaizen is an aftermath process. It produces better products for the next user, not the one you just lost because the product wasn’t required or desired. In a competitive world where consumers choose through brands in a cut throat digital marketplace, kaizen doesn’t make it. Because it simply lacks the process of ‘empathy’ in the first prototyping stage.


Design Thinking, by contrast, is not the pursuit of kaizen perfection, it is armed around human centred imperfection and experience.


Most designers and many engineers have heard of the concept of ‘T-shaped’ human beings, i.e., individuals with depth in a given discipline and at a minimum, a healthy respect for the adjacent disciplines required to build and launch a successful product or a company. But if you want to build sustaining companies and really earn your position at the table, one needs to be π-shaped. That is, you need to have both, an in-depth creative confidence along with analytical abilities. Left-brain and right-brain working actively together. Empathetic driven mixed with information and data.