What is Engineering and Engineering Design?

What is Engineering

The word “engineer” comes from the Medieval Latin verb “ingeniare,” meaning to design or devise. Humans have been devising clever inventions for thousands of years.

Engineering is the process of designing the human-made world.

Engineering is the systematic application of knowledge and experience to solve problems and protect and improve lives. It takes a thought, or an abstract idea, and translates it into reality.  Engineering helped create almost every human-made object that we interact with on a daily basis. Everything from mobile phones, coffee cups, and athletic shoes to skyscrapers, national weather forecasts, and the Internet exists in large part due to the work of engineers.

  • Engineering has a powerful impact on our modern society.
  • Engineering involves critical skills like problem-solving, modeling, and optimization.
  • Engineering demands habits of mind such as optimism, creativity, and perseverance.

Engineering is not a field of science; nor is it simply the application of science and math. It has its own history, its own unique body of knowledge, and is much more than its many workforce disciplines.

Engineers use knowledge and creativity to find solutions to society’s problems.

They identify problems and use systematic approaches like the engineering design process to solve them.

Most engineers do not literally build the things we use. Using strong understanding of math, science, and other disciplines, they develop plans and directions for how things should be constructed. They conduct experiments and build and test prototypes to determine if ideas are feasible.

Engineers also design processes like those used in manufacturing to create chemicals and drugs. They develop the procedures for putting components together on an assembly line or preparing and packaging food products.

Engineers collaborate with professionals in many different fields, including scientists, builders of devices, social scientists, business people who market and sell products, and the wide variety of technicians and technologists who maintain and repair things.

Engineers always look for ways to improve things.

Most of the things that make our lives safer, more enjoyable, and more productive are products of engineering. The ability to transform ideas into real-world technologies through a practical and cost-effective approach is what distinguishes engineers from others.

What is Engineering Design

Engineering design is the method that engineers use to identify and solve problems. It has been described and mapped out in many ways, but all descriptions include some common attributes:

Engineering design is a process. This powerful approach to problem-solving is flexible enough to work in almost any situation. Engineers learn important information about both the problem and possible solutions at each step or phase of the process.

Engineering design is purposeful. The process always begins with an explicit goal. If it were a journey, it would be one with a specific destination – not a random sightseeing trip.

Engineering design is “design under constraint.” Designers must choose solutions that include the most desired features and fewest negative characteristics. But they must stay the limitations of the given scenario, which could include time, cost, and the physical limits of tools and materials.

Engineering design is systematic and iterative. It is a process that includes steps that can be repeated, although not always in the same order. Steps include things like planning, modeling, testing, and improving designs.

Engineering design is a social, collaborative enterprise. This process is often done in small teams that include people with different kinds of knowledge and experience. Designers are continuously communicating with clients, team members, and others.

How are engineering design and science inquiry different?

Science is commonly described as the study of the natural world through observation and experimentation. In PreK-12 settings, it usually refers to “natural” sciences: physics, chemistry, biology, and earth, space, and environmental sciences. Like engineers, scientists also use a reasoning process to solve problems: scientific inquiry.

Science inquiry and engineering design use similar cognitive tools such as brainstorming, reasoning by analogy, mental models, and visual representations.  Scientists use these tools to ask questions about the world around us and try to deduce rules that explain the patterns we see. Engineers use them to modify the world to satisfy people’s needs and wants.

In the real world today, engineering and science cannot be neatly separated. Scientific knowledge informs engineering design, and many scientific advances would not be possible without technological tools developed by engineers.



  1. https://www.linkengineering.org/Explore/what-is-engineering.aspx
  2. https://www.linkengineering.org/EngineeringDesign.aspx
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