Approaches to a Cross-Cultural Engineering Design Theory

DS 69: Proceedings of E&PDE 2011, the 13th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, London, UK, 08.-09.09.2011

Year: 2011
Editor: Kovacevic, Ahmed, Ion, William, McMahon, Chris, Buck, Lyndon and Hogarth, Peter
Author: Brezing, Alexander Nikolaus; Childs, Peter; Yim, Hyunjune; Bland, Paul Wilson; Rau, Pei-Luen Patrick
Series: E&PDE
Section: Design Methodology and Education 1
Page(s): 487-492


Engineering Design Theory as an integral part of engineering education serves the purpose of structuring the actions and thinking processes of practitioners in order to increase the efficiency of the development processes and the quality of the developed products. As a “method of applied thinking”, problem-oriented, systems-theory based approaches including models like the idealized process of engineering design based on the approach of functional decomposition (such as [1], [2], [3]) have replaced or at least completed teaching approaches that rely on studying best practice examples. This is at least the case in most institutions in Western Europe and the United States of America. It can be argued that the models have been designed by minds that follow certain patterns of thought to assist similarly structured minds. In fact, the design process itself is a brilliant example of a “form” in the sense of Plato’s Theory of Forms, which asserts that non-material abstract “forms”, and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality [4]. Nisbett argues in [5] that principles of Greek philosophy have structured the thinking patterns of modern “Westerners” (referring mainly to Europeans and Americans), whereas the differing philosophical heritage of “Asians” (referring mainly to Chinese and the culture area that has been strongly influenced by Chinese culture) results in profound differences with regards to perception and judgement of reality and consequently, the choice of one’s own actions in a given situation. Summarizing some of Nisbett’s assertions, Westerners are more likely to rely on categorizing and individualizing objects and applying formal logic in any situation, whereas Asians prefer not to disentangle objects from their context and reach decisions while carefully considering and even satisfying apparently contradictory propositions.
Assuming as a working hypothesis that these finding are valid, they must be considered in engineering design theory and education because, as with industry, engineering education has become globalized: Increasing numbers of students from some Eastern Asian countries have been graduating in Europe and the U. S. and moving on to teach at institutions in their home countries, passing on methodologies and thinking models. Many institutions in South Korea for example have taken over traditional curricula from U. S. institutions. International collaborations between institutions and exchanges of lecturers support that trend. This paper contains the results of a discussion of the contributing authors, who each have differing backgrounds and first hand experience in engineering design education between the Western and Asian cultural areas, on the validity of the outlined working hypothesis, personal experiences with Engineering Design Theory in education and industrial practice, resulting conclusions and consequences on engineering design education in an intercultural context.

[1] Pahl and Beitz

[2] VDI2221

[3] David Ullman

[4] []

[5] Nisbett, R. E.: The Geography of Thought - How Asians and Westeners Think Differently…and Why

Keywords: Design Process, Design Paradigms


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