Experts and Engineers Explain the 10 Steps of the Engineering Design Process

The 10 steps of the engineering design process are fundamental knowledge for all budding engineers.
Saoirse Kerrigan
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If you're hoping to become an engineer, one of the most crucial things you need to learn are the 10 steps of the engineering design process. This process lays out the correct protocol for any project, allowing everything to go seamlessly.

No matter which area of engineering you intend to work in, the 10 steps will always be important. They're a fundamental part of engineering, and can always provide a solid foundation for your work. Let's take a look at each step, and hear what the experts have to say about the importance of the process.

1. “I don’t spend my time pontificating about high-concept things; I spend my time solving engineering and manufacturing problems.” - Elon Musk

The very first step in the engineering design process is identifying and defining the problem. This will form the basis of the entire project, so there's no excuse for not being thorough.

Elon Musk himself admits to spending most of his time concerned with problems and their potential solutions. Before you can begin to work on anything tangible, you need to fully understand the nature of the problem and how it will be addressed.

Experts and Engineers Explain the 10 Steps of the Engineering Design Process
Source: JD Lasica/Wikimedia Commons

2. "A good engineer is a person who makes a design that works with as few ideas as possible. There are no prima donnas in engineering." - Freeman Dyson

The second step in the design process is defining and streamlining your goals for the project. With what you now understand about the problem, set in place a series of simple, achievable goals that will bring you to a solution.

As nuclear engineer and theoretical physicist, Freeman Dyson, once pointed out, the ideal is to work with a few ideas as possible. Keep your goals realistic and your set of actions simple. Don't overload the process with unnecessary or unattainable steps.

Experts and Engineers Explain the 10 Steps of the Engineering Design Process
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3. "Successful engineering is all about understanding how things break or fail." - Henry Petroski

The third step in the design process is usually dedicated to research. This is where you can further develop your ideas, while understanding what has succeeded or failed in similar projects in the past.

To put it as simply as Henry Petroski does, it's about understanding how things break and fail, and how you can best avoid that for your own project. Don't just learn from your own mistakes, learn from the mistakes of others too.

4. "The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds." - Theo Jansen

Step four in the engineering design process is typically devoted to brainstorming and the development of creative ideas. It's important to remember that following the process step-by-step still allows for a tremendous amount of creativity, and that lateral thinking is every bit as crucial to good engineering as research is.

Artist and engineer, Theo Jansen, sees both disciplines as working hand-in-hand. Use your research as a springboard, but don't adhere to the structures of previous projects. Allow yourself to find creative steps and solutions that others haven't considered.

Experts and Engineers Explain the 10 Steps of the Engineering Design Process
Source: Javier Candeira/Wikimedia Commons

5. "Problem-solving is essential to engineering. Engineers are constantly on the lookout for a better way to do things." - Dinesh Paliwal

At this stage in the process, you should have a strong base. You ought to understand the problem at hand, have a set of goals you want to focus on, have a firm background in the work required thanks to your research, and possess some creative solutions. The next and fifth step is to take this base and distill it. 

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As CEO of Harman International Industries, Dinesh Paliwal, points out you should always be looking for new ways to improve. Take careful account of the information you have so far. Streamline it, and remove anything you feel would weigh down the project or could be achieved through simpler means. This will give you the best possible start before proceeding to the next steps.

Experts and Engineers Explain the 10 Steps of the Engineering Design Process
Source: Richter Frank-Jurgen/Wikimedia Commons

6. "Manufacturing is more than just putting parts together. It's coming up with ideas, testing principles and perfecting the engineering, as well as final assembly." - James Dyson

Step six is when your foundational work comes together and you begin to test everything you've accumulated so far. Here, you will develop different models to test your ideas against different sets of criteria and goals. This will provide you with some of the most important data for your project moving forward.

Dyson CEO and engineer, James Dyson, understands the importance of the testing process. These will be the first tangible indications you'll have of the quality of your solutions. Through rigorous testing, you'll understand the strengths and weaknesses of your work.

Experts and Engineers Explain the 10 Steps of the Engineering Design Process
Source: Eva Rinaldi/Wikimedia Commons

7. “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” - R Buckminster Fuller

Once you have completed your test phase, you'll have to make a final decision on your design. You must take all your data from the test phase into account and arrive at an appropriate solution. If you're unsatisfied with the results of your testing, return to the previous steps of the process and try again.

The late, great architect and inventor, R. Buckminster Fuller, spoke about this sense of dissatisfaction and the need to work backward in the event of not achieving your desired results. If none of your solutions are ideal, identify why this is. With that information in mind, return to earlier steps in the process to fix this outcome.

Experts and Engineers Explain the 10 Steps of the Engineering Design Process
Source: Steve Yelvington/Wikimedia Commons

8. "The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table." - Steven Johnson

As part of step eight in the engineering design process, you'll need to communicate your ideas. Keep in mind that your solutions need to be understood by people easily, and be as descriptive as you possibly can. After all, a strong solution isn't of much use if it can't be effectively communicated to the wider world.

Science writer, Steven Johnson, has spoken about breaking the isolation of the engineering process. There comes a time when you must present all of your findings, as clearly as possible, and allow your design to exist outside of your own imagination. Use detailed reports, drawings, and more to fully communicate the scope of your work.

Experts and Engineers Explain the 10 Steps of the Engineering Design Process
Source: Jesús Gorriti/Wikimedia Commons

9. "Engineers operate at the interface between science and society." - Gordon Stanley Brown

By step nine of the process, your project or product is almost ready for production.


At this point, it is important for everyone from the engineers to management to have the same goals in mind, so communication is crucial. More important still is that everyone involved understands how the solution can be best implemented for mainstream use.

The late MIT professor of electrical engineering, Gordon Stanley Brown, placed engineers between science and society. Therefore it's the role of the engineer to understand not only how their solution will work, but how society will interact with that solution.

This is the final point in the process where changes can be made to the design before it is ready for the public, so it's important to be mindful of how people will respond to the project and whether that will have any impact on the nature of the design itself.

10. “A good engineer thinks in reverse and asks himself about the stylistic consequences of the components and systems he proposes.” - Helmut Jahn

Finally, with the design finished, you come to the last step of the process - review. Take note of every previous step and all the data gleaned throughout the process. Assess how well the solution addressed the initial problem, and how it was implemented. Study any issues that have arisen, or any potential improvements that could be implemented in later designs.

As German architect, Helmut Jahn, says - a good engineer thinks in reverse. At the end of every process, look backward and try to identify any weak links that could be used to improve future projects. 

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