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Big Picture, Rational, Engineering Design Methodology

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Design Methodolgy

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.308.1 - 12.308.10



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Paper Authors


Andrew Foley U.S. Coast Guard Academy

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Dr Andrew C Foley P.E
Associate Professor,
U.S Coast Guard Academy,
New London CT

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Big Picture, Rational, Engineering Design Methodology.

Dr Andrew C Foley P.E. U.S Coast Guard Academy, New London, CT


Frequently in the teaching of design, instructors launch into an idealized sequence of identifying clients, their needs, setting objectives, planning, generating ideas, evaluating alternatives etc. Whilst no doubt beneficial in undertaking successful designs, what is often overlooked is an upfront assessment of whether or not a new design is genuinely required or really what prospective clients need. In the author’s personal consulting ‘design’ work it has frequently been found that the optimal solution path has been the identification of pre-existing designs and hence many contracts have been reduced to decision making processes. This has undoubtedly saved the client time and money and although not the client’s original intent is invariably a more successful contract conclusion. This paper describes a design sequence taught by the author whereupon elements of a Master level management course, previously taught be the author, have been grafted into the front end of a sophomore introductory mechanical design course. The techniques used are not too dissimilar to many of the design process methods already taught in the traditional sequence and hence there is no great increase in the abstraction or the quantity of material required. Rather the sequence, context and range of application are altered. If the techniques discussed do ultimately determine the necessity of undertaking a design process the paper goes on to re-affirm the importance of sketching and ‘guesstimation’ techniques within the traditional design process. To summarize, the paper describes an alternative ‘big picture’ design sequence which is hopefully unique enough to avoid the classification of ‘just another idealized design process’. Introduction Imagine the scenario of a patient with a broken arm seeking help from a tree surgeon. We would hope that before diving into the complexities of fixing a broken arm the tree surgeon would look at the big picture and re-direct the confused patient to an appropriate medical practitioner, perhaps along the way handing out a business card. Such a far fetched scenario is quite often not far from the mark for the engineer. Indeed many ‘design’ problems are often presented in such eloquent and well specified formats that the engineer often feels obliged to dive into a design process. Despite this, it is imperative to take a step back from the initial project proposal, problem description, etc. and undertake a situation appraisal.

Front loading design with the ‘Big Picture’.

Kepner Tregoe (1981) calls it Situation Appraisal, the Army calls it ‘the estimate of the situation’, the Coast Guard ‘preliminary incident management’ and so on and so forth. Basically it is the process whereby you establish a datum or starting position. Only then can subsequent actions be evaluated as beneficial or detrimental to the status quo. The

Foley, A. (2007, June), Big Picture, Rational, Engineering Design Methodology Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1593

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