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Enduring Design: Developing Connections Between Art and Engineering

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Infusing Engineering with Art (and Vice Versa)

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Andrew Findley Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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An ancient art historian, Dr. Findley's primary area of study is Roman material culture, broadly conceived to include the early Christian and Byzantine eras. His research focuses on public and religious architecture, with an emphasis on the placement and appearance of large public structures in urban settings. In addition, he works on the historical interaction between artistic design and engineering.

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John A. Mirth Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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John Mirth is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Prior to this, he had positions at the University of Denver, and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. He obtained his BSME degree from Ohio University and his MSME and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Minnesota.

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This paper describes the assessed outcomes of a course entitled, “Enduring Design: The Art of Engineering,” which was created specifically for the purpose of enabling students to explore the interconnected worlds of art and engineering. With a directed emphasis on identifying the forms that capture the eye and the imagination, students investigated the visual and functional elements that contribute to successful and enduring designs.

Engineering students are a target audience for two reasons. First, engineering students rarely attain a full benefit from their liberal education courses. Second, evidence indicates a strong link between the level of productivity of innovative scientists and their participation in and understanding of the arts. Engineering students tend to place a higher time priority on classes they view as favoring the acquisition of highly marketable skills over educationally enriching experiences. Because of this perspective, engineering students sometimes need encouragement to help them see how their lives and their careers may be positively impacted by their general studies.

Throughout the course, students were encouraged to examine art through the lens of engineering achievement and engineering through the lens of artistic merit. The course aimed to challenge students to see new opportunities that arise from the effective combination of form and function in existing objects and in original designs. The course assessment focused most strongly on the following outcomes: First, that students have the ability to recognize the meanings and uses of form, and second, that students have the ability to use form to create new opportunities for function. Measures to explore the success of meeting these outcomes were obtained by a statistical comparison of student papers prepared at the beginning and end of the course. In these assignments, students suggested possible improvements for one of a given set of objects. The papers submitted were grouped by “initial” or “final” papers and analyzed for content. The analysis focused on the percentage of each paper that students spent on their improvement ideas, as well as the number and type of different ideas presented. In initial papers, the students overwhelmingly focused on functional improvements on given objects. In contrast, student writing in later papers indicated an overall increase in student ability to create ideas and an improved ability to see value creation as a more varied proposition that includes both the form and function of an object. This analysis is also supported by student comments from the final course evaluations wherein a number of students affirmed the course objectives. While the data set is relatively small, the trends are positive and suggest potential for future study.

Findley, A., & Mirth, J. A. (2016, June), Enduring Design: Developing Connections Between Art and Engineering Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26960

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