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Managing Polarities: Perception of Value, Designer Roles, and Organizational Conditions that Influence Design Outcomes in Mechanical Engineering

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Engineering Management Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Engineering Management

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Paper Authors


Minha R. Ha York University Orcid 16x16

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Minha is a PhD Candidate in Mechanical Engineering, whose qualitative research focuses on the socio-technical knowledge integration in engineering design practice. As an interdisciplinary researcher with formal training in Molecular Biology and Education Research, she integrates grounded theory and Critical Discourse Analysis methods in order to study the transdisciplinary aspects of responsible design. Inquiry learning and knowledge co-creation are at the heart of her teaching approaches, whether in lecture, workshop, and laboratory settings. She has been actively involved in ethics, equity and leadership education in engineering since 2011.

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Aleksander Czekanski CEEA-ACEG

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Dr. Aleksander Czekanski is an Associate Professor and NSERC Chair in Design Engineering in Lassonde School of Engineering at York University, Toronto. Before beginning his academic career in 2014, Dr. Czekanski worked for over 10 years in the automotive sector.
Dr. Czekanski attention is dedicated to newly established Lassonde School of Engineering (York). He devotes his efforts towards the enrichment of Renaissance Engineering program by including interdisciplinary learning, industry collaboration and designing for positive social impact which contributes to the uniqueness of York’s engineering program. As an active participant in the establishment of the undergraduate and graduate Mechanical Engineering programs, his attention is devoted to providing students with both experiential learning and soft skills.

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Design engineers can greatly contribute to the growth of a business organization by not only creating relevant, contextually fit solutions for clients, but also by providing resilient responses to the changing constraints and opportunities external and internal to the organization. Unfortunately, the value-adding role of designers and indeed design project successes can be hindered by inadequate management of organizational tensions that persist over time and are widely experienced as paradoxical. Adopting the concept of ‘polarity management’ by Barry Johnson, this paper aims to unpack the nuances of two particular polarities: (1) Design Rigour vs. Cost Effectiveness, and (2) Collaboration vs. Efficiency.

The data are drawn from a larger grounded theory study on sociotechnical knowledge integration in engineering design. Semi-structured in-depth interview data were examined to identify the institutional and discursive barriers to designers’ effective value-creating roles, and compare effective/ineffective management practices that address the two selected polarities.

Unresolved polarities contributed to the problems of disconnect and misalignment that impeded effective design and/or caused loss of value in the project lifecycle. Comparative examples provided possible organizational strategies to enhance holistic design, responsible collaboration, and effective input among actors. Three sets of learning objectives are also proposed for engineering management or design curricula.

The analysis also identified important discourses and perspective changes needed in order to support effective polarity management. The findings provide a useful example of discursive mediation between organizational culture and organizational practices.

Ha, M. R., & Czekanski , A. (2021, July), Managing Polarities: Perception of Value, Designer Roles, and Organizational Conditions that Influence Design Outcomes in Mechanical Engineering Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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