Engineering Design Quotations
Collected by Prof. Erik K. Antonsson, Ph.D., P.E.
Engineering Design Research Laboratory
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, CA 91125, U.S.A.

``Science is the study of what Is,
Engineering builds what Will Be.''

``The scientist merely explores
that which exists,
while the engineer creates
what has never existed before.''
Theodore VonKármán, c.a. 1957

``Scientists investigate that which already is;
Engineers create that which has never been.''
Albert Einstein

``You see things, and you say: `Why?'
But I dream things that never were,
and I say `Why not?' ''
George Bernard Shaw,
in: Back to Methuselah , Part I, Act I, 1921.

``He knew how to take what could be,
and make it what is.''
Wynton Marsalis,
describing Louis Armstong's musical improvisation ability,
in: Ken Burn's Jazz on PBS, January, 2001.

``The central activity of engineering,
as distinguished from science,
is the design of new devices, processes
and systems.''
Myron Tribus,
in: Rational Descriptions, Decisions and Designs ,
Pergamon Press, 1969.

``What you need to invent,
is an imagination and a pile of junk.''
Thomas Edison,
quoted on National Public Radio,
November, 2001.

``Design is what you do
when you don't [yet] know what you are doing.''

i.e., Real design is done during the
unstructured, informal, noodling around
that occurs before the
structured and formal `design' methods are employed.

George Stiny,
Professor of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
June 21, 2002.

``I believe that quality level is determined primarily by the actual design of the product itself, not by quality control in the production process.''
Hideo Sugiura,
Chairperson (retired),
Honda Motor Company

``If a major project is truly innovative, you cannot possibly know its exact cost and its exact schedule at the beginning. And if in fact you do know the exact cost and the exact schedule, chances are that the technology is obsolete.''
Joseph G. Gavin, Jr.,
discussing the design of the Grumman lunar module that landed NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon on July 20, 1969.
``Fly Me to the Moon: An Interview with Joseph G. Gavin, Jr.'',
Technology Review , 97:5, July, 1994, Page 62.

At least 500 years of commentary exist on the difficulty of innovation, starting with Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) in The Prince (1513), Chapter 6.

``And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as the leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new.''
Niccolò Machiavelli
The Prince
N. H. Thomson, translator
Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1992, page 13.
Originally published by P.F. Collier & Son, New York, 1910.

`` We must bear in mind, then, that there is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things in any state. For the innovator has for enemies all those who derived advantages from the old order of things, whilst those who expect to be benefited by the new institutions will be but lukewarm defenders. This indifference arises in part from fear of their adversaries who were favoured by the existing laws, and partly from the incredulity of men who have no faith in anything new that is not the result of well-established experience. Hence it is that, whenever the opponents of the new order of things have the opportunity to attack it, they will do it with the zeal of partisans, whilst the others defend it but feebly, so that it is dangerous to rely upon the latter.''
Niccolò Machiavelli
The Prince, Chapter 6.

``It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had the actual experience of it.''
Niccolò Machiavelli,
The Prince and The Discourses ,
The Modern Library, Random House, Inc., 1950, Page 21, Chapter VI

``The single biggest problem in product data management is accomodating uncertainty in the data.
CAD tools require exact dimensions.''
George G. Dodd
Department Head
Analytic Process Department
(formerly Computer Science Department)
General Motors Corporation
February, 1995
Personal communication with Prof. K. N. Otto

``[T]hink of arm chairs and reading chairs and dining-room chairs, and kitchen chairs, chairs that pass into benches, chairs that cross the boundary and become settees, dentists' chairs, thrones, opera stalls, seats of all sorts, those miraculous fungoid growths that cumber the floor of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, and you will perceive what a lax bundle in fact is this simple straightforward term.  In cooperation with an intelligent joiner I would undertake to defeat any definition of chair or chairishness that you gave me.''
H. G. Wells
"A Modern Utopia", Appendix: "Scepticism of the Instrument",
A portion of a paper read to the Oxford Philosophical Society, November 8, 1903,
and reprinted, with some Revision in:
Mind, vol. 13, No. 51, 1903.
Quoted on Page 82 of:
Fuzzy Logic
by Daniel McNeill and Paul Freiberger,
Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993.

``When a product plan receives senior management approval .... It would seem that all product engineering has to do is implement the plan.''

``Were it that simple, the tension and pressure in product development would be greatly diminished. But it is not. What appears at first to be well-articulated, firmly established architecture often consists of a broad (perhaps even vague) product concept; a set of evolving, sometimes loosely formulated specifications; and multiple, often conflicting targets that may be difficult to meet. The product is invariably complex and the planning process, its attention to detail notwithstanding, is unlikely to uncover all the relevant conflicts and problems in advance. To meet an objective such as `the door on the new luxury sedan should create a feeling of solidity and security when it closes' may be difficult, involving the application of technical expertise and a great deal of negotiation with engineers working on the body, electrical system, stamping, and assembly. Though planning establishes overall direction and architecture, product engineering must still confront numerous conflicts and trade-offs in local components and subsystems.''

Kim B. Clark and Takahiro Fujimoto,
Product Development Performance: Strategy, Organization and Management in the World Auto Industry ,
Harvard Business School Press, 1991

Professor Yee Leung of the Department of Geography at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in the preface of his book entitled: Spatial Analysis and Planning under Imprecision (North Holland, 1988, pages vii, viii) presents an exceptionally cogent description of the need for imprecision in spatial analysis and planning. We quote from his preface below, and substitute engineering design related words and references (in square brackets) for his original spatial planning related words. His original meaning is preserved, but the applicability to our work is made clearer. Spatial planning (e.g., the process of drawing up maps that show land usage, or population density, etc.) is certainly a distinct technical activity from engineering design, but at the philosophical level both areas share a need to develop models that transcend conventional (crisp) approaches and mathematics.

``Over the years, significant [engineering design] theories and models under certainty have been quite successfully advanced through the use of classical mathematics. Probability and stochastic processes have further extended our abilities in analyzing [design] behavior under randomness (Haugen 1968, 1980, Siddall 1982, 1984, Keeney and Raiffa, 1976). Though our achievements have been gratifying in terms of formalism, we are still quite remote from an adequate description in terms of realism.''

``In our quest for objectivity, simplicity, and precision, we customarily fit [design] behavior to rigid mathematical models which make no provision for systems complexity and the imprecision in our cognition, perception, evaluation, and decisionmaking processes. Human subjectivity and imprecision have conventionally been regarded as absurd in scientific investigations. Being precise has been a virtue of science. Valuation is almost a forbidden word in formal models. Our unabating effort in achieving higher levels of precision has been the instrument of spectacular advancements in the physical sciences.''

``Following the path of the physical sciences, [engineering design researchers] have come to believe that [design] systems are also precise in nature and can be efficiently analyzed by classical mathematics. To be precise, we have attempted to force artificial precision on imprecise phenomena and processes, and in so doing have lost the intrinsic imprecision in human systems in search of precision as a goal. In addition, we have failed to realize that our ability to be precise diminishes as the system becomes more complex. In cases of extreme complexity precision is usually an impossibility. [Design] models which neglect these intrinsic characteristics tend to be over-simplified, too mechanical, and too inflexible to give an adequate description of the complex and elastic real world.''

``To have a closer approximation to and control of our [engineering design] systems, it is essential to restore human values and to treat imprecision with rigor in theory and model constructions. ...''

``Among existing methods fuzzy set theory appears to be a mathematical system which is instrumental in constructing formal models of imprecise [design] behavior. It allows us to restate the importance of treating human subjectivity, albeit imprecise, in model formulations. It can also provide a bridge between verbal and formal models.''

``A designer must be able to trade
[modeling/simulation/analysis] accuracy for cost during [engineering] design.''
Jaroslaw Sobieski,
Multidisciplinary Research Coordinator
Nasa Langley Research Center
Hampton, VA
at the NSF Strategic Planning Workshop for Engineering Design
Phoenix AZ
May 23, 1995

``The working knowledge of professionals is almost universally considered intrinsically informal, hence unteachable except by experience. If we express working knowledge formally, in computational terms, we can manipulate it, reflect on it, and transmit it more effectively.''
Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman,
Computation: An Introduction to Engineering Design ,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Paper received from Prof. Wade O. Troxell,
Colorado State University, February 5, 1990

Wayne Gretsky was once asked if there was a secret to his success as a hockey player. He simply said:

``I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where its been.''

``Professors discussing Engineering Design
are like
Priests discussing marriage:
lots of learned thought,
but very little practical
Professor David Gossard, MIT
at the NSF Design Conference,
Amherst, MA, June, 1989

``You can't invent to order.''
Ron Hickman, Inventor of the WorkMate
1995 interview
seen on United Airlines, LAX-Narita Japan, March 17, 1995
Formerly a designer for Lotus, helped design the Elan.

cha•rette´ (shä•ret´), n. [F. charrette a little cart (used to transport drawings).] Arch. Drawing.
The hasty completion of designs or other work deliverable at a specified time.
Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged,
G.&C. Merriam Co. Publishers, 1935.

Erik K. Antonsson
Last updated: 1:34:06 PM PDT, Wednesday, July 24, 2002