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I could suggest design ideas. But I could not tell them what to do to solve a design problem. Additionally, I realized from talking with other mechanical design teachers that I was not alone. This situation reminded me of an experience I had once had on ice skates. As a novice skater I could stand up and go forward, lamely. A friend (a teacher by trade) could easily skate forward and backward as well.
He had been skating since he was a young boy, and it was second nature to him. One day while we were skating together, I asked him to teach me how to skate backward. He said it was easy, told me to watch, and skated off backward. But when I tried to do what he did, I immediately fell down. As he helped me up, I asked him to tell me exactly what to do, not just show me. After a moment’s thought, he concluded that he couldn’t actually describe the feat to me.
I still can’t skate backward, and I suppose he still can’t explain the skills involved in skating backward. The frustration that I felt falling down as my friend skated with ease must have been the same emotion felt by my design students when I failed to tell them exactly what to do to solve a design problem. This realization led me to study the process of mechanical design, and it eventually led to this book. Part has been original research, part studying U.S.
industry, part studying foreign design techniques, and part trying different teaching approaches on design classes. I came to four basic conclusions about mechanical design as a result of these studies: 1. The only way to learn about design is to do design. 2. In engineering design, the designer uses three types of knowledge: knowledge to generate ideas, knowledge to evaluate ideas and make decisions, and knowledge to structure the design process. Idea generation comes from experience and natural ability. Idea evaluation comes partially from experience and partially from formal training, and is the focus of most engineering education.
Generative and evaluative knowledge are forms of domain-specific knowledge. Knowledge about the design process and decision making is largely independent of domain-specific knowledge. 3. A design process that results in a quality product can be learned, provided there is enough ability and experience to generate ideas and enough experience and training to evaluate them. 4. A design process should be learned in a dual setting: in an academic environment and, at the same time, in an environment that simulates industrial realities.