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Research Theme: Design

Design is pervasive in Mechanical Engineering

Virtually all faculty members in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stanford are involved in some form of design activity.

Some actively design and manufacture devices or products; others study the design process including team design and team learning, a traditional strength in our design curriculum. In addition, we develop tools to facilitate the creation of engineering products at a variety of scales and complexity. We interpret the word "design" widely, reflecting the broad value systems we cultivate in the Department. We also believe that a better understanding of societal needs, aided by association with social sciences, will further assure the relevance of the fields we choose to work in.

Where can you work on design?

The department's Design Group, which contributes many faculty to the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, provides the nexus for the creation and understanding of successful design processes. Numerous faculty in the Mechanics and Computation Group and the Flow Physics and Computation Group are developing the next generation of simulation capabilities for mechanical, fluidic and biological systems. In the Thermosciences Group, there is much research on the design of thermal and energy conversion systems ranging from thermoelectric and solar energy converters to clean coal. Finally, there is a long tradition of the simulation, characterization and design of biomedical structures in the Biomechanical Engineering Program.

Broadening the requirements envelope

In the past, Design Engineering's primary concern has been with "feasibility"—our traditional and technically oriented approach to problem solving. As we are asked to be more innovative in today's commercial/industrial environment, it becomes critical that we weigh in on "usability," "viability" and "desirability" as well. The usability of products is obviously becoming more valued and requires us to focus much more strongly on human values in addition to technical requirements. Understanding the viability of the products and services we are responsible for creating requires better understanding of business principles in order to focus on appropriate solutions that will ensure that our designs will make it out into the world. Desirability requires an empathy for the social context and meaning of products.

Human-centered design

The human-centered design approach requires us to collaborate with and understand more fully the approach of social scientists in the cognitive psychology, sociology and cultural anthropology fields. Our challenge and opportunity after developing expertise in the social sciences is to understand human values and needs to nearly the same extent that we understand technical and analytical issues. This allows us to design products, services and experiences that people truly value as individuals and as a culture. The change to a human-centered design methodology is quite profound; instead of inspiration coming primarily from new technical advancements that we are trying to exploit, we take the approach of studying and observing humans to understand their wants and latent needs. We are therefore able to design a more appropriately satisfying solution that makes a difference.

Related People

James L. Adams

Professor of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management and of Mechanical Engineering, Emeritus

David Beach

Professor (Teaching) of Mechanical Engineering

William Burnett

Adjunct Professor

David Camarillo

Associate Professor of Bioengineering

J. Edward Carryer

Adjunct Professor

Steven H. Collins

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Mark Cutkosky

Fletcher Jones Chair in the School of Engineering

Daniel DeBra

Edward C. Wells Professor of Engineering, Emeritus

Sean Follmer

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and, by courtesy, of Computer Science

J. Christian Gerdes

Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Senior Fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy

David Kelley

Donald W. Whittier Professor in Mechanical Engineering

Monroe Kennedy

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Thomas Kenny

Richard W. Weiland Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs in the School of Engineering

Larry John Leifer

Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Erin MacDonald

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Paul Mitiguy

Adjunct Professor, Physics

Drew Nelson

Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Allison Okamura

Professor of Mechanical Engineering and, by courtesy, of Computer Science

Friedrich Prinz

Leonardo Professor and Senior Fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy

Bernard Roth

Rodney H. Adams Professor in the School of Engineering

J Kenneth Salisbury, Jr.

Professor (Research) of Computer Science and of Surgery (Anatomy), Emeritus

Sheri Sheppard

DRC Professor in the School of Engineering

Ken Waldron

Professor (Research) of Mechanical Engineering, Emeritus

Douglass Wilde

Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Emeritus