The Past and Future of Product Design Engineering

Recently I was lucky enough to join and take part in the Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow University, Product Design Engineering (PDE) 25 year anniversary celebrations (as well as marking 10 years since I myself graduated).

It was great to visit the new studios, see the latest degree show, catch-up with the PDE course leaders and lecturers, as well as reflect on the course and where it’s alumni have travelled too. Here’s an excerpt from the PDE 25 book and 2016 degree show that I contributed to. Remembering my own experiences and looking to the courses possible role and sector for PDE50.

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From the very first days and projects in PDE, “here’s a disposable camera, go take pictures, of people around Glasgow doing different jobs” Go observe, explore, question and approach – from the people painting the lines on the road, recycling trucks and systems, to a science museum exhibition – the PDE ethos, focus, and passion to go out and find problem, understand people’s needs and look for ways to design ways to improve them, has always inspired and stayed with me.

The strong foundations it builds in technical engineering details combined with design thinking has always been a strong reminder and enabler throughout my career to always step back and not just get bogged in the details. If you’re feeling stuck or lost on a problem on your own, get out and talk to some users or colleagues to bounce ideas off, talk through, take in the bigger picture and consider the stakeholder and interconnected systems. From designing, building and racing go-karts (think I was in the last year to get to do this….), to attempting to surf in the North Sea in winter for a human-powered inspired project, life in PDE was never dull. Coupled with the supportive studio culture and the lifelong bonds formed with fellow PDE’rs.

It’s a wonderful network to be part off when you see the variety of roles and sectors that we’ve gone on to work in, really exemplifying the cross ranging skills and mind-set nurtured and developed. For myself, this flexibility with a strong core, has led to working for Philips Innovation and Development in the Netherlands as a Sustainable Design Engineer, Managing Programme Design, Evidence and Policy for an Environmental NGO in London and now work for myself on a variety research and design projects supporting start-ups, business and SE’s as well as the voluntary sector, in Sustainable Innovation and Design.

The Future

As I look toward the future and the role that PDE has to play, I am confident it will continually evolve, particularly in a world where physical products are becoming increasingly apparent as not necessarily the best answer, global mass manufacturing not such an attractive option and an increasing (and needed) move to more open collaboration and business models. It’s one of carefully considered products, where these products are inextricably linked to their services and systems and fundamentally, needs.

We need informed and questioning design engineers mindful of the consequences of design, the use of energy and resources, considered supply chains and ethics and not afraid to disrupt the status quo.

I see PDE50 will have a key place in the dialogue on better products and what people expect, buy (rent, or lend, make) and how they look after it, repair it or own for life. With the continual rise in tools and ecosystems supporting and enabling product design entrepreneurs to take their prototypes to the market, the PDE Course will continue to help ensure that we foster responsible designers, start-ups, change makers and citizens that look to put their talent and creativity to good use, creating thoughtful and positive design impact.

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