Dear Colleagues,

No matter how simple your design is – whether it is a simple adjustment to a wiring layout of a switchboard or a complex bridge over the Hudson, it is always beneficial to communicate the reasons for your design when passing it to a colleague to work further on it. These reasons vary from technical, ergonomic, cost or (dare, I say) even a subjective personal decision.

Reasons for Decisions
As soon as you provide the reasons for your decisions made; you immediately make it easier for others to consider alternatives that may not have occurred to you. Or even for the (unusual?) situations where you made a faulty decision. This also keeps alive the main reasons for the project. Effectively you are empowering your colleagues to think outside the box and to focus on the reasons for the design.

So communicate not only the ‘whats’ but also the ‘whys’ of your design decisions.

Be wary of many reasons that are stated for a design decision. Often they are not the real reason for a particular design decision. Sometimes, one hides behind costs as a reason; when one can effect an excellent budgetary design with a different better approach.

All Good Design Decisions
All good design decisions have reasons behind them. Admittedly there are dysfunctional companies who hide behind a façade of not explaining why a particular design decision was made to avoid it being questioned.

As a Corollary
Similarly, when someone wants you to work on a design problem, they have been engaged with; always query them on the reasons for their approach. This will help you consider the optimum approach. And it will justify your actions when you have to make changes which they aren’t too keen about.

Thanks to ‘101 Things I Learned in Engineering School’ by John Kuprenas with Matthew Frederick for some thoughtful commentary.

George Stiny remarked:   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.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve