Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘curriculum

Article 31, December 18, 2005

 “A seminar on a multidisciplinary view of design”

The term “designing” is so commonly used that its al encompassing scope has lamentably shrunken in the mind of graduating engineers. This talk attempts to restore the true meaning of design as a multidisciplinary concept that draw its value from the cooperation and inputs of many practitioners in a team. This is a scenario of a seminar targeting freshmen engineers who will ultimately be involved in submitting design projects; it is meant to orient engineers for a procedure that might provide their design projects the necessary substance for becoming marketable and effective in reducing the pitfalls in having to redesign. The ultimate purpose is to providing the correct designing behavior from the first year.

Answering the following questions might be the basis of acquiring a proper behavior in design projects which should be carried over in their engineering careers; many of these questions are never formally asked in the engineering curriculum.

Q1. What is the primary job of an engineer?   What does design means?  How do you perceive designing to look like?

A1. The discussion should be reopened after setting the tone for the talk and warming up the audience to alternative requirements of good design.

Q2. To whom are you designing?  What category of people? Who are your target users? Engineer, consumers, support personnel, operators?

A2. Generate from audience potential design projects as explicit examples to develop on that idea.

Q3. What are your primary criteria in designing?  Error free application product? Who commit errors?  Can a machine do errors?

A3.  Need to explicitly emphasize that error in the design and usage is the primary criterion and which encompass the other more familiar engineering and business criteria

Q4. How can we categorize errors?  Had any exposure to error taxonomy? Who is at fault when an error is committed or an accident occurs?

A4. Provide a short summary of different error taxonomies; the whole administrative and managerial procedures and hierarchy of the enterprise need to be investigated.

Q5. Can you foresee errors, near accidents, accidents in your design? 

A5. Take a range oven for example, expose the foreseeable errors and accidents in the design, babies misuse and the display and control idiosyncrasy.

Q6. Can we practically account for errors without specific task taxonomy?

A6. Generate a discussion on tasks and be specific on a selected job.

Q7. Do you view yourself as responsible for designing interfaces to your design projects depending on the target users? Would you relinquish your responsibilities for being in the team assigned to designing an interface for your design project? What kinds of interfaces are needed for your design to be used efficiently?

A7. Discuss the various interfaces attached to any design and as prolongement to marketable designs.

Q8. How engineers solve problems?  Searching for the applicable formulas? Can you figure out the magnitude of the answer?  Have you memorized the allowable range for your answers from the given data and restriction imposed in the problem after solving so many exercises? Have you memorize the dimensions of your design problem?

A8.  Figure out the magnitude and the range of the answers before attempting to solve a question; solve algebraically your equations before inputting data; have a good grasp of all the relevant independent variables.

Q9. What are the factors or independent variables that may affect your design project? How can we account for the interactions among the factors?

A9. Offer an exposition to design of experiments

Q10. Have you been exposed to reading research papers? Can you understand, analyze and interpret the research paper data? Can you have an opinion as to the validity of an experiment? Would you accept the results of any peer reviewed article as facts that may be readily applied to your design projects?

A10.  Explain the need to be familiar with the procedures and ways of understanding research articles as a continuing education requirement.

Q11. Do you expect to be in charged of designing any new product or program or procedures in your career? Do you view most of your job career as a series of supporting responsibilities; like just applying already designed programs and procedures?

Q12. Are you ready to take elective courses in psychology, sociology, marketing, business targeted to learning how to design experiments and know more about the capabilities, limitations and behavioral trends of target users? Are you planning to go for graduate studies and do you know what elective courses might suit you better in your career?

A12.  Taking multidisciplinary courses enhances communication among design team members and more importantly encourages reading research papers in other disciplines related to improving a design project. Designing is a vast and complex concept that requires years of practice and patience to encompass several social science disciplines.

Q13. Can you guess what should have been my profession?

A13.  My discipline is Industrial engineering with a major in Human Factors oriented toward designing interfaces for products and systems. Consequently, my major required taking multidisciplinary courses in marketing, psychology and econometrics and mostly targeting various methodologies for designing experiments, collecting data and statistically analyzing gathered data in order to predict system’s behavior.

Article 25, September 11, 2005

“My pet project for undergraduate engineering curriculum”

My aim is to produce hybrid scientists or Human Factors engineers who have an undergraduate engineering discipline and a higher degree in experimental research and statistical analyses training and drawn from multidisciplinary social sciences so that they can be better positioned to handle research involving mathematical modeling of theories in sciences.

I believe that at least 6 courses should be included in any engineering field involved in system design, which are: “Human Factors” in 2 courses, “Design for inferential experiments” and “Structural linear equations modeling applying the statistical analytical package LISREL”, “Human performance”, “Systems risk assessments”,  and “Occupational safety and health”.

         It is advisable that engineering departments, architecture and any field involved in designing systems or subsystems, with the avowed mission of reducing errors committed by end users in the application and maintenance of their tasks, need to offer 3 required courses and three elective courses related to the factors that affect the performance of end users.

         These courses are meant mainly to designing interfaces between systems and end users, whether the latter are engineers, operators, workers, technicians or consumers, but they are also important for the designers of the systems to be cognizant of the problems related to the capabilities, limitations and behavior of end users who will ultimately brake or implement any well intentioned and best designed systems from textbook standards and processes.

        The first required Human Factors course would be an introduction to the basics in designing for people, the physical and cognitive capabilities and limitations of end users, the environmental and organizational factors that may affect performance and the physical/mental applications and methods for designing interfaces between systems and end users. 

       The second Human Factors course, which could be elective, would initiate designers to actually design an interface with the needed experiments relevant to validating the requirements and guidelines that foresee the compatibility of the system performance with the level of skills and training required by the end users. A designed interface would be accompanied by facilitating aids, procedures and functional booklets to enable end users for ready application.  

         The third course called “Design of experiments” is to initiate designers on efficient designed experiments that would save time, effort and money with the additional result of accounting for the interactions among all the factors under study and providing designers with facts that they could readily apply in their design endeavors. This course is not meant to dwell heavily on the mathematical bases for the statistical analysis which require another follow up course but to form scientific minds which can critically analyze research papers and the experimental procedures and encourage designers to start reading research papers and appreciating the materials that would form the basis for their continuing education.

         The fourth course called “Systems risk assessments” would initiate designers to the trade-off decisions of the safety and health risks on the users, environment and organizational structures in societies and the financial cost from the adoption of technologically complex alternative designs.

         The fifth course called “Occupational safety and health”, in addition to initiating the engineers on the laws and processes for a safe work place, will also encompass the concept of consumer’s product liability and forensic engineering. A designer needs to be familiar with the problems and consequences of his designs to the end users, their idiosyncrasies and cultural differences in using any product or manufacturing process design in an occupational setting.  The knowledge of the standards and applicable laws and guidelines for a safe and healthy manufacturing or processing plant can make a substantial difference among graduating engineers not only in their people communication skills and designing performance but also for later promotions in any administrative or organizational positions. 

            The sixth course “Human performance” is designed to providing the skills and training necessary to designing and evaluating the performance of interfaces. Examples of these skills include the development of written instructions, designing relevant questionnaires to assess the characteristics and training skills of target users and how well the interface is performing, designing performance aids to helping the short term memory of operators, formatting instructions and information, input data display formats, output formats, coding design, personnel selection, determining qualifications and any written or verbal technique or method necessary to testing, evaluating and quantifying operators’ performance.

            An informed engineering designer, who can define the limitations, skills and needs of the target users for his interface and who is trained early on in his academic years to the consequences of his tasks, may save end users from committing many foreseeable errors, greatly alleviate their physical and mental anguish, suffering, pain and inefficiency and thus save his sponsors time and money for later redesign undertaking.

            The afore mentioned courses, if offered in the first 2 years of the curriculum, might provide the undergraduate students with a different perspective toward the remaining core courses that enhance the seriousness of his responsibilities and the importance of his profession. 

I frankly cannot conceive of an engineer pursuing higher graduate studies without being exposed to the fundamental necessity of designing to target users.  Engineering is an applied science for practical human needs and not knowing the needs and behavior of target users then the engineer’s design endeavor might be flawed from the start.

Restructuring engineering curriculum to respond to end users demands: Introspection(chapter #54)

In 1987 Alphonse Chapanis, a renowned Human Factors professional, urged that published Human Factors research papers target the practical design need of the various engineering disciplines so that the research data be readily used by engineers.  Dr. Chapanis was trying to send a clear message that Human Factors main discipline was to design interfaces between systems and end users and thus, research papers have to include sections directing the practicing engineers to the applicability of the results of the paper to design purposes.

In return, I find it appropriate to send the message that all engineering disciplines should include sections in their research papers orienting the engineering practitioners to the applicability of the results of their papers to the end users and how Human Factors professionals can judiciously use the data in their interface designs. 

As it was difficult for the Human Factors professional to send the right message to the engineering practitioners, and still has enormous difficulty disseminating the proper purpose and goals, it would be a steep road for the engineers to send the right message that what they design is actually targeting the needs and new trends of the end users.

As long as the various engineering curriculums fail to include the Human Factors field as an integral part in their structures, it would not be realistic to contemplate any shift in their designs toward the end users.

We know that man-made “Systems” would become even more complex and thus, testing and evaluation more expensive in order to make end users accept any system and patronize it.

Instead of recognizing from the early phases in the design process that reducing human errors and risks to the safety and health of end users are the best marketing criteria for encouraging end users to adopt and apply a system, we see systems are still being designed by different engineers who cannot relate to the end users because their training are not directed explicitly toward them.

What is so incongruous for the engineering curriculums to include courses that target end users? 

Why would not these curriculums include courses in occupational safety and health, consumer product liability, engineers as expert witnesses, the capabilities and limitations of human, marketing, psychophysics and experimental design?

Are the needs and desires of end users beneath the objectives of designing systems?

If that was true, then why systems are constantly being redesigned, evaluated and tested in order to match the market demands? 

Why do companies have to incur heavy expenses in order to rediscover the wheel that the basis of any successful design ultimately relies on the usefulness, acceptability and agreement with the end users desires and dreams? 

Why not start from the foundation that any engineering design is meant for human and that designed objects or systems are meant to fit the human behavior and not vice versa?

What seem to be the main problems for implementing changes in the philosophy of engineering curriculums?

Is it the lack to find enough Human Factors, ergonomics and industrial psychologist professionals to teaching these courses?

Is it the need to allow the thousands of psychologists, marketing and business graduates to find debouches in the market place for estimating users’ needs, desires, demands and retesting and evaluating systems after the damages were done? May be the Human factors professionals failed so far to make any significant impact to pressure government to recognize that they are part and parcel of the engineering practices.

And may be multinational companies should remind universities of the kinds of engineers they want.


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