Engineering, Social Science, and Design

Design is multi-disciplinary. The best design firms employ staff from an array of disciplines and have them work together on projects. Each discipline brings its own expertise and distinguishing them can be confusing. Here’s a simple description from the late CMU Industrial Design Professor, Bob Lepper:

  • If it has to do with the relationships between things and things, it’s engineering
  • If it has to do with the relationship between people and people, it’s social science
  • If it has to do with the relationship between things and people, it’s design

When you bring together these different perspectives to work on a problem, there will be disagreement. That’s because each discipline has different definitions of what is important. This situation creates something called “creative tension.” It’s hard to navigate. But if you have faith in the process and patience, a lot of patience, it’s a rich environment for innovation.


note: Bob Lepper’s schema is pulled from the book Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Economy