why is there a need for designers when there are engineers?

February 5, 2019

Design, to designers, is how things work and how people interact with products. When this is taken care of, the user experience is pleasurable. When overlooked, the common reaction is that of frustration.

When you push a door that is to be pulled or when you are unable to program a washing machine to do the sole action it is meant for, you end up irritated and blame yourself for not having read the manual. But here’s a secret, good design doesn’t require a user manual. The product you’re (mis) interacting with is possibly an example of some sort of ill-design and you therefore are unable to use it through no fault of your own.

Where does this deficiency of human-product interaction come from?

Don Norman, the expert on design and cognitive science, says that some of it comes from the limitations in today’s technology, some of it from the self-imposed restrictions by the designers often to hold down costs, and some simply from bad designers who have not paid enough attention to testing out their products with real users, but most of the times, these problems come from products which are designed by engineers.

Engineers cannot however be held fully accountable for badly designed products. They are simply not trained to be designers. Engineers are trained to think logically. As a result, they come to believe that all people must think in the same manner. They design their machines according to this misconception and end up being satisfied with their work when they themselves test it. However, they couldn’t be farther from the truth when they assume that the way people think is purely mechanical. When the product gets to the market, engineers wonder, “What are these people doing?” and “Why are they doing that?”.

The problem with engineers designing products is that the way most engineers think is too logical. What they are not aware of is that the way people think is very complex and is worthy of having an entire field devoted to its study called “cognitive science”.

While we design, we have to accept human behavior the way it is, not the way we wish it to be. And that my friends, is a point to be noted for the next time you go out and design anything to be used by the common man.

Thus, the need arises for specially skilled people who will look at a problem not only with an analytical point of view but who are also trained to consider the user/human element while bringing a solution. Here, I believe, lies the role of designers.