Engineering design or design engineering?

Saturday 20 October, 1.29pm until 2.59pm, Garden Room

Engineering is sexy again – not old-fashioned and dirty, but novel and creative. On 22 May 2012 private company SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket blasted off with a Dragon capsule headed for the International Space Station. SpaceX is the child of PayPal entrepreneur Elon Musk, and aimed at creating a human presence on Mars as well as other commercial ventures in space. Richard Branson is working on SpaceShipTwo, offering flights 60 miles up. Scramjet technology in planes offers the possibility of any destination on Earth being just 90 minutes away. The Bugatti Veyron Super Sport can travel at 267 miles per hour. Mulder Design’s ‘World is Not Enough’ Millenium 140 superyacht skims the seas at 70 knots. All miracles of engineering design that transform the barriers of space and time. But are these just the playthings of the rich and powerful? Boyhood doodles turned into reality (for the very, very few) by adult riches? Designer wet dreams or the shape of things to come for us all?

After all, back on planet earth, we can’t fly by Concorde anymore and our cars are nothing that Henry Ford couldn’t have imagined. Haven’t the fundamentals of planes, trains and automobiles remained much the same? Or is this to miss important changes? Modern design techniques have certainly altered the way we experience these forms of travel. It is not only billionaires who can afford travel at levels of comfort that bear no resemblance to driving in a Model T, which came in any colour you wanted so long as it was black. It’s not just a question of aesthetics. The design of modern factories and production processes allow rapid repurposing of machinery to such a degree that we don’t have to take a one-size-fits-all product. The level of customisation offered, not just in cars, but in many consumer products, may represent a real improvement on what went before. Or is this just tarting up the same old timber? Are we seeing engineering push the boundaries of possibility for humanity or just sketching castles in the air? Are we all going to go faster or is modern design a bit like putting a mirror in an elevator, a distraction to help pass the time?

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Kerry Kirwan
deputy head of materials and manufacturing and strategic director of the International Doctorate Centre at WMG, University of Warwick

Dr Natasha McCarthy
head of policy, British Academy; member, steering committee, Forum for Philosophy, Engineering and Technology

Kevin McCullagh
founder, Plan

Dr Paul Reeves
engineering software designer, SolidWorks R&D (part of Dassault Systèmes); convener, manufacturing work group for Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Andy Richardson
Head of Simulation, Jaguar Land Rover Product Engineering

Martyn Perks
digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Produced by
Martyn Perks digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation
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