Engineering and industrial design education collaboration

James M. Leake, David Weightman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper discusses ongoing collaboration between engineering and industrial design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The aim of this collaboration is to promote better understanding in engineering students of the kind of broad human-centered design thinking employed by industrial designers. At the freshman engineering level, industrial design content has been included in an engineering design graphics course, GE 101. This content includes lectures from a member of the industrial design faculty and, in the lab portion of the course students participate in industrial design activities including identifying design opportunities, brainstorming and other ideation strategies. At the advanced level we offer GE 402/ARTD 445, Computer-Aided Product Realization. Engineering students enroll in GE 402, while industrial design students take ARTD 445. The two linked courses meet at the same time, but normally in separate locations. Owing to a distance of more than a mile separating the two locations, the participants prefer to meet separately whenever possible. Video conferencing equipment at both locations is used to link the classes. In the first half of the course students become familiar with digital prototyping tools, both software and hardware. In the second half of the semester students work in multidisciplinary teams on a product design project. The project deliverable is a digital prototype of the product. Most engineering students are familiar with the parametric modeling software, Autodesk Inventor. On the industrial design side, students are familiar with SolidWorks, a comparable solid modeling software produced by Dassault and commonly used by industrial designers in practice. The first part of the course involves them quickly converting to Inventor so that all are using a common platform in the design project. Without that shared platform, communication about design outcomes is difficult. In the past, industrial design students have attempted to learn Alias, an Autodesk surface modeling package compatible with Inventor and commonly used by industrial designers in the automotive industry. Whilst this matches the relationship of software platforms found in the automotive industry, mastering Alias in a single semester has proved challenging. In the current version of the course, some industrial design and engineering students will learn Inventor, while others will test the intermediate products developed by Autodesk to bridge the gap between solid and surface modelers. These include a beta version of Fusion, and Alias Design for Inventor, which aims to introduce some of the surface modeling sophistication of Alias into the original Inventor product. We believe that this is a very promising approach to promoting effective collaboration between the various design disciplines, and that in the past, the difficulties of integrating across different software platforms has made collaboration difficult. The digital prototyping curriculum in GE 402/ARTD 445 also includes reverse engineering, upfront analysis, visualization, and collaborative design. Students choose a digital prototyping tool, hardware or software, to explore and then demonstrate/present this tool to the rest of the class. It is anticipated that this expertise will propagate and be used in the product design project. This active learning process has proved to be very valuable in the education process. The experience at the senior level uses digital tools as a means of facilitating and enhancing collaboration between different disciplines, preparing students to be better involved in those collaborations in their future professional lives. Effective collaboration across these discipline areas is essential for the development of the better products, services and experiences on which our future will depend. These courses are part of a broader transformation of engineering education at the University of Illinois through radical curriculum change aimed at better addressing the needs of engineering education going forward.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages12
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2011


  • Design education
  • Digital prototyping
  • Multidisciplinary teams

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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