The Apple Watch is a marvel of Design and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) that kids should aspire to CREATE, not just use. (photo http://www.Apple.com/watch)
Often when we think of educating our next generation of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians (STEMers), we put them in a box based on their discipline but fail to see how interrelated they are with each other and industrial design. This summer, my colleague, Professor John Caruso, at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and I began a design engineering collaboration which began as a journey of discovering what companies think of the joint relationship between Design, in particular industrial design, and Engineering, and how we can better prepare our students to have these combined skills and perspectives. Although our final analysis is still underway, after visits with technology companies such as GE Healthcare, Briggs and Stratton, Design Concepts, and Trek, it is easy to see that finding this combination of design and engineering skills in future technology workers is important to industry and to our economy.
With Apple’s announcement of the Apple Watch, we see a perfect example of the integration of design and engineering. I want to point out to K-12 students especially what particular topics of study they could possibly pursue to be able to create products like the Apple Watch. I’d like to also encourage K-12 students to not just marvel at the cool things they could do with an Apple Watch but also marvel at the cool STEM they could learn to be able to join a world class design and engineering team at a company like Apple to CREATE the Apple Watch or devices like it.
K-12 students need to understand that the basic subjects of chemistry, physics, biology, math, and art all play a part in building a beautiful and useful Apple Watch. These educational subjects are the foundation of all science, engineering, technology, and design. If you read the Apple web page and read about the design and capabilities of the Apple Watch, you understand that biomedical engineering was required to be able to create sensors that could read they heart beat accurately, metallurgical engineering was required to create the alloys for the watch case itself, electrical engineering was required to design the main electronic processor chip, and computer science and software engineering was required to create the Watch operating system (OS) and the user software applications. This is not an exhaustive list of the disciplines required but just gives a sense of the STEM involved in the creation of a beautiful and artistic device, such as the Apple Watch.
User Experience Designers take into account the whole experience of a person that’s using the Apple Watch. They take into account what the user’s needs are, their feelings, and how the user interfaces with the device with the different senses like sight, touch, and sound. This is an emerging field and often the UX designer has experience in industrial design and human computer interaction, a subfield of computer science. Industrial designers have a unique way of thinking divergently by seeing, thinking, drawing, and making products with the user as the center of their focus. Engineers tend to think in a convergent manner to find a single answer in a linear fashion. The ideal engineer will approach the solution with an open mind and know how to think divergently when needed and convergently as well. Engineers tend to have training in more heavier numerical analysis and mathematical tools but both engineers and industrial designers will do well to make the connection between the abstractions of the artistic aspects of their design with how they relate to the mathematical and physical analysis and design.