Building a common language of design representations for industrial designers and engineering designers


To achieve success in today’s competitive environment, companies are realising the importance of design collaboration during new product development. The aim of this research was to develop a collaborative design tool for use by industrial designers and engineering designers. To achieve this, a literature review was undertaken to understand the working relationship among the two disciplines during new product development. Following this, empirical research through interviews and observations outlined three problem areas: conflicts in values and principles; differences in education; and differences in representational tools and methods. The latter was chosen because the problem area of design representations was found to be highly significant.

In looking at bridging differences in design representations, a taxonomy comprising 35 forms of sketches, drawings, models and prototypes was generated. A second stage of empirical research was conducted to establish the popularity of each representation and the type of design / technical information that industrial designers and engineering designers communicated with. The information was indexed into ‘CoLab’ cards that would enable the two disciplines to gain joint understanding and create shared knowledge when using visual design representations.

Following a pilot evaluation and minor modifications, student and practitioner interviews with a case study were employed to assess the significance of CoLab. The findings revealed that 82% of the interviewees felt CoLab to have built a common ground through the use of visual design representations. 75% gave a positive rating when asked if the system would enhance collaboration and 91% gave the physical cards a positive response as it provided instant access to information and allowed easy sharing. This thesis is a step towards a greater understanding of collaboration between industrial designers and engineering designers. The use of the CoLab system provides the prospect of achieving a common ground between the two disciplines.


Eujin PEI

Doctorate type


Year of completion


Case study type

Impact case study

Institution details

Loughborough Design School

Industrial design