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Shaped: Design Thinking, Desire, and Engineering

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Katie Hazlewood, a junior mechanical engineering student and one of this year’s Colin MacLaurin Fellows. Her post is the second in a series of reflections on design thinking as a connection between our faith and our callings. The first, by MacLaurin alumnus Nathan Trulsen, connects design thinking and business.

As described in Nathan’s article, design thinking is a human-centered, purpose-oriented way of thinking. Instead of budget, profit, or competition being the end goal, design thinking makes this goal centered around the desires of people.

In engineering firms that produce a product for a customer/client, this way of thinking should be in place for each product that is designed, prototyped and sold. In practice, this would mean putting the person (the client) before anything else, including cost and time. This is easy to agree with, but undoubtedly harder to practice. A balance must be created inside of this way of thinking. Projects must still meet budgets and deadlines so that overall productivity can increase. I believe that having design thinking embedded in the way these requirements are met is what makes the difference. If each new problem arising in product development was handled with a primary focus on the clients’ desires instead of the time or effort required to fix it, the end product may look a lot better, and clients may be more satisfied with their products in the end.

In broad terms, engineering focuses first on how things work, and secondly on how to make them better (more efficient, cheaper, and of higher quality). But how do these twin emphases relate to faith? If put in the context of design thinking, an instinctive analogy can be made. Just as engineers constantly look for ways to improve upon the current processes, Christians look for ways to restore and renew both people and the world we currently live in. In both scenarios, something broken is being restored. In the case of an engineer, this comes into play when troubleshooting and problem-solving occur: a broken process or product must be restored to its original state. For the case of Christians, this looks like spreading the gospel with the hope that broken, fallen people can start to be renewed to their original and pure created state.

Design thinking comes into this analogy when we look at how the restoring happens in each scenario. In engineering, this shift happens in the move from restoring processes to get the biggest profit to restoring processes to meet the original desires of the client. This shift focuses on the motive behind the engineer’s work. As Christians, we were given the Great Commission to go and make disciples, and to teach them the ways of the Lord (Matthew 28:18-20). This call to restore people is present and being completed because it is the desire of the Lord, not for our own selfish purposes. Again, this comes down to the motive behind our actions. In each case, the desires of people and the Lord are the end goal.

Design thinking can and should be applied widely, in many different fields. As a Christian engineer, I must seek to see the desires of people before other requirements or compensations. Through this, I must do the work the Lord has called me to, and seek to restore both people and processes according to God’s greater purposes and desires.

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