International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD) (7th : 2015)

Engineering sustainability markets : why T-shaped engineers need communication design Young, Alan


Numerous authors have described the importance of the T-shaped engineer—one who has both a specialisation, and further knowledge that connects their specialisation to other disciplines and to the wider needs of society and the environment. This approach has particular value when ascribing sustainability a fundamental role in the design process—indeed it suggests a paradigm shift in ways of thinking engineering. Design and production processes, and their teaching, are shifting to deal with global realities which have cast many traditional approaches as limited at best, and at worst, destructive. Few authors exploring the T-shaped professional and sustainability, however, have recognized the importance of communication design—the strategic process of creating the form, content and delivery of information, including marketing and advertising—within the design process. Currently this tends to be relegated to the ‘commercialisation’ stage, which arrives after the important work is done. This is now an out-dated model. Sustainability is very low on the scale of consumer appeal—in some cases having the opposite effect. The very best of intentions can amount to nothing if the product fails to inspire consumers to buy it, and most products, sustainable or not, fail in the market place. Many engineers and writers on engineering reveal an underlying assumption that if a product can save the world, consumers will buy it. This is a dangerous fallacy—irrefutably built on admirable ideals—yet a fallacy just the same. Consumers have long been recognised to be frequently illogical and even self-adverse. This paper will argue that a knowledge of marketing and advertising, and semiotics—that is, of products which ‘speak to’ consumers in a language they respond to—must be built in to any engineering process from the very first stages—especially when engineering for sustainability. The paper demonstrates firstly that many engineers, and especially those who see value in sustainability, have a psycho-social profile that works against them considering advertising and marketing as being important considerations. Secondly, it makes a case that communication design must not be seen as subsequent, but as weaved into the innovation and production stages from the beginning. Finally, it describes key considerations to help engineers utilise communication design as part of their interdisciplinary teams.

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