Current Issues in Design - Survey 1995/6


by S J Culley, Dr G W Owen & P Pugh


This survey has been carried out by the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath with the following objectives:

This has been achieved by the simultaneous survey of a 'corporate' and an 'operational' audience. The audience has been taken from the IMechE database of members at a functional manager and practitioner level in design and development at four specific ages. The survey is based on a response of 270 returns from 1050 questionnaires. The survey was designed to investigate the following specific areas

The results show a large amount of what can be termed incremental design activity and some encouraging trends in terms of the provision of computer based support tools, increased involvement with suppliers and customers and a good focus on a number of the key drivers associated with new products. Nevertheless there are some areas for concern particularly associated with training levels and a divergence of view with regard to the methods for overcoming constraints to innovation, also there seem to be some deficiencies in the way that the 'people' issues are dealt with in engineering companies.

To address some of these problems it is recommended that strong consideration is given to the following areas:-

This web site gives the main detils of the paper based report published by the authors. At present there is no graphical presentaion of the results available on-line. Copies of the full report (Current Issues in Design- Survey 1995-96 ISBN 1 85790 027 8) can be obtained by contacting the authors

The project received funding support from the Design Council on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry. The recommendations are those of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the University of Bath Copyright © University of Bath 1996


1.1 Twin Track Strategy
1.2 Major Themes
1.3 Review Meeting
3.1 Base data
3.2 Design activity/and Organisation
3.3 Support tools
3.4 Business strategy
3.5 People issues
3.6 Training aspects
3.7 Drivers and constraints for innovation


There has been a lot of exposure in the trade and technical press and in the magazines and journals of the institutions with regard to the need for designers :- to innovate, to use new technologies, to receive ongoing training and to adopt new ways of working. The recent Technology Foresight Report (Ref.1) refers extensively to the development of 'integrated design processes', the requirement to 'improve innovation' and to 'improve training, organisation and management for business process effectiveness'. But it is not clear how extensive are the use of some of these techniques and what factors affect their successful adoption.

Thus the purpose of this investigation is to ascertain by questionnaire survey the current position on some of these key issues. This is an extension to other work that has been undertaken by the Design Council and others in the past, see Section 4.

The objectives are then to help bodies such as the Design Council, The IMechE, The IEE, etc. to formulate policy and support strategies for the future in the area of engineering design.

The contents of the questionnaire were generated by a sub-group of the IMechE, the final form was agreed by the MTDQ Committee of the IMechE and the Design Council, it was then piloted to some 20 organisations for final refinement. The execution of the survey has been undertaken by the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath. The final view of the results has been established at a review meeting described below.

1.1 Twin track strategy

As the objective of the investigation was to understand some of the complex issues within an overall corporate structure, it was decided to take a unique twin track approach. This meant that a corresponding set of questions were asked of a corporate and an operational audience and the results compared and contrasted. Thus a set of functional managers, in design and development were chosen and another set of practitioners, in design and development, at four different ages were extracted from the IMechE database of members.

1.2 Major themes

It is clearly not feasible to cover every aspect in this area. A lot of issues have been dealt with in other reports (See Section 2). Also respondents are less prepared to fill in a long questionnaire. So a number of theme areas were targeted by the organising group, namely :

1.3 Review Meeting

This was held at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers' Headquarters in Birdcage Walk on Tuesday 20th February 1996. A range of senior engineers and engineers particularly interested in design were able to attend, including representatives from the DTI and the IEE. An interim report was tabled, a presentation was given and views were solicited from the attendees, a brief summary is included. In addition a number of attendees and some of those unable to attend due to prior commitments and the particularly inclement weather on that day, submitted written comments. These views and opinions have been incorporated into this report.

At this stage Authors would like to formally thank all those involved in this survey.

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There have been a number of surveys in the design area over the years these are formally listed in Section 6. A summary of their various findings is included below. There have also been a number of reports and best practice documents that will be also referenced in this report.

UK product development survey
Surveyed the performance of manufacturing companies examining their product development ability. Advocated Concurrent Engineering and BPR as a way by which uncompetitive companies could restructure.
Manufacturing Attitudes survey 1993
Telephone survey of 200 MDs. Found that companies had improved time to market, cost and quality but few had achieved an increase in meeting customer needs. 90% of companies claimed to be using multi-disciplined teams. Companies claimed that they lack investment and this was the main reason for failure - closely followed by problems associated with traditional structures.
UK R&D Scoreboard 1994
Lists the spending on R&D by companies who publish their annual financial results.
Its about time
Surveyed the way directors and senior managers spent (and wasted) their time. Large amounts of time were spent doing paperwork and attending internal meetings - but the main areas where savings were possible were internal communications and the phone interrupting work. Also found that most UK organisations preferred traditional working methods and structures.
A survey of information access and storage
Surveyed 200 practising design engineers in UK industry. Findings included 20% of designs were adaptive or variant, 30% do original design. 18% of time is spent searching for information and that 86% had access to a PC. Heavy reliance on suppliers for information and design procedures
New Product design and corporate success
Sampled the attitude of 108 companies to new product design and introduction. Concluded that the time taken to introduce new products will increase unless companies make changes to :- increase commitment to design, review design process, overcome production problems by introducing new processes. Furthermore, the survey found that the training of designers increases the number of creative ideas produced.
Strategic management of UK design consultants, policy and practice
184 questionnaires returned by design consultants and designers in companies with a design expertise. Purpose was to collect information about structure and organisation of the design profession. Main findings were that management qualifications are absent at the top of design companies. CAD/CAM and DTP are essential in companies. Quality standards (BS 5750 in particular) are not essential and may not be appropriate.
Profit by design
Investigation into how new product design is carried out in UK companies. Defines design at two levels - Corporate (strategic weapon, mechanism through which technological ability can be turned into competitive advantage) and Process or task level (Multiplicity of skills required to develop new products) Found that good companies are more committed to design and development, they have a wide spread of personnel, have design represented at a board level, have interdisciplinary teams and good communication (both internal and external)
Attitude of industrial managers to Product design
Survey of 30 companies examining how improvements might be made. Main finding was that half of companies had design well integrated with marketing and manufacturing. Other companies were not so good, mainly due to a lack of investment/short term financial targets. Established that the use of external design expertise was required by most companies.

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At present, the graghical results (Figure Cor# and Op#) of the survey are not displayed at this site. A summary of the graphs is available here

In this next section will be an overview analysis of the results against the major theme areas.

3.1 Base Data

1200 Questionnaires were sent out with a return of 250 (a response of 21%) this gave a good mix of companies, job functions and company types. This data is shown in Figures Cor1-5 and Op1-5.

It was decided to establish the type of manufacturing operation that was being undertaken rather than just looking at the size of the organisation , thus categories of One Off Manufacture, Small and Large Batch and Large Volume were established as well as four different ages (28, 38, 48 & 55) of the respondees.

3.2 Design Activity and Organisation

The results show that new product development is both market and new technology led(Fig. Cor12), but that large amounts of what can be termed 'incremental' design takes place. Both the CQ and the OQ showing over at least 70% involvement with this type of activity(Figs. Cor14, Op7a). Also the ratio of revised designs to new designs(Fig Cor16) is clearly biased towards revised designs.

There is still a large amount of in-house design work but extensive use of external manufacture(Fig. Cor6). Yet 80% of companies still have to use contract designers(Fig. Cor13), rather than excess capacity in design to meet peak demands, thus keeping their core specialists.

There is an encouraging amount of contact between designers and their customers and end users(Figs. Op7g, Op15a,b). This implies that some of the messages about increased customer/supplier contact have got across and been acted upon. For example the message from the CBI's National Manufacturing Council Report 1992 (Ref.2) in their Priorities for Action Checklist 100 It is a priority - 'To develop greater customer focus in every facet of the business'.

A surprising amount of auditing of facilities takes place, but it is more informal in the design area(Figs. Cor17a-c). It is possible to surmise that the drivers for this are those of quality and product liability and increasingly the fact that companies are delegating and are being delegated more and more design authority and responsibility. It is thus incumbent on organisations to have in place an integrated engineering process that reflects the needs of their customers and can be relied upon by those customers

3.3 Support Tools

There is a very encouraging amount of computer based support available with 50% of respondents using Knowledge Based Engineering (Fig. Op8) and similar access to 3D CAD and FEA (Fig. Op9). There is limited access to product modelling and Rapid Prototyping facilities and it seems that the drawing board is on the way out with 40% of respondents having no access at all.

It would seem that it has been possible to make a good business case for CAD and FEA systems in a wide variety of industries and it is also an indication of the increasing maturity of these technologies. The high incidence of KBE is quite suprising particularly in comparison with the low incidence reported in the recent Touche Ross report(Ref.3). It is probably the high incidence of 'Incremental' design that is driving these developments, with engineers using these technologies to enable them to focus on the key design process and technology issues.

3.4 The Business Strategy

Design is mentioned in 75% of business strategy documents (Fig. Cor13), but at an operational level 43% of respondents are not aware or only vaguely aware of their company's strategy in terms of the engineering function (Fig. Op10). This is of concern bearing in mind that the respondents were all 28+ Chartered engineers.

The three key drivers for competitiveness from the business strategy were more compliant product, reduced time to market and product cost reduction from the Corporate Questionnaire (Figs Cor18a,b) in that order. There is, for some reason, a reversal in priority seen at an operational level with the time to market and reduced product cost first and second (Figs. Op11a-e). There is a similar pattern irrespective of volume of output. It is thought that the reason behind these responses is that at a operational level the pressures from senior management are to keep costs down and produce the product on time. This ties in with the reports(Section 6) that highlight the general competitive pressure on industry

3.5 People Issues

The survey shows the importance of job satisfaction amongst the respondees (as well as the more obvious importance of income) (Figs. Op12a-e). There is however a disparity between the employees aspirations and their perceptions of rewards provided by their employers. The employers seem to be using job security as a reward, but this would seem to be of less significant than job satisfaction (Figs. Op13a-e).

The way that companies actually meet expectations is shown in Figure Op14. and reveals good levels of job satisfaction and security for Professional engineers. Of concern is the rather low showing for praise, recognition and promotion.

This is rather reinforced by the view that at a corporate level the people related aspects are shown rather down the list of activity for overcoming the problems of innovation (Fig.Cor23)

This is clearly an area for attention as the message of the importance of people does not seem to have got across, to quote again from the CBI's National Manufacturing Council Report 1992 (Ref.2) in their Priorities for Action Checklist 100 It is a priority 'To recognise that people are the crucial factor in a business and make a commitment to be an investor in people' There are similar messages in a number of other reports and reviews (Refs.4-7)

3.6 Training Aspects

There seem to be some slightly worrying trends in this area 18% of respondents had had no formal training at the start of their career (across the age range and in fact slightly more in the younger range) and some 26% had no experience of a production or manufacturing area (Figs Op6, 18a,18b)

Of equal concern is the low level of formal training in the form of courses (excluding for computer packages) and less formal training in the form of attendance at conferences and even visits to exhibitions. The percentage of respondents who have attended less than 3 of these events in the last 5 years are 60%, 91% and 80% respectively (Figs Op16a-c,17a-d)

The interesting thing about these figures is that they tie up with data from the CQ where training is considered the least relevant activity to help overcome the problems of innovation, next lowest on the list is job rotation (Fig. Cor23).

The professional bodies and Engineering Council should also be concerned about the lack of importance of CEng. when recruiting (Fig. Cor11).

3.7 Drivers/Constraints for Innovation

There is a high level of new product introduction across the industrial sectors and quite high levels of patenting (Figs. Cor15a-c). At an operational level 20% of respondents in a random sample have a patent to their name (Fig. Op19), although less than 40% of companies have a formal system for reward (Fig. Op20)

The drivers for innovation are common at both levels (Figs. Cor18a,b, Op23a-e) namely a more compliant product, reduction in time to market and product cost reduction, although with some difference in perceived priority, see Section 2.4. It is seen that progress has been made in achieving a compliant product and companies are actively working to achieve reduced time to market (Fig. Cor19a,b), the normal timescales for achieving these improvements are between 12 and 18 months (Fig. Cor21). It is suprising that the drivers of reliability and ease of use seem to have quite a low emphasis (Figs Op23a-d), even with those organisations specialising in One-Off manufacture, it implies that the whole life cost message is not getting through.

Both the corporate and operational questionnaire reveal that lack of resources are the major constraints to making improvements and innovations(Figs. Cor22, Op24) These are both in terms of time and availability of people and financial resources.

Of some surprise is the fact that in both replies is revealed the fact that Industrial Relation problems(CQ) and Lack of co-operation between departments(OQ) is seen as a major constraint. Co-location of teams appears to be a favoured route to overcoming these problems, yet even with co-located teams, companies can still have problems. Interestingly companies may have co-located their teams but fewer have actually empowered those teams

As the list of constraints is traversed some interesting divergences occur, namely in terms of Information Technology(IT) this is seen as a major constraint at a corporate level and is one of the areas where effort is being expended to overcome the constraints(Cor24), but is the least important at an operational level. The reason for this is unclear, it could be that engineers at an operational level are less aware of the claimed benefits of IT, perhaps because they have had less exposure(Section 3.6). Alternatively, IT may not be a constraint but senior managers perceive IT as a technological 'cure all' for the problems in their operations, rather than trying to tackle the more intangible and less quantifiable issues associated with their staff.

The corporate level seems to be making little effort in terms of what can be termed people orientated activities, training, job rotation and empowerment are at the bottom of a list of priorities.

The consequences of this attitude and the aspects dealt with in section 3.6 is shown in Figure Op24 where over 50% of respondents at an operational or functional level consider that awareness of new materials and processes is a constraint to innovation and improvement.

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The work has attempted, through its twin track approach, to get a picture of organisations in the design and development area in the middle of the 1990s. It has focused on a number of specific areas which have a direct influence the development of innovative new products which will be the lifeblood of companies into the millennium.

The survey reveals organisations introducing at regular intervals, new products, largely in an incremental manner. They are driven by the need for a more compliant product, reduced time to market and reduced product cost. In addition there are a number of other requirements such as improved performance, improved quality, better reliability,etc.. A range of constraints to improvement are highlighted and prioritised, which indicate where attention needs to be paid.

The results, Section 3 above reveal a complex picture and some key aspects are summarised below:-

Positive Aspects
Design is included in large numbers of Corporate business strategies
Professional Engineers have high levels of job satisfaction
High levels of involvement with suppliers, customers, budgeting etc.
Good access to computer based support tools
Good awareness of drivers for improvement and innovation
Surprising levels of patent holding
Negative Aspects
Low levels of business strategy awareness at an operational level
Training and ongoing awareness at low levels
Divergence of opinion between operational and corporate level in terms of overcoming constraints to improvement and innovation
'People Aspects ' of design process seem undervalued
Concerns over recognition/praise etc.

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The survey reveals a mixture of really very encouraging aspects and a number of quite worrying ones. For example the case has obviously been made for the extensive provision of advanced CAD/FEA facilities to engineers. It is would thus seem necessary to find similar compelling reasons for concentrating attention and enabling 'investment' on some of the other strategies that will be discussed below, to convince both engineering and non-engineering staff.

It is thus suggested that further work or activity by the Design council or the Professional Institutions is undertaken to encourage activity in the following areas, namely:

The development of procedures, programmes, texts and basic work to support incremental design activity.
It is felt that computer based systems in particular can be developed here, to help prevent mistakes being transferred from one generation of designers to another. The challenge being to develop systems that can handle and search large volumes of information of a technical, graphical and a textual nature in a free form/intelligent manner.
Innovation can take many forms, such as technology, material , process and application, it is thus necessary to consider how these aspects can be supported in the 'incremental' design activity.
The development of auditing guidelines for design activities
There is some work in this area funded by the Design Council and the Management and Design Division of the IEE have also considered the problem. There is obviously scope for the Standards Bodies or the Design Council in conjunction with the Institutions to develop the rather thin provision in the current range of standards.
The development of team building and co-operation strategies
Paradoxically there would seem to be plenty of information available to support this area, yet there seems to be a gap, possibly between teaching and practice and possibly associated with the design process itself. It is clearly one of the constraints that is very high up the list of concerns and so needs addressing in this context.
The quantification of the benefits of both initial training and on going training and awareness
The members of the review panel were unaware of any work in the area of the financial justification of training, yet training is something that all the key references(1-7) stress and the survey shows that it is at low levels and of low priority. It may be possible to refocus training such that it is targeted towards the support of the development of the business and the integrated engineering process rather than the individual. Also it may be possible to recommend levels of knowledge and awareness for members of a particular design team, again this may become part of the auditing process mentioned above.
The establishment of communication systems within organisations
This would seem to be related to the way that companies are structured and the move towards flatter structures should be helping this, but it does seem to be an area of deficiency in UK Companies. Again it may well be that the nature of engineering and engineering design has some characteristics that make it different to other business activities.

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UK Product Development Survey
Keith Nichols, EDS, Andy Pye, Engineering magazine, Colin Mynott, The Design Council, 1993

The 1993 Manufacturing Attitudes Survey
Computervision/Benchmark Research 1993

UK R & D Scoreboard 1994
Company Reporting Ltd

It's About Time - Working Time Survey
Andy Garrett, The Industrial Society 1993

A Survey of Information Access and Storage amongst Engineering Designers
A.W. Court, S.J.Culley, C.A. McMahon, School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Bath
ISBN 1 85790004 9

New Product Design and Corporate Success
Myfanwy Trueman and David Jobber Bradford Mangement centre
ISBN 1 85143 093 8

Strategic Management of UK Design Consultants, Policy and Practice
Margaret Bruce and Barny Morris, Manchester School of Management
ISBN 1 8717 82 880

Profit by Design
Linda M. Service, Susan J.Hart, Michael J.Baker, Department of Marketing , University of Strathclyde
For the Design Council 1989
ISBN 0 85072 261 6

Attitudes of Industrial Managers to Product Design
Michael Neal and Associates
For the Design Council 1988
ISBN 0 85072 232 2

Use of Materials Survey,
Eureka Magazine 1985

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1. Progress through Partnership - Technology Foresight
Sector Report - Manufacturing, Production and Business Processes.
Office of Science and Technology

2. Making it in Britain - partnership for World Class Manufacturing
CBI National Manufacturing Council Autumn 1992

3. Knowledge Based Systems - A Survey of UK Applications
Touche Ross, Study for the DTI 1992.

4. 'S' does not equal 'T' and 'T' does not equal 'I'
Akiro Morita, Chairman Sony Corporation
UK Innovation Lecture, 1992. Royal Society, DTI, Fellowship of Engineering.

5. Learning from Japan, The search for inspiration, innovation, competitiveness and growth.
R.Hinder, Counsellor, British Embassy, Tokyo 1988-93 DTI Seminar at various locations, 1993

6. Manufacturing Wealth Creation and the Economy
RSA in conjunction with Andersen Consulting. 1993

7. Japanese CAD Methodologies for Mechanical Products
Daniel E.Whitney, IMechE/SERC Seminar 1992

8. Total Product Management - A Management Overview
DTI Managing into the '90s Booklet

9. Design and Business Performance - A Chief Executive's Handbook
DTI Managing into the '90s Booklet

10. Managing Product Creation - A Management Overview
DTI Managing into the '90s Booklet

11. Managing the Financial Aspects of Product Development
A Management Overview, DTI Managing into the '90s Booklet

12. Design for Effective Manufacture
A Management Overview, DTI Managing into the '90s Booklet

13 Managing Product Development - Six Case Studies- Practical Applications of BS7000
DTI Managing into the '90s Booklet

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Produced by Dr G W Owen,, Last update 9th July 1996