Document Type

Encyclopedia Entry

Publication Date


Publication Source

Encyclopedia of Mathematics and Society


Engineers design everything from automobiles and bridges to prosthetic limbs and sporting equipment. Designing is different from simply building in that it requires the adherence to a very systematic, yet iterative, process known as the “engineering design process.” This process is to engineers what the scientific method is to scientists-guiding steps that help ensure that the end result is the best it can be. When a new product is created without following the steps of the engineering design process, there is a higher likelihood that the product designed will lack some important aspect: the end product may not appropriately account for the needs of its users, it may cost too much to manufacture, or it may not have been tested to ensure safety. Accordingly, the term “designing” refers to the entire process, such that an engineer “does design.” The use of the term “design” as a noun may be used at different points in the process but may have very different meanings depending on what phase of the process the engineer is in. Design may really mean “design idea” during the brainstorming phase of the process or “model or prototype of the design” during the building phase of the process.

The engineering design process requires the application of mathematics in many of the steps. Throughout the process, engineers use basic mathematics concepts, including addition and multiplication to calculate costs; geometry to calculate surface areas for material needs; and measurements to ensure appropriate dimensioning. However, more sophisticated projects may require the application of higher-level mathematics, such as calculus and differential equations, to solve the technical engineering problems certain designs pose.

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Article is made available from the repository with the permission of EBSCO Information Services, Ipswich, MA. Citation:

Edginton Bigelow, Kimberly. “Engineering Design.” Encyclopedia of Mathematics and Society, Sarah J. Greenwald and Jill E. Thomley, eds. Ipswich, MA: Salem Press, 2012.

Permission documentation is on file.


Salem Press



Place of Publication

Ipswich, MA