The world we live in today is one we’ve designed piece by piece. But we might not often wonder about the past and future of those designs — how they moved from idea to reality and what effects they have on our society.
In his Distinguished University Professor lecture, Panos Papalambros will propose what he views as a better way forward — an approach that marries the typically disparate disciplines of design and science.
The talk is titled “Design Science: A Weltanschauung.” Weltanschauung is a term of German origin that refers to a worldview. The lecture is at 4 p.m. Feb. 12 in the Rackham Amphitheatre. A reception will follow in Rackham Assembly Hall.
Papalambros is the James B. Angell Distinguished University Professor of Engineering, the Donald C. Graham Professor of Engineering and a professor of mechanical engineering, architecture and art.
He is the founding director of U-M’s Design Science doctoral program — the only one like it in the country. The interdisciplinary program, which accepted its first students in 2006, explores how good design can improve the world and potentially curb negative unintended consequences.
“Part of that premise is that we need to use science from all fields available to us when we design,” Papalambros said.
“For example, there’s a lot of science from marketing and psychology about how people make choices, but engineers often know little about this when making design decisions about a car or a cell phone. And we may not even consider how its functionality may change the way people interact with each other.
“On the other hand, humanists might blame engineers while refusing to participate in the creation of these artifacts.”
Technologies do transform social structures, Papalambros says. He points to the car and the smartphone. Both have expanded human lives but not without costs. Sending a text message uses energy, he points out. Ten percent of the planet’s electricity use is spent on digital information and communication.
“Can we afford as a society to keep creating these things that will change the world in significant ways without putting some thought into their effects beyond the immediate confines of our own expertise? After the change happens, it may be too late.”
Without recommending new curricular requirements, Papalambros will encourage students to seek out courses that are outside their disciplines, and to work to synthesize lessons they learn there with their primary fields.
Papalambros will trace the history of design science and delve into his own research to explore how the discipline can help explain why people perceive something to appear beautiful, safe or ecofriendly.
Papalambros also is chair of the division of Integrative Systems + Design in the College of Engineering.