Being able to approach a design challenge with a deep empathy for the final users and without preconceived ideas is a skill that needs to be cultivated when people are still young, says global engineering and infrastructure advisory company Aurecon.
It is for this reason that Aurecon continues to partner with student organisations to teach engineering students the techniques that will enable them to keep imagining what could be possible, navigate uncertainties and explore creative innovations, while they learn other skills.
Owing to this need in the industry, Aurecon recently teamed up with Engineers Without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA) to teach engineering students about Afrikan Design Innovation, which fuses the technical and creative worlds to find the “sweet spot” where innovation can flourish.
This human-centric design thinking methodology focuses on the people who will use the new creation and helps in designing for clients’ clients, Aurecon noted.
The partnership between Aurecon and EWB-SA led to Aurecon design-to-innovate partner Wim van Schalkwyk and Aurecon graduate engineer Paul Ssali hosting an Afrikan Design Innovation workshop for students of the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Johannesburg on May 5.
On May 12, a workshop of similar nature will be held for students of the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.
“Millennials want to do meaningful work and the Afrikan Design Innovation theme assists young engineers to find meaning and purpose in the solutions they are designing. Aurecon teaming up with EWB-SA can help young engineers cultivate the skills they need to design creatively and with empathy,” says Ssali.
EWB-SA member Eunice Bohulu, who attended the workshop on May 5, said he “found the workshop informative and educational”.
“As engineers, we often focus on the technical and theoretical aspects of design without considering the human element. Design-led thinking introduced us to an entire spectrum of design that we tend to neglect,” he added.
Ashleigh Vetten, another workshop attendee, agrees that being empathetic towards the people engineers are designing for will lead to better designs.
“When designers and engineers are more conscious about the needs and challenges of the people we are designing for, we are able to design better solutions,” he says.
The two workshops are the first of what will hopefully be an ongoing partnership between Aurecon and EWB-SA, says Van Schalkwyk.
“We think Aurecon is in the ideal position to share its knowledge with students in this way. Our long-term goal is to host these workshops at a number of tertiary institutions across the country, so that engineering students can implement the Afrikan Design Innovation methodology and approaches in an engineering project of their choice,” he adds.
“It would be gratifying and change the future of infrastructure in South Africa if senior engineers who are experienced in human-centric design can guide students on implementing this methodology,” concludes Van Schalkwyk.