Chapter 4: Elegant and Creative Design

Overview: Elegant Design Defined

One way to define Elegant Design is like this: In 2010, at the International Aeronautical Congress, former NASA Administrator, Dr. Michael Griffin presented a paper entitled “How do we fix systems engineering?”. In that paper Dr. Griffin introduced the properties of Elegant Design. The four properties of an elegant design are that it effective, it is robust, it is efficient, and it minimizes unintended consequences. Read more about these ideas by reviewing “Building a Path to Elegant Design” by Watson et al. (2014).

Another way to define Elegant Design is like this: Bill Shust, Mechanical Engineer and author of many publications regarding design and design analysis defines “elegant” engineering in the same way we define art: it’s value is largely determined by the individual’s perspective. Some criteria for an elegant product design are:

  • The device or solution is simple
  • It is intuitive to use (“user-friendly”)
  • Works all the time, every time
  • Often accomplishes more than one goal simultaneously, yet again simply
  • Often circumvents a failure mode which may plague more complicated, but similar devices
  • There may be bonus features, such as exploiting a well-known scientific principle in a covert way or it is aesthetically pleasing (or results in something which is aesthetically pleasing).

Here are some examples, see if you can determine which is the elegant solution.


A third definition is provided below in a video about Mark Sanders.

Creative Design Process

The Creative Design Process should involve the following steps, at a minimum:

  • Identify product and process development team.
  • Identify customer needs and expectations.
  • Brainstorm concepts.
  • Evaluate concepts.

Remember: allow sufficient time for brainstorming and evaluation, as well as re-iterations as needed, before selecting the final concept. Additionally, while taking more time here may feel like it is extending the overall time to market, it is very often reducing time to market by 45%. The use of proper DFMA practices can streamline the approach and improve efficiency.

Team Approach to Product Design and Development (PDD)

As we have discussed already, Concurrent Engineering and effective DFMA requires an effective team approach to Product Design and Development.  It is imperative that all product and process stakeholders are identified and represented in the PDD process.  While it is not necessary for formal meetings to include all stakeholders, teams should always ask at each meeting (start and finish) whether all the correct stakeholders are present.  The topic of team effectiveness and communication will be discussed in a later chapter.

Identify Product and Process Development Team

Planning and creation of a cross-functional team which represents the external customer, suppliers, and internal departments is critical.  Leaving product or process stakeholders out of the conversation inevitably leads to problems, lost time, and/or re-design.  All of which are very costly and in opposition to the goals of DFMA.

Design decisions gather inertia and the further the design progresses, the harder (and costlier) it can be to go backwards and re-design. Engineers become invested in their drawings/models.  Commitments to suppliers and materials are made.  New equipment and/or tooling for manufacturing is ordered,etc.  However, when stakeholders (like external customers, process operators, purchasing managers, etc.) are included in the process, challenges can be identified early and corrected.  This prevents locking in design decisions which would be detrimental and costly which is fundamental to DFMA.

Identification of Customer Needs and Expectations

Brainstorm Concepts

Evaluate Concepts

The next step is choose the best concepts to more fully develop.  There are many ways to do this, voting or multivoting is often very common.  However, for engineering design concepts a more structured approach will help ensure that the design is customer-focused, best suited for manufacturing processes, and the concept selections are data-based rather than emotionally-charged decisions.


ASQ (2023). House of quality. Retrieved on June 22, 2023 from

Hirschtick, J. (2017). The future of CAD [Video]. YouTube.

Onshape (2023). Design should be elegant [Video]. YouTube.

Project Management Guide (2020). What are project stakeholders and how to engage them [Video]. YouTube.

Rober, M. (2016). How to come up with good ideas [Video]. YouTube.

Shust, B. (2023). What does the term “elegant” mean in the field of engineering? Quora. Retrieved on June 22, 2023 from

Six Sigma Mania (2022). Pugh matrix example + Excel template [Video]. YouTube.

Stompff, G. (2017). Speed up innovation with design thinking [Video]. YouTube.

Watson, M., Griffin, M., Farrington, P., Burns, L., Colley, W., Collopy, P., Doty, J., Johnson, S., Malak, R., Shelton, J., Szajnfarber, Z., Utley, D., & Yang, M. (2014). Building a path to elegant design. American Society for Engineering Management.

Zuebisch, C. (2020). Concept select, decision matrix, pugh matrix [Video]. YouTube.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Design for Manufacture and Assembly by Roberta Gagnon and Andrea Bearman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book