The Difference Between Engineering and Designing

The question is common among non-engineering types, as is the misuse and transposing of the words. What is the difference REALLY between engineering and designing? Both words mean dorks doing something technical with pencils and computers, so don’t they mean the same thing?


Let’s get the wiki definitions for engineering or designing out of the way. Still confused? Here’s how this engineering dude might differentiate the two words:

Engineering: The development of a system which accomplishes a functional goal.

Designing: The planning of a system’s layout to illicit an emotional response or facilitate user interaction.


  • You engineer a car drive-train to produce 500hp; you design the surrounding car to look powerful.
  • You engineer a bridge to hold a rush-hour’s worth of cars and tractor trailers; you design the bridge to be beautiful and compliment its surroundings.
  • You engineer a wrist watch to hold time to 1 second over 1 million years; you design that wrist watch to look handsome or sexy.
  • You engineer a kitchen microwave oven to output 1400W of power; you design the microwave to have an easy-to-use button layout or look modern.

Bracelet from Rogue Design

RogueDZN Bracelet

Are the products featured on engineered or designed? The items serve no functional purpose except to look bad-ass and uber-mechanical. Therefore, even though they look highly engineered, they are actually designed.

GE10-1 turbine engine

GE10-1 Turbine

Was the latest GE10-1 turbine engine designed or engineered? This product is developed to maximize power production with minimal physical footprint and maintenance. Very little consideration was given to the appearance, therefore these turbines were engineered.

About Ed

This Engineering Dude is a contract Mechanical Engineer with 12 years experience in comprehensive electro-mechancial product design. His consumer and OEM products have been sold worldwide in the laboratory, medical, clinical, and research markets. He has also designed orthopedic rehabilitation hardware, firearms, pneumatic weapons, mountain bikes, and even furniture.
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