Skip to main content

Unit information: Complex Systems Design in 2014/15

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Complex Systems Design
Unit code CENGM0013
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Chris McMahon
Open unit status Not open

to be decided



School/department Department of Civil Engineering
Faculty Faculty of Engineering

Description including Unit Aims

The technologies of the modern world have led to a proliferation of complex systems that serve all manner of societal needs, including transportation, energy supply, healthcare, industrial production and communications. The design and development of such systems and of the components and sub-systems that make them up are enormously challenging, and require that knowledge and expertise from a number of perspectives be brought together in an integrated manner to consider a wide range of technical, social and environmental issues. The aim of this unit is to introduce design thinking, theories, methods and tools in the context of such complex systems. The unit will begin with an exploration of the nature of design and of design thinking, drawing on recent research into design theory and methodology. This will be followed by an exploration of the nature of complex systems and of the design challenges that they pose. From these foundations the course will develop four strands, all illustrated by engineering examples: 1. Design for the Systems Lifecycle. This strand will introduce the stages of the systems life cycle and will describe and illustrate life cycle models and techniques for the development and evaluation of life cycle properties and impacts. 2. Systems Architecture, Modelling and Analysis. This strand will build on the material presented in the Introduction to Systems module to consider the structure, arrangements or configuration of system elements and their internal relationships necessary to satisfy customer requirements and technical constraints. It will present methods for system analysis, modelling and simulation, for interface design and for system decomposition and structuring in the context of design. 3. Managing Complex Systems Design. Management of the design of complex systems is extraordinarily demanding. In this strand students will learn about project management approaches for systems design, including project modelling techniques, planning and scheduling methods for project management, modelling and managing risk and uncertainty in systems design, project monitoring and scheduling and cultural and man-management issues. 4. Human Behaviour in Design. Human behaviour considerations pervade systems design, from the creative behaviour of designers, through the team-working considerations of the distributed and often multi-cultural design teams to the behaviour including the emotional response of users and other stakeholders. This strand will explore all of these issues. It will link to strand 3 through consideration of socio-technical aspects of risk including risk perception.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit the student will be able to: • Outline the nature of design thinking as applied to complex systems design • Describe the phases of the systems life cycle • Outline and understand the application of techniques for system architecture design. • Apply original thought to the development of practical solutions for products, systems, components or processes • Describe and understand the application of techniques for systems modelling and simulation in a design context. • Understand, critically evaluate and apply concepts in the management of complex systems design, and describe and apply management techniques that can be applied in that context. • Describe and apply techniques for modelling and managing risk and uncertainty in systems design, including the ability to assess the limitations of particular approaches. • Make general evaluations of risks through some understanding of the basis of such risks, including an understand of socio-technical issues in design risk management. • Describe human behaviour issues in design, both in design activities in the use of the designed artefact.

Teaching Information

Interactive lectures (engineers relate their own experience in dealing with issues that arise), seminars from outside experts, and workshops and team exercises.

Assessment Information

• Pre-module reading and data collection on product/systems design context in the RE’s company (20%, word count = ~1000) • An assignment done in groups of REs to develop comparative studies of systems design issues and approaches in different engineering contexts, exploring in particular the issues presented and discussed in the unit. This will be assessed by means of a presentation of initial findings in class (30%) together with a group report (2000 words each) (50%)

For both assessments the RE is expected to take a critical and well-referenced approach at a level expected in a doctoral level thesis.

Reading and References

1. DE WECK, O L, ROOS, D, MAGEE, C L, (2012), Engineering Systems: Meeting Human Needs in a Complex Technological World, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 2. PAHL, G, BEITZ, W, FELDHUSEN, J, GROTE, K H, (2007), Engineering Design: A Systematic Approach, Springer, Berlin 3. CROSS, N (2011), Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work, Berg. Oxford. 4. BUCCIARELLI, L, (1994), Designing Engineers, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA