Systems design engineers use a design-oriented, interdisciplinary method to solve large, complex problems.
What the School Says
What the School Says
The Department of Systems Design Engineering is a unique interdisciplinary department in the Faculty of Engineering that offers an accredited engineering program that gives students a full complement of courses in the engineering sciences as well as an unmatched set of courses to learn about and practice engineering design. We offer an educational program for engineering students wanting to learn how to address and solve problems that transcend traditional boundaries in engineering. Modern engineering projects are comprised of elements from all the traditional engineering disciplines and these elements must be integrated into a functioning whole to meet the overall design objectives. Systems Design Engineering teaches the student how to acquire and integrate knowledge across multiple disciplines. The framework we use to do this is systems theory through which we view the world as comprising systems that interact. Examples of the systems we may consider include human physiological and psychological systems, ecological systems, transportation systems, communication systems, energy systems and mechatronic systems. It is through systems thinking, modeling and analysis that we learn to know the world.
Solving engineering problems often requires the modification or creation of systems. The process we use to do that is design practice, which are the skills of creative problem solving, and interdisciplinary teamwork for innovation and synthesis. Systems design engineering is characterized by its philosophy, methods, and approaches to solving problems that are intrinsically multi-disciplinary. By considering the objective and subjective performance requirements a design solution is created that meets the needs of the customer, the user and society. The very feasibility of today\'s most demanding engineering projects may depend on the balanced insight that is needed to assemble the best combination of human and technical resources to fulfill the required objectives. This is the kind of knowledge provided by the department of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo.
Finally, systems design engineering prepares the student for leadership in a complex technological society that requires interdisciplinary thinking capability to meet future needs for complex, balanced decision-making.
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One of the foundations of the Systems Design Engineering program is the study of Engineering Design Methodology. This is accomplished through a series of five interdisciplinary project-oriented courses, together known as the "Systems Design Engineering Workshop".
Check out 4th year design projects here.
The History of Systems Design Engineering
How does such a unique program such as Systems Design Engineering come to be? Over the years, the program has been re-modelled and shifted into many different forms, and it continues to change to this day, absorbing the influences of the people within it. This timelie outlines the key turning point in SyDe history. It is adapted from an Alumni's investigation into the matter, titled The Origins of SyDe, Abridged, which is an excellent read if you have a few minutes to spare.
George Soulis, a Furniture Designer and Distinguished Mechanical Engineer, is hired to teach design classes at the young University of Waterloo. Soulis had never received any formal education in design; his only experience stemming from his time spent working in industry. Realizing the importance of formal design education, Soulis agrees to teach a first-year Engineering course focused on Engineering Design. There's just one problem: Soulis has no Master's Degree. Soulis, along with his family, is sent to Germany to complete a degree at the prestigious Hochschule für Gestaltung.
Peter Roe, a PhD student in Electrical Engineering at the time, was finishing up his dissertation in systems modeling and analysis. However, Roe has a shows a strong interest in Engineering Design, and Dr. Kesavan, Roe's Ph.D. supervisor, sends Roe to Dartmoth University in the States to participate in an experimental design-teaching course.
Upon Soulis' and Roe's return to Canada, the two team up with Professor Handa and create the first Engineering Design course at the university, known as General Engineering (GE) 11. GE 11 was a mandatory first-year course where groups of students were mentored by a faulty member through the process of solving an engineering design problem. At the end of the term, solutions would compete for a grand prize – a set of beer steins. The GENE11 course framework was the foundation for Systems Design's 1st year design course - SYDE161.
Soulis, Roe, and Professor Johann, a Civil Engineering Professor, found the Institute of Design at the University of Waterloo. The purpose of the Institute is to pursue contracts in Engineering and Industrial Design, which would fund the development of the institute at the University. One of the first contracts for the Institute is to design 3 of the 6 main pavilions for the 1967 International Expo, which would be help in Montréal.
Soulis, Roe, and Handa curate the content of the GE 11 course into a textbook to be used for further teachings of the course. The book was one of the first to explicitly outline a holistic view of the engineering design process.
Funding from the Institute of Design's contract work allows the group to expand. The Institute of Design is transformed into the Department of Design after a heated argument and a Faculty meeting, which passed the motion by a margin of only one vote.
The Department of Design offered a diploma and masters program, as well as holding responsibilities for teaching design and graphics courses for the rest of the undergraduate population. Shortly after, an undergraduate and Ph.D program were added to round out the department's offering. In order to fill the quickly expanding department, professionals from all backgrounds within the university and in industry were brought in to add their expertise to the program. Film Makers, Civil Engineers, Architects, Mechanical Engineers, Human Factors Specialist, Electrical Engineers, and Photographers composed the roster of faculty setting the tone for the multidisciplinary foundation of the program.
In the wake of major restructuring of the University's faculties and programs, the Systems Design Engineering program separated from the rest of the Department of Design to stand as it's own Engineering Program. The program consisted of three years of general study, one year of specialization, and one year of deep study. Systems Design Engineering students had access to a great range of specializations in addition to the course engineering programs offered by the university, reflected the unique background and capabilities of the faculty staff.
The Department of Systems Design Engineering is ready to accepts it's first official class. True to being unique, the faculty decides to hire a co-op student to travel across Ontario via motorbike, promoting the new program to advent-seeking and risk-taking high school students. In September of 1969, 60 student show up to take on the challenge.
Jump forward, and the Department of Systems Design Engineering still offers it's original degree programs, in addition to a new Biomedical Engineering program. The collective academic background of the faculty has grown and evolved with the influence of the department's leadership and the rapid advancements of technology. However, the founding principle of Systems Design Engineering, '...to produce leaders of technology', remains unchanged and holds true to this day.
Systems Design v.s. The Rest
What makes Systems Design different?
The most fundamental attribute which differentiates Systems Design from other programs is it's interdisciplinary nature. In most traditional engineering programs, one develops a deep understanding of concepts within that field of study, allowing them to address complex problems within that field. By contrast, a similar goal definition in Systems Design would be to develop an overviewing understanding of a wide range of disciplines, allowing one to tackle complex problems which span or consider a wide range of disciplines.
To truly understand what is meant by 'a wide range of disciplines' within the Systems Design Engineering program, consider the original 9 categories of courses within the Systems Design Curriculum:
- 10's: Mathematics
- 20's: Software and Computation
- 50's: System Modelling and Control
- 60's: Design
- 70's: Intelligent Systems
- 80's: Physics
- 90's: Circuits and Digital Systems
Although the specific combination of disciplines which compose Systems Design Engineering have evolved over time, this inter-disciplinary focus remains a core value of the SYDE department. The Systems Design course list today spans fields such as human-centered design, biomedical systems, decisions and optimization, social and environmental systems, and intelligent systems, to name a few. Throughout their studies, students are exposed to courses from a wide range of these disciplines so they may develop and understanding of these disciplines and how they might work together.