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The role of creativity within engineering

Creating the perfect chocolate bar, building iconic buildings or developing jaw-dropping movie special effects: creative skills are important to all areas of engineering…

Orla Murphy, Jaguar Land Rover Creativity within engineering is often overlooked, however, all engineers design, create and innovate, essentially working as ‘creative problem-solvers’.

It’s important to remember that skills developed through art, computing and design and technology all have a place within engineering. It’s a surprisingly creative subject; often people forget that it’s the engineers who regularly come up with new and exciting ideas up that help solve the world’s problems, both big and small.

Embracing your creative side

Engineering is a technical subject and gaining a strong understanding of science and math is important, but creativity is also highly valued. Universities and companies are always looking for engineers who embrace their creative side as it helps them to think differently – perfect for designing new products or solving problems.

The IET continues to work hard to highlight the creativity found within engineering through special projects and events. One of the most well known is the IET Faraday Challenge Days project, where students are given the opportunity to research, design and make prototype solutions to genuinely tough engineering problems.

The last series of challenges focused on being creative with the BBC micro:bit, where school pupils were tasked with developing two products using their micro:bit for real-world application with the areas of health, sport, travel or home and leisure.

The winning team created the No-Nap cap from scratch, which would sound an alarm if the wearer tilted their head forwards or backwards. The team believed that this would save millions of lives by preventing the wearer from falling asleep at the wheel when driving.

Creative people can make the best engineers

Lucy Ackland, a senior development engineer at Renishaw plc, is involved in developing 3D printing machine technologies. A traveller, seamstress and potential film star (her claim to fame is playing an extra in a Harry Potter movie), she believes that people with strong creative skills often make the best engineers.

“The ability to visualise, dream up, draw and think outside the box are fantastic skills – and ones I try to use daily,” she enthuses.

Orla Murphy, an acoustic engineer at Jaguar Land Rover, agrees.

“Problems exist for a reason – they’re not simple to solve. That is why engineers have to be creative and use their knowledge, engineering tools and expertise to solve the biggest problems,” she says. “My work isn’t all about detailed measurements, we have to be creative in order to create experiences in the cars that excite our customers. You have to go beyond the measurement and design something fun that has a ‘wow’ factor.”

The ‘wow’ factor

Talking of wow factors - take a look at what Roma Agrawal has achieved. This structural engineer has had the opportunity to work on a number of complex and iconic building projects, ranging from tall towers and footbridges to sculptures, all in a variety of materials.

A career highlight was the opportunity to be involved in creating one of London’s most iconic buildings, the Shard. Being a member of a small team of structural engineers who worked on the project meant that each of them made a big contribution to the creation of the Shard and Roma designed part of the foundations as well as the very top of the building.

From fashion to theme parks

Creativity and engineering work together in many different sectors: from fashion and music through to theme parks and movies. The Tomorrow’s Engineers website hosts a wide range of articles that highlight the creative work of engineers, including Francesca Rosella, who creates wearable technology – including a ‘Twitter Dress’ worn by Nicole Scherzinger – and Aoibheann Hurley who works tirelessly to bring us the perfect chocolate bar.

Now you can see that being an engineer involves a lot of creativity; you need to come up with new ideas and ways of solving problems every day. It’s a very important skill to have if you want to become a good engineer, and it also makes the work exciting and fun!

Updated March 2017