Civil Engineering and Design Thinking

How to cultivate innovation in civil engineering

Brent Darnell, owner and president of Brent Darnell International, and design thinking expert discusses how design thinking can lead civil engineers to creative problem solving.


Taking a rigorous approach to creativity in civil engineering

Henry David Thoreau once said, “The world is but a canvas to the imagination.”

If that’s the case, then civil engineers are the artists. They are responsible for creating the built environment around us. Therefore, engineers must expand their vision of the world to discover innovative solutions and build structures that will advance society.

But how can civil engineers integrate more creativity into their work?

  Technical Paper  

Comparing design thinking traits

How do architects and civil engineers score on design thinking traits and what does that mean for civil engineering education?


Design thinking and resilience: Things are not always what they seem

If you were to visualize impactful changes to your community without any constraints, what would you see?


Why civil engineering students should make things

How can a more creative approach attract and prepare the future civil engineers?

  • 1.  Civil Engineering and Design Thinking

    Posted 06-14-2021 04:42 PM
    ASCE members have been talking about design thinking and how it helps the next generation of civil engineers design for tomorrow's infrastructure. You can find some of these resources here:

    I also wanted to start a thread for YOU to ask questions about design thinking and how civil engineers can apply some of these principles to their work. Please use this thread to ask questions about design thinking. 

    Tirza Austin
    Manager, Online Community
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive
    Reston, VA 20191

  • 2.  RE: Civil Engineering and Design Thinking

    Posted 06-21-2021 05:30 PM

    I read the interview with Oliver Broadbent and watched the interview with Brent Darnell. They both articulate the need for ideation to solve the problems of today and tomorrow and cite the role that cognitive biases play in disabling new ideas. I thought Darnell provided a compelling list of attributes and behaviors to enable ideation including 1) practice empathy and ask a lot of good questions, 2) clearly define the problem, 3) practice ideation and 4) prototype and test.

    However, I felt the place where both fell short was on communicating and 'selling' the idea. At the end of the day, you need someone to buy into your idea. Innovation and disruption do not naturally sell. One way to sell a new idea is to put it in perspective with the alternative(s) and show how it measures up against the value measures of importance. A decision by definition requires alternatives. It's also imperative that one have 'permission' to ideate and a notional agreement for commitment to action at the get go from the client or customer.

    The augmented and modified steps based on my experience in ideation and selling an idea are: 1) practice empathy and ask a lot of good questions, 2) clearly define the problem, 3) secure the commitment upfront to consider new and/or disruptive  ideas, 4 ) clearly establish what's important by way of values, priorities and tradeoffs, 5) practice ideation (e.g., apply a structured brainstorming process) and generate at least 2 alternatives and 6) apply logically correct reasoning to show how each of the alternatives measures up against what's deemed important.

    What would others add, subtract, or modify?

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX