Combining Design Thinking and Systems Engineering within industry

An opportunity to apply for a funded full-time PhD in the Faculty of Engineering and Technology, UWE Bristol.  The studentship will be funded by Renishaw. Ref 1920-OCT-FET04.

The expected start date of this studentship is Tuesday 1 October 2019

The closing date for applications is Monday 22 July 2019. 

About the studentship

Combining Design Thinking with Systems Engineering to develop a design process that yields better customer outcomes and reduced time to market for complex and innovative products.

Renishaw is a world-leading engineering and technology company with substantial expertise in design. This PhD will explore the roles of the humans within the design process within an evolving, forward-thinking business.

Design Thinking is an approach to innovation management with its roots in the design industry as a methodology for solving complex problems. It is a structured, commercially-aware, customer-centred and iterative process that has been successfully applied to ‘intangible’ problems such as business models, services and systems.

Design thinking refers to the cognitive, strategic and practical processes by which design concepts (proposals for new products, buildings, machines, etc.) are developed by designers and/or design teams. Many of the key concepts and aspects of design thinking have been identified through studies, across different design domains, of design cognition and design activity in both laboratory and natural contexts.

Core features of design thinking include abilities to:

·        resolve ill-defined or 'wicked' problems

·        adopt solution-focused strategies

·        use abductive/productive reasoning

·        employ non-verbal, graphic/spatial modelling media.

Systems Engineering is an interdisciplinary field of engineering and engineering management that focuses on how to design and manage complex systems over their life cycles. At its core, Systems Engineering utilises systems thinking principles to organize this body of knowledge. The individual outcome of such efforts, an engineered system, can be defined as a combination of components that work in synergy to collectively perform a useful function.

Systems engineering overlaps technical and human-centred disciplines such as industrial design, mechanical engineering, manufacturing engineering, control engineering, software engineering, electrical engineering, cybernetics, organisational studies, civil engineering and project management. Systems Engineering ensures that all likely aspects of a project or system are considered and integrated into a whole.

The systems engineering process is a discovery process that is quite unlike a manufacturing process. A manufacturing process is focused on repetitive activities that achieve high-quality outputs with minimum cost and time. The systems engineering process must begin by discovering the real problems that need to be resolved and identifying the most probable or highest impact failures that can occur – systems engineering involves finding solutions to these problems.

This PhD aims to develop a synthesis of Design Thinking and Engineering Systems Thinking which focuses on ‘designing the right thing’ that ‘solves the right problem’ by including the needs of all stakeholders in the project.

The project will be supported by UWE Bristol staff from Product Design within the Faculty of Engineering and Technology and staff from the Bristol Business School within the Faculty of Business and Law.

For an informal discussion about the studentship, please email Dr Jo Hare on

Funding details

The studentship is available from Tuesday 1 October 2019 for a period of three and a half years, subject to satisfactory progress and includes a tax exempt stipend, which is currently £15,009 per annum. 

In addition, full-time tuition fees will be covered for up to three years (Home/EU rates only). Overseas applicants will be required to cover the difference between Home/EU and the overseas tuition fee rates in each year of study.

Eligibility criteria

The project is ideal for a self-motivated and enthusiastic student with a good honours degree (2:1 or equivalent) in design, design engineering or other relevant field, and evidence of further study at Masters level or equivalent in a relevant field. The ideal candidate will also have a strong interest in design thinking or systems engineering.

A recognised English language qualification is required.

How to apply

Please submit your application online. When prompted use the reference number 1920-OCT-FET04. You will need to upload your research proposal, all your degree certificates and transcripts and proof of English language proficiency as attachments to your application, so please have these available when you complete the application form. You will need to provide details of two referees as part of your application. At least one referee must be an academic referee from the institution that conferred your highest degree. Please ensure that your nominated referees are willing and able to provide references before you submit your application.

Closing date

The closing date for applications is Monday 22 July 2019.

Further information

Shortlisted candidates will be expected to attend an interview and demonstrate:

  • Excellent communication skills with the ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds at a human level
  • Imaginative and viable preliminary ideas for research into this subject area
  • An appreciation of the nature of PhD study and of both independent and collaborative research
  • Clear motivation for undertaking PhD study in Bristol in this subject area
  • Evidence that you have, or can develop, the skills required to start the proposed research.

If you have not heard from us by Tuesday 3 September, we thank you for your application but on this occasion you have not been successful.

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