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Professor Claudia Eckert

Profile summary

Professional biography

Claudia has been Professor of Design at the Open University since 2013. She returned to the OU in 2008 as a senior lecturer rafter nearly 10 years in the Engineering Design Centre at the University of Cambridge, where she was a senior research associate and associate director,  leading the design process improvement group, which developed tools and methods to support the development of complex engineering products working with companies manufacturing helicopters, jet engines, cars and diesel engines.

Claudia completed her PhD in 1997 at the Open University on “Intelligent Support for Knitwear Design” and then worked at the OU as research fellow studying sources of inspiration in the knitwear industry. She studied mathematics at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and philosophy of the Munich School of Philosophy, and has an MSc in Applied Artificial Intelligence from the University of Aberdeen.

Research interests

All the objects that surround us have at some point been designed by groups of people. The design of complex products involves the collaboration of hundreds or even thousands of people and pushes human endeavour to its limits. Their designs are usually based on existing designs and are severely constrained by. Claudia is interested in understanding and supporting the design processes of complex systems in this interplay between creative freedom and the need to reuse and work around existing solutions. She has been working on design process modelling and planning, engineering change prediction and communication in design processes.

Her research is a combination of empirical studies of industrial practice and the development of theoretical analyses and techniques. For example, she has been working on developing the idea of design margins, which describe the overdesign of components of systems with regards to their requirements, through case studies in truck design and in the design of building services. Margins can play an important part in managing engineering design and the use of product platforms.

Design and technology still have weak theoretical foundations. Claudia’s research on design theory is driven by practical problems she encounters in her case studies. She has been working with Dr Martin Stacey at De Montfort University, on unpacking theoretical concepts such as ambiguity and formality and analysing their implication for design in different contexts. One focus of her research is on models in engineering design and their complex relationship to the target system that they bring into being.

Since her master research Claudia has been interested in processes in the fashion and textile industry, which is not only an important industry in its own right, but also a sector where different aspects of design that are important in engineering can be studied and observed on a small scale. Early studies included communication between artistic and technical designers and mechanisms of inspiration in the knitwear industry. Currently she is involved in the Rethinking Fashion Design Entrepreneurship: Fostering Sustainable Practices project with the London College of Fashion and Middlesex University.

Ever since moving from studying knitwear design to studying helicopter design, Claudia has become interested in the similarities and differences between design in different domains.

All the objects that surround us have at some point been designed by groups of people. The design of complex products involves the collaboration of hundreds or even thousands of people and pushes human endeavour to its limits. Their designs are usually based on existing designs and are severely constrained by. Claudia is interested in understanding and supporting the design processes of complex systems in this interplay between creative freedom and the need to reuse and work around existing solutions. She has been working on design process modelling and planning, engineering change prediction and communication in design processes.

Her research is a combination of empirical studies of industrial practice and the development of theoretical analyses and techniques. For example, she has been working on developing the idea of design margins, which describe the overdesign of components of systems with regards to their requirements, through case studies in truck design and in the design of building services. Margins can play an important part in managing engineering design and the use of product platforms.

Design and technology still have weak theoretical foundations. Claudia’s research on design theory is driven by practical problems she encounters in her case studies. She has been working with Dr Martin Stacey at De Montfort University, on unpacking theoretical concepts such as ambiguity and formality and analysing their implication for design in different contexts. One focus of her research is on models in engineering design and their complex relationship to the target system that they bring into being.

Since her master research Claudia has been interested in processes in the fashion and textile industry, which is not only an important industry in its own right, but also a sector where different aspects of design that are important in engineering can be studied and observed on a small scale. Early studies included communication between artistic and technical designers and mechanisms of inspiration in the knitwear industry. Currently she is involved in the Rethinking Fashion Design Entrepreneurship: Fostering Sustainable Practices project with the London College of Fashion and Middlesex University.

Ever since moving from studying knitwear design to studying helicopter design, Claudia has become interested in the similarities and differences between design in different domains.

Teaching interests

Claudia is involved in the design and engineering teaching and is interested in what skills future designers and engineers need to acquire to be employable in industry.

Impact and engagement

Claudia has published over 250 journal articles and conference papers, and has authored several highly influential papers which have shaped the discourse in their areas.

Through her engagement with industry she has been able to influence the thinking of industry experts. For example, she is currently working with her PhD student Darren Jones, the director of Low Carbon Europe, on understanding and quantifying the overdesign of building services in hospitals.

External collaborations

Claudia collaborates with researchers from many different fields on different aspects of her work. She reaches out to industry experts in her research.

Many of Claudia’s research collaborations are international. Claudia has been a visiting professor and has maintained active collaboration with the following intuitions.

  • 2019 Visiting Professor at Changchun University, working with Dr Yan Liu
  • 2018 Jubilee Visiting Professor at Chalmers University of Technology in the system engineering group, working with Prof Ola Isaksson.
  • 2017 Visiting Researcher at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology at the ITAS (Institute for technology assessment) working Prof Rafaela Hillerbrand
  • 2015 Visiting Professor at AgroParisTech, food innovation, working with Dr Gwenola Yannou-Le Bris
  • 2013 Visting Professor at Ecole Centrale (now Centrale Supélec), Industrial Engineering, working with Prof Bernard Yannou and Prof Marija Jankovic.
  • 2008 Visiting Researcher at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, IPEK (Institute for product developing) working with the team of Prof Albert Albers.
  • 2007 Visiting Researcher at Université de Bordeaux, working with Prof Marc Zolghadri.

Claudia is a member of the board of management of the Design Society and Co-leader of the Design Process special interest group together with Prof Kilian Gericke, University of Rostock.  

Claudia also serves as an area editor for Research in Engineering Design, IEEE Transactions of Engineering Management and Design Science.

Claudia has been an external examiner for doctorates in France, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

She is also collaborating with researchers across the world on publications. She has maintained a close collaboration with her former boss, Prof John Clarkson at the University of Cambridge, and her former PhD students Prof Anja Maier at the Technical University of Denmark, Dr David Wynn at the University of Auckland, Dr Khadija Tahera at the University of Huddersfield and Dr Yan Liu at Changchun University.