In our group at University of Zagreb (www.cadlab.fsb.hr), we think about ourselves as systems thinkers. For a long time, our teaching and research were focused purely on the technical systems and studying the phenomenon of the design as a product or as a process. Following the global trends and shifting a focus towards the information and knowledge management in engineering design, with particular attention being on the human role in interaction with the technical systems either as users or designers, moved us toward new, exciting area of socio-technical systems. Understanding how individuals and teams are performing in interaction with each other and technical systems, and adapt to the changes due to the internal (such as team boundaries or perturbations in organisational structure) and external (such as market trends, new customer’s requirements or changing technologies) circumstances, become recently our new research objective.
To cope with the challenges of such a multidisciplinary topic, we decided to introduce new research methods in our group, following the research paradigms borrowed from social sciences and computer science. The experimental design research becomes the central paradigm, including observation and analysis of the human participants during the individual or teamwork in engineering design, or building computer simulations of the engineering teams by application of the agent-based modelling. We are following the same in teaching, where our focus is gradually shifting towards smart products that interact and co-exist with humans in ways that were not being the case before. Possibility to acquire the real-time data about the performance and interactions of the technical systems and people are enabling us new opportunities for management of the design and development process complexity but is also opening endless possibilities for innovation in research and education.