Technology, purposeful human activity which involves designing and making products as diverse as clothing, foods, artefacts, machines, structures, electronic devices and computer systems, collectively often referred to as “the made world”. Technology can also mean the special kind of knowledge which technologists use when solving practical problems (for example, designing and building an irrigation system for tropical agriculture). Such work often begins with a human want (for example, better safety for an infant passenger in a car) or an aspiration (for example, to see the inside of a human artery or to land on the Moon), and technologists draw on resources of many kinds including visual imagination, technical skills, tools, and scientific and other branches of knowledge. Technological activity is as old as human history and its impact on almost all aspects of people's lives has been profound.
A common feature of technological activity, no matter what outcome is in mind, is the ability to design. In common with technology, design is difficult to define briefly although the general statement that it is “the exercise of imagination in the specification of form” captures much of what is involved. The aim of design is to give some form, pattern, structure, or arrangement to an intended technological product so that it is an integrated and balanced whole which will do what is intended. Designing often begins with an idea in a person's mind and the designer has to be able to envisage situations, transformations, and outcomes, and model these in the mind's eye. In the 19th century James Nasmyth, when describing how he had invented his steam pile driver, said that the machine “was in my mind's eye long before I saw it in action”; he could “build up in the mind mechanical structures and set them to work in imagination”. Much of this thinking is non-verbal and visual; it also involves creativity, including the ability to put together ideas in new ways. Sometimes this is a solitary activity, and was often thus in the past, but many designers today work in teams where discussion, sketches, and other visual representations, as well as analogies and ideas plucked from apparently unconnected fields, can all help the process. One problem which designers face is that the requirements that a product has to fulfil are not always compatible: ease of maintenance, for example, may conflict with cost and aesthetic appearance; safety considerations may not be reconciled easily with completion of the work by the deadline; and materials chosen on technical grounds for their suitability may raise concerns on environmental or moral grounds (for example, waste disposal difficulties; production by unacceptable methods such as exploited labour). Compromise and optimization are necessary when designing. Designing is sometimes represented as a linear or a looped set of processes—starting with identification of a problem or requirement, followed by generation of ideas for solutions; selection of a promising design option is then detailed, made, and finally evaluated. In reality the processes are almost always less orderly than this. Experience from making, for instance, can feed back and lead to modifications in the design. Also, evaluation is an on-going process throughout the stages. It is also the case that the processes of designing can differ according to the product involved. For example, designing active matrix liquid crystal displays, involving the use of basic scientific research, is different from designing corkscrews or mousetraps. Similarly, designing for manufacture on a large scale may require modifications to an artefact that was designed for use, but only as a one-off product.
TECHNOLOGY AND SCIENCE
Although technology and science have many features in common—not least in the minds of many people who link them together when viewed as present-day bodies of practice—their goals and...
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