Creative Engineering: Promoting Innovation by Thinking Differently

Placeholder Show Content



This book collects and makes readily available a classic in the philosophy of engineering design, heretofore only available in university archives. The original paper manuscripts have been digitized and reformatted with a detailed subject index. An
introduction and biographical essay provide a historical context, including a detailed explanation of how the readings establish a scientific foundation for creative engineering.

For Arnold, a “creative engineer” combines the technical skills of engineering with a more comprehensive human-centered approach than industrial design. He gives this vision substance by reframing the design process as problem solving, which requires creativity and hence tools for thinking differently. This broad framework for “design thinking” flourishes more than fifty years after his passing.

Arnold speaks to us as individuals, inspiring with stories of genius and teaching us to be insightful about “blocks” that may be limiting personal growth and achievements. Becoming more creative is thus a process of self-actualization. Arnold challenges students, industry engineers, and citizens alike to be “positive non-conformists,” examining how we think and what problems we choose to solve—seeking to uncover the unspoken ambitions and fears, biases, and stereotypes, which inhibit not only our behaviors but our thoughts as adults. At the same time, he asks us to raise our sights to the long-term, comprehensive issues confronting society and realize our creative potential. He promotes innovation by teaching us how to ask questions, so we might go beyond what is given or apparent and think differently about dilemmas and needs: “Knowing
what questions to ask and how to ask them is sometimes more important than the eventual answers. Each of man’s advances was started by a question.”

These themes of personal growth, relating to transcendent values and purposes, have a long history in American philosophy. Taking new form in post-WWII’s concern for technological advances during a cold war, and flowering in the youth movement of the 1960s, the ideas continue to motivate schools of design and innovation, marked by books
inciting achievement, self-confidence, and “unleashing the power within.” Arnold was a pioneer in synthesizing this grand vision, relating the psychology of the self, business and social needs, design, and education. His initiatives at MIT and Stanford University from 1950–1963 were adopted and refined by his associates and students in internationally
renowned product design courses and design firms. The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (the today realizes Arnold’s “comprehensive design” approach, relating engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, sciences, and education to address messy, “creative problems” for the benefit of society.

Most broadly viewed, Creative Engineering promotes the idea of democracy we find prominent in John Dewey’s work, unifying personal growth and citizenship. Intelligent participation in society entails breaking out of clichés, taboos, and groupthink. This requires personal integrity and daring, which develops by expressing ideas and values in practical projects. Arnold’s program for creative engineering thus explains and promotes design thinking from a humanist perspective: “The increased understanding of the creative process, the enlargement of the number of areas where it is practiced, and the encouragement of all to exercise their creative abilities to the limits of that inherent potential are the only ways in which progress can be assured.”


Type of resource text
Date created 2016


Author Arnold, John Edward, 1913-1963
Editor Clancey, William J.


Subject Engineering
Subject Design
Subject John E. Arnold
Subject William J. Clancey
Subject Design thinking
Subject Industrial design
Subject Creative engineering
Subject Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford
Subject Creativity
Genre Instruction

Bibliographic information

Access conditions

Use and reproduction
User agrees that, where applicable, content will not be used to identify or to otherwise infringe the privacy or confidentiality rights of individuals. Content distributed via the Stanford Digital Repository may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.

Preferred citation

Preferred Citation
Arnold, John E. and Clancey, William J. (2016). Creative Engineering: Promoting Innovation by Thinking Differently. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at:


Contact information

Loading usage metrics...