Making, Hacking, and or Engineering.

I am waiting for PCBs to come in and hardware testing is next on my agenda for the design. So, I wanted to explore the differences of Making, Hacking, and Engineering. Definitions:


1. the act of a person or thing that makes:

The making of a violin requires great skill.


8. Informal. to make use of a tip, trick, or efficient method for doing or managing (something): to hack a classic recipe;

to hack your weekend with healthy habits.

1. the art or science of making practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences, as physics or chemistry, as in the construction of engines, bridges, buildings, mines, ships, and chemical plants.
I of course picked the definitions relevant to this blog. Making requires skill but doesn’t necessarily have to be clever.  Hacking as used in the term “life hack” are clever or unusual ways of doing something efficiently.  Then finally Engineering is applying known science to a given goal. As an electronics designer, you are usually working in a blend of all three ways.
A few days ago, I did a little project that was basically all Making.  I wanted an inline set of controls for a wired headset that I already own. I looked up the requirements online, designed the schematic, and PCB layout and ordered PCBs.  I really didn’t do much engineering and it wasn’t particularly clever.
When designing something that has never been done before, Engineering is great, but sometimes falls flat. Perhaps the design hasn’t been done because no one has found a clever solution yet. An engineer has to be careful when they incorporate a hack into their design.  Often clever solutions have unforeseen drawbacks that may not become apparent until thousands of units have been produced.
Sometimes a design hasn’t been done because no one has seen the need for it before.  This is often a nearly pure engineering process. Nothing in the design is hard to do, but you have to know the science(or it’s shortcuts) to complete the design.
Side note: In some cultures Engineering is about individual and public safety. An Engineer’s job is to make sure a product or design won’t hurt someone. Although I think it is important to always be thinking about safety in your design, this is not part of this discussion.
Side Note: Scientific shortcuts speed up the design process.  For instance we know the left hand rule for figuring out the magnetic polarity of a coil given it’s direction of current flow.
Do you have any favorite science shortcuts? Are you a maker, a hacker, or an engineer?  Is there another way to look at creating something that you’d like to talk about?

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