Erin MacDonald, PhD-Iowa State University Photo
Segal Seminar Series

Erin MacDonald, PhD-Iowa State University

August 16, 2012, 4:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center
1.350 (ITW Classroom)
2133 Sheridan Rd. Evanston , IL 60208

Successful Sustainable Design at the Intersection of Engineering and Human Behavior


Sustainable design readily spreads across many disciplines and necessarily requires an interdisciplinary and system-based design approach. At the heart of this system is the relationship between product engineering and human behavior. The designer must include this relationship in the product's design along with other sustainability concerns such as technology advancement, life cycle assessment, policy compliance, larger societal impact, and economic viability. As behavior is difficult for engineers to quantify, it can be lost in engineering analysis. The resulting sustainable products and technologies may not be used and/or purchased, may not be as efficient as predicted, and thus may not have the beneficial impact that they were designed to have. The relationship between the sustainable product engineering and human behavior can be quantified, for example by modeling decision-making, and incorporated into engineering analysis. Often, the reformulation of the engineering system problem required to accommodate human behavior is beneficial to other elements of the design. Dr. MacDonald will speak on three different projects in this area:

  • Wind farm layout optimization with respect to landowner concerns
  • Design for the consideration of sustainable consumer products
  • Broad recommendations for market-successful sustainable design


Dr. MacDonald is director of the Interdisciplinary Research in Sustainable (IRIS) Design Lab within the department of Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University (ISU). She also holds an appointment in the College of Art and Design, and is a Michael and Denise Mack 2050 Challenge Scholar. Her research adopts methods and insights from psychology and marketing to address sustainable engineering design problems. She and her research group focus on studying and understanding the role of consumer decisions and judgments about products in order to provide engineering design solutions to a variety of sustainability-related issues.

Dr. MacDonald's dissertation research applied the theory of construction of preferences to engineering design, and was nominated for the distinguished dissertation award at the University of Michigan. The main case study investigated inconsistent customer preference for sustainable products from one purchase decision context to the next.

Dr. MacDonald comes to Iowa State from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she researched the design of websites to match cognitive styles in the Marketing Department of the Sloan School of Management. She was also an Instructor in MIT's Mechanical Engineering department.

Dr. MacDonald has previously worked as a business consultant and is an award-winning product designer. She discusses the psychological intricacies of green design at companies such as Ford and Whirlpool.

At Iowa State Dr. Macdonald teaches classes on mechanical engineering design, and creativity & imagination in engineering. She has taught design courses at the University of Michigan, and robotic design at MIT.


Brown University, Materials Science and Engineering, B.S. 1998
University of Michigan, Mechanical Engineering, M.S., 2004
University of Michigan, Mechanical Engineering, Ph.D., 2008
MIT Sloan School of Management, Marketing Postdoctoral Researcher & Mechanical Engineering Instructor, 2008-2009

Areas of Interest

Product design; sustainable design; design optimization; behavioral psychology; construction of consumer preferences; judgment and decision-making regarding products; cognitive and learning styles

Learn more about Erin MacDonald
View Erin MacDonald's design portfolio.

Contact Elizabeth Gerber at 847-467-0607 or for further questions.