It is almost three decades since this book was first written. Much has changed since then. Perhaps the change most relevant to our readers is the central role that design has taken in society's interests, and in education and research, but also in how it impacts our lives. Design of products and systems is recognized as an important element of a vibrant economy and an innovative society. More importantly, there is increased awareness that the many big problemswe face today, such as environmental sustainability, can be addressed through thoughtful design and up-front assessment of the trade-offs involved, rather than as remedial efforts made after the fact.
Understanding and quantifying such trade-offs to support our collective decision making means that design optimization is now more important than ever. Optimal design is the goal not only of engineering, but also of every other social effort to shape our world. Many of our problems usually grow from our inability to agree on what is “optimal.”
The book was born out of our own desire to address explicitly what we mean by “optimal” and to put the concept of optimal design on a firm, rigorous foundation. There is an intimate relationship between the mathematical model that describes a design and the solution methods that optimize it. A basic premise from the start was that a good model can make optimization almost trivial, whereas a bad one can make correct optimization difficult or impossible. Software tools today provide capabilities for intricate analysis of many difficult performance aspects of a system. These analysis models, often referred to also as simulations, can be coupled with numerical optimization software to generate better designs iteratively. This virtual prototyping ability has grown dramatically and is an important contributor to reducing product development time and increasing robustness of systems.