Technical function is a key concept in engineering design. Despite the centrality of the concept, a systematic, rigorous analysis of the utility of function and its different conceptualizations is missing in the engineering design literature. This paper addresses this challenge. We investigate the utility of function and its different meanings in the following engineering design contexts: malfunction explanation, innovative design, redesign, and routine design. This analysis provides theoretical justification for the current engineering practice of accepting ambiguity of functional descriptions and for methods to translate and/or convert functional descriptions across engineering design frameworks. We show that the utility of specific meanings of function is highly task dependent, identify novel roles for functional descriptions in engineering design, and present methodological implications for translation methods for functional descriptions.