Numerical optimization concepts are described with limited technical detail. The purpose is to provide the nonspecialist with sufficient information to judge the applicability of these methods to his particular design problem. The concepts are first described in physical terms to give a basic understanding of the iterative procedure employed by these methods. Next, the typical engineering task is presented and converted to a form ammenable to solution by numerical optimization. Basic algorithms for solving this problem are identified. Numerous applications are referenced, emphasizing the structural design discipline. The state of the art allows for the routine solution of nonlinear design problems of approximately 20 independent variables subject to 100 or more constraints. In many applications, much larger design problems may be solved. Selected references are provided which describe the methods and applications in more detail.