Hartmut Esslinger on Crappy Products

Entrepreneurial icon Guy Kawasaki asks design icon Harmut Esslinger ten questions. My favorite is, of course, the one question I would ask if I were doing the interview:

Question: Why is it that companies with billions of dollars who can hire any designer or design firm in the world put out such crappy products?


Answer: Excellent products require more then just a good designer or a good design agency—they require humanistic and cultural vision, courage and discipline in execution (emphasis, mine). There are two reasons why crappy products are so common: first, most “companies with billions of dollars” don’t want to charter new ways because they are in a defensive setting in order to defend their existing business—and when the billions and the business are gone, it’s too late for change. Second, big companies normally have neither the people nor the processes to innovate and there are no real rewards for taking the risks and efforts required in the endeavor for excellent products. In my career, SONY under Akio Morita was the only big company which rejected the common addiction to mediocrity and went for world-changing innovations. Now they are stuck as well….

There are a few other interesting nuggets in the article. Click here to read more.

Click to comment in the forum.

Cross-Disciplinary Education of Design and Engineering Students

One of the best ideas I’ve heard in a while:

Cross-Disciplinary Education of Design and Engineering Students.

…an industrial design professor and an engineering professor decided to switch students for one quarter each year, each teaching their contrasting discipline and perspective. The engineering students are exposed to creativity techniques, user empathy, and visual communication. Industrial design students are experimenting with injection molded polymers, carbon fiber composite lay-up, thermoforming and materials science. The two groups later are combined into design teams to work on an industry sponsored project together. …

June Issue of Develop3D is Available

I just noticed that the June issue of Develop3D is available. You can download your free copy here.

Inside you’ll find some interesting information on the design process at Marin Bikes and Senz Umbrellas. There are a quite a few nuggets on MCAD software updates and even an article on establishing assembly constraints by yours truly. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Engineering Competition

When I finished reading this article, “BYD throws 5,000 low-cost engineers at auto battery packs,” I wasn’t too surprised to hear that a gigantic Chinese manufacturing company was working on new battery technology. After spending a total of about 6 months in Chinese factories over the past 3 years, I wasn’t surprised to hear that they are planning to sell said batteries to competing auto companies. I also wasn’t surprised to hear that their engineers get paid about 15% of what most entry to mid-level American engineers make. See, I’ve been pondering this situation for a long time. If you’re an American or European engineer you should worried about how you can compete with someone of the same skill level making almost a tenth of what you make. What is so special about your skill set that makes you worth ten times the money? There are CEO’s all over the country that aren’t convinced. The design and manufacturing climate is changing. How are high-paid design and research engineers going to justify their value? I have some ideas and I’m curious to hear yours.

Tolerances and Material Removal Processes

If you haven’t already, I recommend reading and understanding my previous post about tolerances before digging in here.

Material removal processes are often used to build tooling for other manufacturing processes such as plastic molds, dies and punches for metal stamping and forming, extrusion dies, EDM electrodes, and many others.  Understanding material-removal process capabilities will be invaluable in understanding capabilities of downstream processes.

Common material-removal processes include lapping and honing, grinding, boring, turning, broaching, reaming, milling, planing and shaping, and drilling.

Engineering Toolbox has a good summary of tolerance limits for different material-removal processes:

Tolerance Grades
4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Lapping and Honing
Cylindrical Grinding
Surface Grinding
Diamond Turning
Diamond Boring
Broaching
Reaming
Turning
Boring
Milling
Planing and Shaping
Drilling

ansi-standard-tolerances

As you can see, lapping and honing give the tightest tolerances while milling, planing and shaping, and drilling have wider tolerances.  Also notice that  the tolerances get bigger as the part size gets bigger, regardless of process.

This is great information, but it doesn’t tell you anything about cost.  In general, as tolerances get smaller the parts gets more expensive regardless of process.  That is, a milled part with a dimension of 1.00 +/-0.05mm will be more expensive than a part spec’d at 1.00 +/-0.20mm.  How much more?  It’s impossible to know for certain because there are so many other factors that affect cost.  The take-home message is simply that better parts are more expensive.

Another key piece of information you do not get from this table and chart is any indication of the applications for these processes.  If lapping gives me the tightest tolerances, why don’t I just make all of my parts by lapping them?  Well, lapping only works on flat surfaces.  I suggest clicking through the links above and checking out what wikipedia has to say about each process.  All of the overviews are pretty good.

We will discuss applications of these process as they relate to mechanical components in later posts.

On Form, Curvature, and Emotion

Gray Holland of Alchemy Labs has a great article up on Core77 about the relationships among form, surface curvature, and emotion. You can argue some of the technicalities around class-A surfacing and “C” versus “G” continuity definitions, but his insight into the fundamentals of form is quite enlightening.

He also has a great perspective on the now-decaying debate of “engineering” versus “design.”

When we speak of product development, we frequently look at the domains of Design and Engineering separately, evaluating them in different ways. Engineering, at its core, is a measurable process; Design, for the most part, is not. This gives the former an inherent advantage: engineering efforts are easily quantifiable, and this provides them with authority. Design is intuitive, working on the non-verbal levels of our experience, sometimes triggering our most subversive emotional states; this makes it difficult to evaluate empirically. Lacking an analytical vernacular, Design is labeled subjective, when it is actually the agent of universal truth through form.

Curvature Evolution

Tolerances

I’m writing this post to help those in the audience that aren’t familiar with detailed mechanical design. A basic understanding of tolerances is essential to follow subsequent discussions here.

First, a quick definition:

Engineering tolerance is the permissible limit of variation in

  1. a physical dimension,
  2. a measured value or physical property of a material, manufactured object, system, or service,
  3. other measured values (such as temperature, humidity, etc).
  4. in engineering and safety, a physical distance or space (tolerance), as in a truck (lorry), train or boat under a bridge as well as a train in a tunnel (see structure gauge and loading gauge).

Thanks Wikipedia.

Every manufacturing process has some variation on dimensional output and a sound mechanical design needs to account for these variations. If you ask a machinist to make you a block that’s 1″ by 1″ by 1″ you might get a block that’s 1.012″ by 0.923″ by 1.103″. Is that close enough?

Could the machinist have done a better job getting closer to the 1″ target? Probably, but since we didn’t specify a tolerance, technically it’s close enough. If we wanted something closer to 1″ per side we’d need to specify how close. That’s the tolerance. We’d say 1″ plus or minus 0.010″, for example. The 1″ dimension is called the nominal value and the 0.010″ is called the tolerance.

Later I’ll talk about tolerances associated with different manufacturing processes and environmental conditions and how mechanical engineers and product designers account for them in their designs.

Getting Started

Before getting into details I’m going to post a few quick notes on fundamentals. I will be referring back to these posts as the discussion goes deeper. Some of what I have to discuss may not be too interesting to those of you with degrees in engineering. I’m hoping to grab the interest of non-engineers/DIYers in the audience along with the product design professionals. I’m also hoping other seasoned professionals will comment with their thoughts.

What Do You Want to Know?

I have a few ideas for posts and topics of discussion and I’d like to know what would be most valuable to you. Most of my input will focused on practical applications in product design and development but I’m open to other ideas.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Tolerance analysis and datum selection
  • Design and evaluation of assembly constraints
  • Designing thermal systems
  • Stress analysis
  • CAD modeling techniques

Please post a comment with anything else you think might start an interesting discussion.

Comments are happening on the new Form Loves Function Discussion Forum.

Edit 2010/03/15: posted link to the forum; comments closed on the thread.

IDEO/BUG Concepts Posted

Yesterday IDEO posted some very well presented in-process concepts for BUG UI design opportunities. They started by presenting some Mid-Project Concept Sketches. Download the PDF. Seriously, it’s inspiring.

They followed up with a post on each proposed concept:

  1. Concept 1 – e-Ink over Tactile Switches
  2. Concept 2 – Color LCD w/ Capacitive Touch
  3. Concept 3 – Monochrome Matrix LCD with Segmented Multicolor Backlight
  4. Concept 4 – Customizable Illuminated Buttons w/ Side Status Panel
  5. Concept 5 – NTE (Near-To-Eye) Micro-Display with Trackball

Very interesting concepts and very well presented. So well, in fact, that IDEO acknowledged the polished appearance and posted a few photos of the work-in-progress. Extra points for prototyping ePaper graphics on a Kindle.

IDEO Product UI Design Process Will Be Public

The modular DIY gadget platform, BUG, has teamed with IDEO to redesign the BUG user interface. IDEO has agreed to BUG’s request to do the project in the open, soliciting feedback from the user community along the way. I’m not aware of a design effort of this magnitude, with a firm of this stature, happening in such a public manner.

Here’s what IDEO has to say about the project:

…We’re thrilled to be working with Bug Labs to make this great product even better. We are also prototyping a new, open way of working that we hope will combine the expertise of Bug Labs engineers, IDEO designers, and the BUG community throughout the design process.

This is a quick project with a focused objective: re-envision the interaction with the BUGbase, specifically the display and buttons. We want to hear from you! Share your thoughts about the current BUGbase interface and your ideas for making it better. How are you using your BUGbase interface? How do you wish you could use it? In return for your feedback, we’ll be regularly posting updates on our progress, as well as the end results. We, of course, welcome your thoughts at any point. …

Follow along on the BUG Blogger website and the BUG Community.

The whole point of this exercise is to continue to push the boundaries of how we innovate, not just on the BUGbase UI, but on all things related to BUG. We take pride in thinking our designs are good, but we also know they are exponentially better when the community gets involved.

Gary Hustwit talks with Doug Pray

I just found this interview between Gary Hustwit, director of the new Objectified movie, and Doug Pray, director of the new Art & Copy movie.

Art & Copy is all about advertising. Objectified, as I’ve previously written, is all about product design. Hustwit and Pray find some interesting common ground in discussing what they each learned during the making of their films.

The mp3 is available on the SXSX Film page.