Engineer vs. Designer Podcast

Josh Mings of Solidsmack and Adam O’Hern of have been getting together every week and choppin’ it up over some design and engineering topics, tips, tricks, interviews with special guests, recording it, and publishing the conversation as “Engineer vs. Designer.” Episode 7 airs today with a little insight into the philosophy behind Form Loves Function along with their usual industry news, tips, and tricks. Check it out at

Creature Design Enabled by 5-Axis CNC

Details on the product design and build process are rarely presented in the comprehensive, concise fashion of this video from John Cox’s Creature Workshop. Sure, he’s building limited run sculptures for the entertainment industry but the process of sculpting, scanning, processing, machining, and assembling is common to many design industries. Plus, I love seeing practical applications of 5-axis CNC machining.

Here are some photos of the process:

Sculpture Scanning




Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Design

It’s a classic that you have probably seen before and here it is again for quick and easy reference:

  • Good design is innovative
    The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  • Good design makes a product useful
    A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  • Good design is aesthetic
    The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  • Good design makes a product understandable
    It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  • Good design is unobtrusive
    Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  • Good design is honest
    It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  • Good design is long-lasting
    It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
  • Good design is thorough down to the last detail
    Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  • Good design is environmentally friendly
    Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  • Good design is as little design as possible
    Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.

    Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Copyright Dieter Rams, amended March 2003 and October 2009

Though Dieter was primarily an industrial designer every one of these points are equally applicable to product engineering.

Check out the interview for some additional context.


ID Resource List at Product Design Hub

I just now noticed a great list posted by Waikit over at Product Design Hub. Hit the link for details on:

  • Textures
  • Free Stock Images
  • Persona Collage Creator
  • Color Inspiration & Tools
  • Portfolio Hosting
  • Image Hosting & Sharing
  • Salary/Hour Rate Indicators
  • Invoicing Tools
  • Patents Databases
  • Material Databases
  • Anthropometric Data
  • Survey Tools

There is a pretty good discussion going in their forum.

IDES is a good materials resource I didn’t see on the list which is a great complement to MatWeb.

Comments are welcome in the Form Loves Function Discussions Forum.

The Value of Physical Prototypes

I watched the first 4 installments of BBC’s Design for Life on a plane over the Pacific and found the last 2 episodes on Vimeo. The show is pretty much The Apprentice with Philippe at the helm. Plus I think the show illustrates how truly difficult it is to conceive and develop a product from a blank slate. Week after week young designers struggle to prove their design prowess to Philippe and usually fall short by under-delivering or missing the point completely. One week Philippe sent 4 designers packing.

The most profound moment of the show happened in episode 5. After weeks of failing to convince Starck that her new standing/walking aid for the elderly had merit, contestant Ilsa Parry presented the prototype. After merely looking at the proto Philippe’s attitude changed completely. After trying the product for himself he was sold.

Great that Ilsa persevered and continued to drive the vision of her product. Great that the rest of us can witness the power of the prototype in a real-world situation.

The entire series is available on Vimeo:

Design for Life Episode 1
Design for Life Episode 2
Design for Life Episode 3
Design for Life Episode 4
Design for Life Episode 5
Design for Life Episode 6

Design for Life | Episode 5 from designforlife on Vimeo.

Comment now in the Form Loves Function Forum.

Surface Continuity

@StudioClues and I had an interesting discussion over Twitter about the merits of curvature and surface continuity in product design. While we designers and CAD sculptors geek out on the technicalities of making G2 happen, it’s important to remember that curvature continuity is not a design goal in and of itself, merely a modeling problem for the capture of design intent.

Thomas’ main concern was valid, “can end users really tell the difference between a painstaking sculpted G2+ surface and a radial fillet?” Maybe. Maybe not. I certainly can. Always makes me wonder why the designers let it slip when I see bad curvature breaks. Low quality surfacing implies low quality product, IM(v)HO.

Here is a pretty good description of what we’re talking about:

I’m also happy to see that Autodesk Alias 2011 will have G3 continuity built in:

For some insight on why we actually care about curvature continuity, have a look at this: On Form, Curvature, and Emotion.

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

$20,000 For Your Best Idea

That’s what LG is willing to pay in their Design the Future Competition:

What we’re looking for
Predict what’s next. What do you think the next generation of mobile phones should work or look like for the U.S. market in the next 2 to 3 years? We are asking for your help. We’re NOT looking for a long list of specs or phone ideas that already exist. We’re looking for a cool new concept or “big idea” supported by usage scenario and user experience illustrations.

Who doesn’t have a cool new concept or “big idea” they’d love to share? Among the support documentation I found this: 4 Tips For Success which provides a pretty good starting point for any product development project:

  1. Find a Good Problem to Solve
  2. Do Your Homework
  3. Carefully Craft Your Pitch

But the real gem is about halfway down the page:

How to Innovate

  1. Select a product or service to innovate.
  2. Create a list of its components.
  3. Apply a TEMPLATE to each component. This creates a VIRTUAL PRODUCT. It is virtual because it does not exist. It should not seem to make any sense to you at first. That is okay…that is how the method works.
  4. Take the VIRTUAL PRODUCT and think of all the ways it could be useful. What problems does it solve? What benefits does it offer? Who would use it?
  5. Repeat the process using a different component.
  6. Repeat the entire process using a different TEMPLATE.

There you have it. If only it were that easy…

On a more serious note, Autodesk is a sponsor and I really like what they have been doing with their software lately to enable designers to design. On par with Siemens’ Synchronous Technology.

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

Forum is Open

Interested in talking with other hard working, talented people about making beautiful, useful things? The Form Loves Function discussion forum is ready for action. At the moment it is feature-lean; more features will be added as the community builds.

If you are ok with answering a few screening questions and dealing with some minor bugs, please request an invite by hitting me on Twitter (@formloves) or via email at design at formlovesfunction dot com.

HD3D – New Technology from Siemens

PLM applications are great for collecting product design data but more often than not, getting useful information out is a painful, non-intuitive process. When I see PLM data easily displayed in the 3D modeling environment I get excited.

Here are some screenshots from the promo video:

From the Siemens PLM website: HD3D – Your Dashboard for Product Development

There’s nothing like a real life demo. As expected, it’s not quite as flashy as the promotional video.

{Hat tip: @dorasmith via Siemens PLM Connection}

Injection Molded Plastic Part Design Checklist

Designing plastic parts is deceptively complicated. There are many factors to consider along with the obvious part function, performance, and cosmetic requirements. The checklist below outlines most of the important factors affecting performance and cost for any given application. Not all of these items will be applicable to every part you design, but going through this list will undoubtedly give you a better understanding of your part and what it needs to do. This understanding will undoubtedly help you make changes to optimize the part design.

It’s a long list but don’t let that dissuade you. Every item on the list will affect part cost and performance.

Injection Molded Plastic Part Design Checklist (in no particular order):

  1. What is the function of the part?
  2. What is the expected lifetime of the part?
  3. What agency approvals are required? (UL, FDA, USDA, NSF, USP, SAE, MIL spec)
  4. Will the part be implanted in humans?

    If so, biocompatibility is your first concern.
  5. What electrical characteristics are required and at what temperatures?

    Some material properties of concern: Electrical Resistivity, Surface Resistance, Dielectric Constant, Dielectric Strength, Dissipation Factor, Arc Resistance, Comparative Tracking Index.
  6. Will the part be used in an optical system?

    Some material properties of concern: Refractive Index, Gloss, Haze, Transmission (in desired spectrum, ie IR, visible, etc.)
  7. What temperature will the part see? And, for how long?

    Some material properties of concern: Coefficient of Linear Expansion, Specific Heat Capacity, Thermal Conductivity, Maximum Service Temperature, Deflection Temperatures, Vicat Softening Point, Glass Transition Temperature, Flammability, Glow Wire Test.
  8. What chemicals will the part be exposed to?

    Most material manufacturers test their materials with common chemicals. Contact individual suppliers for the results of their chemical compatibility testing.
  9. Is moisture resistance necessary?

    Some material properties of concern: Water Absorption, Water Absorption at Equilibrium, Water Absorption at Saturation, Maximum Moisture Content.
  10. How will the part be assembled? Can parts be combined into one plastic part? Will one plastic part need to be divided into two or more?
  11. Is the assembly going to be permanent or one time only?
  12. Will adhesives be used?

    Some resins require special adhesives.
  13. Will fasteners be used? Will threads be molded in?
  14. Does the part have a snap fit? Glass filled materials will require more force to close the snap fit, but will deflect less before breaking.

    Some material properties of concern: Flexural Modulus, Flexural Yield Strength.
  15. Will the part be subjected to impact? If so, add rounds to the corners to minimize stress concentration.

    Some material properties of concern: Izod Impact, Charpy Impact (Unnotched), Charpy Impact (Notched).
  16. Is surface appearance important?

    If so, beware of weld lines, parting line, ejector location, wall thicknesses, surface texture, draft, and gate vestige.
  17. What color is required for the part? Is a specific match required or will the part be color coded? Some glass or mineral filled materials do not color as well as unfilled materials.
  18. Will the part be painted?

    Some paints require a primer which may attack the molecular structure of the material. Some paints require a thermal cure so you will need to verify the material will withstand the oven cure temperture.
  19. Is weathering or UV exposure a factor?

    Some material manufacturers test their materials for UV exposure. Contact individual suppliers for the results of their UV testing. If no testing has been done, plan on doing the UV testing yourself. UV exposure is often overlooked and be very detrimental to the physical properties of the part.
  20. What are the required tolerances? Can they be relaxed to make molding more
  21. What is the expected weight of the part? Will it be too light (or too heavy)?
  22. Is wear resistance required?

    Some material properties of concern: Rockwell M Hardness, Rockwell R Hardness, Coefficient of Friction (Static), Coefficient of Friction (Dynamic). Surface finish is also a factor so adjust draft to allow for the desired finish within the tool and plan for no ejection on wear surfaces..
  23. Does the part need to be sterilized? With what methods (chemical, steam, radiation)?

    This requirement is similar to chemical compatibility. Some materials are tested and results published by material manufacturers, others will need to be tested for your specific application.
  24. What is the worst possible situation the part will be in? (For example, will the part be outside for an extended period of time and intermittently put in water, or maybe see a constant high load while submerged in gasoline.) Parts should be tested in the worst case environment.
  25. Will the part be insert-molded or have a metal piece press-fit in the plastic part? There are tooling, process, and residual stress implications of insert molded features and press-fits.
  26. Is there a living hinge designed in the part? Be careful with living hinges designed for crystalline materials such as acetal.
  27. What loading and resulting stress will the part see? And, at what temperature and environment? Will the loading be continuous or intermittent?
    Some material properties of concern: Ultimate Tensile Strength, Tensile Yield Strength, Flexural Modulus, Flexural Yield, Elongation at Yield, Elongation at Break, Tensile Creep Modulus, Deflection Temperture..
  28. What deflections are acceptable?
  29. Is the part moldable? Are there undercuts? Are there sections that are too thick or thin?
  30. Will the part be machined?

    Some materials are more amenable to machining than others.

This list is intended to be a starting point for plastic part design and is not a comprehensive design guide. Your part in your specific application may have requirements not listed here. If that’s the case, please leave a comment. We would love to hear about it.

Wondering where to start? Matweb and IDES are both excellent resources.

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

Nexus One Design Videos

These are a bit heavy on the marketing-speak and not as deep into the details as I like to get, but there are a few interesting bits making these videos worth posting; hardware and software designed in conjunction, optimization of the 3D engine, and insight into the magnitude of physical testing going into design validation.

Episode 1: Concept & Design

Episode 2: Display and 3D Framework

Episode 3: Testing

Episode 4: Manufacturing

Episode 5: Day One (all marketing here, but kinda cool to see all the pieces in action together)

I’d love to see how they make that sheetmetal housing. Hydroforming? Tricky welding?

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.