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.