Here’s James Dyson, the king of vacuums, on the importance of building prototypes and the lack of prototype usage in his son’s industrial design schooling: “It was an industrial design course, where you weren’t allowed to make what you designed! I never understood that: if you have an idea you need to make a version of it to see if it works. That’s why I built 5127 prototypes of my vacuum cleaner – only then was I happy with it.” (source)
Now, I’m not going to argue with the importance of building prototypes. There are qualities of a product you can really only get a feel for with something “real.” Nothing on a computer screen will suffice. Virtual reality may offer an alternative, but not yet.
Still, there reaches a point where prototyping becomes rather stupid.
And I think that making 5,127 prototypes of a vacuum cleaner is very definitely past the line of reason.
No, seriously. A prototype is meant to verify a design, and they cost money. I can see a dozen, maybe two dozen prototypes for something as complex as the (original) Dyson vacuum. But five thousand? No, that’s just not right.
I don’t mean to say that Dyson or the Times reporter lied about this. I mean to say that Dyson, for all his fame and expertise with vacuums, just did it wrong. There are many analytic tools available to a design engineer. Most of them are far more economical, faster to develop, and far more accurate these days that building prototypes. That’s not to say that prototypes serve no purposes – they do. But their usefulness is in many ways replaced by newer tools. And so one simply doesn’t need that many prototypes.
I’ve found a bit of supporting evidence for Don Norman’s unique perspective on technology and needs, in the form of what Steve Jobs once told John Scully about a visit by Jobs to Edwin Land, inventor of Polaroid instant photography.
This post is not about creationism or intelligent design. It’s about product design and how, at the macroscopic, societal level, design seems to be a component of a global evolutionary process. It’s drawn largely from the work of a recent graduate student of mine.
True story: thirty-something years ago, at institution X – a very large institution with tens of thousands of employees – there was a particular institution-wide department in charge of providing all computing services to all other departments, even though the computing needs and expertise of each department varied very, very widely. Some departments could pretty much take care of their own computing needs – esoteric as some of them were – whereas other departments lacked the local skills to manage word processing software on desktop computers of the day. Continue reading “A bad feedback loop”→
The proceedings of the 2013 Design4Health conference are now available for free from the Lab4Living website. You can download individual papers, abstracts, or the whole proceedings as three volumes (PDF).
Some new research suggests that evolutionary fitness is predictable even if the route taken is not. This actually bears on the difference between function and behaviour, both in nature and in designed products.
One of the most critical parts of systems modeling is defining the boundaries between systems. Different boundaries will lead to different system models, so choosing the “best” boundaries for a modeling goal is really important. Here’s how I do it.
In 2000, Eekels published a paper  that among other things discussed a type of inference called innoduction, which is supposed to capture some aspects of design creativity. I don’t think it’s necessary to develop a whole new style of inference, and that the usual inference styles – particularly abduction – can do the job admirably.
An article in IEEE Spectrum discusses the case for “replacing” power plants with “battery farms.” Besides the obvious problems that batteries don’t generate energy but only store them, there is some merit in implementing battery farms. Most importantly, they serve as a stock that can help balance the differences between rates of power generation and consumption. That systems aspect is particularly interesting to me.
I came across an old link I’d squirrelled away about research on consumers’ mindsets. I found the way the research was written up for public consumption to demonstrate quite crisply the ethical difference between design and marketing.