User vs customer
When designing, always have the user in mind! Sometimes the customer and the user is the same person, but often they are not.
There is more to this: by thinking in user terms you will pay more attention to user values. To understand the user even better you should become the user. Talk to users, study users, and try to understand how it is to use the product while being very small, very large, light, heavy, etc. This calls for emphatic abilities.
A consumer product normally has three values.
Image values are extremely important and are easily destroyed by sloppy design. One little mistake that goes unnoticed can hurt even the value of the brand. Elktest, need I say more?
- Functional value - the product does what it is supposed to do.
- Perceptional value - this is its form, smell, color, surface texture, etc.
- Image value - BMW is not the same as Opel.
- When engineers from the supplier of the tunnel console of the Volvo V40 designed the storage for CDs, they fitted the compartment with small ribs where the bottom and sidewalls meet. Their aim was to give support and sideways stability to the stored CDs. Try putting a CD away while driving the car in traffic. You will find the ribs get in the way. Obviously the engineers only looked at the product through the computer screen, or at the most checked a first shot sample on top of their desk. They never became the user.
What these examples show is, among other things, that becoming the user help catch the things that have fallen through the net of Quality Function Deployment (QFD) and other specification methods.
- Try driving a Volvo V40 in sunshine wearing Polaroid-type sunglasses. The liquid crystal displays in the instrument cluster go completely black if you tilt your head just by a few degrees. The design engineers never thought of that. They just designed according to specifications. Had they become the user they would not have failed.
While maximizing functional, perceptional, and image values help make the right decisions during product development we must also think of our business, our company must profit, and also society as a whole must not suffer from what we do. A way to remember this is to think of BUS:
There is also an ethical side to this. As a general rule - if it's unethical: Do Not do it. It may not be good for your near future career, but you will be more pleased with yourself and also managers who are not psychopaths are more and coming to the understanding that good ethics is profitable and beneficial to the company.
Design & verify concurrently
Not many years ago engineering design of the part/system/total architecture, was followed by the building of prototypes. The prototypes were then tested and test results were analyzed. Often there was no time for redesign in case of failure during test, so the design engineer designed the parts sturdy enough to pass the test. This, of course, was a waste of raw material and money. This is type A in the figure.
When CAD was introduced, CAD-drawings and later CAD-models were used for making test specimens. After some time it was realized that the models could be meshed and used for FEM analysis making the physical testing obsolete, case B. (This has not completely happened, and will never happen as long as legislation in many countries demands physical tests, such as crash tests).
Unfortunately B has the same drawback as A - the waste of raw material and money. The reason for this is simple: in both cases physical tests and FEA are used at the end of the process to verify the design, not allowing any iterative design loops for reason of time shortage. Findings from FEA were not fed into the design process.
The best method, C, consists of short design & FEA steps. By using modern software such as DesignSpace® from ANSYS, that works in the background of the CAD-program and automatically creates the mesh, the engineer can test and modify the design many times during a single day.
By starting out with a coarse FEA-model and making it finer and more precise as the design itself is developed it is possible in most cases to have the design verified the very instant that it is changed or a feature added. With this method there is no need for a validation activity after design is finished. Because the design is already optimized as regards strength, vibration, fluid dynamics, etc.
Method C allows for quick iterations. This is fortunate because the second time you do something you do it faster and better than the first time. For each iteration you get to know the product and its characteristics better.
There is an additional meaning to the idea of starting with a coarse concept and then refine it in subsequent steps, sometimes iteratively, and that is - you develop the CONCEPT continuously from start of project until finished product. This runs contrary to the established paradigm in engineering design, but is never the less a more efficient strategy. The mindset is characterized by a preparedness for continues concept development.
Comparison between different development strategies. A: old-fashioned, B: traditional, and C: modern.