October 5, 2023
Does nature hate a vacuum more than a designer hates a blank sheet of paper? We will never know for sure because nature is too busy to write a blog twice a week. In truth, you never start with a blank sheet of paper. Without a “mission statement,” a project might as well be doodling. Many efforts are doomed from the beginning because the parties involved do not spend enough time defining the objective. You might end up with a beautiful mechanism that is a bit too big, a bit too small, or way too expensive for the market. It might weigh too much or lack key features the customers did not yet know they “needed.” A classic example of the latter can be found in studying the mini-van market of the late 1980s and early 1990s. That segment was booming and every company wanted “in.” We happened to be shopping for a new family car and I had heard good things about Brand F’s offering. The showroom visit went well right up until my much better half asked about the availability of sliding doors on both sides. Brand P had just announced this option and I could see in the salesman’s eyes that he had just lost another sale. He valiantly mouthed the company line that it was “safer” to have the kids exit on the curb side, but his customer was envisioning her children battling over who got out first. Brand F waited several years to correct their mistake and had to abandon the entire segment soon afterwards. As noted previously, there used to be much greater differences in product technical specifications. Enthusiasts could argue for hours over whether it was better to have coil springs, leaf springs or torsion bars. Very few people care any longer. If the product meets their requirements, is offered at a fair price, and can be delivered in time — they are ready to order. Our job as designers is to stay current with market trends and remain flexible enough to respond to them. No one wins if we are arguing over the product specification. The battle has moved to production efficiency, and designers have a role to play in winning the war against waste, scrap, and long cycle times.