Skip to content

Designers as part of the R&D team

As an industrial design consultancy it is always surprising to learn how blurred the role of (industrial/product) designers in a new product development team seems to be. Especially in English-speaking countries like NZ. Many use the term ‘Design’ synonymous* for engineering and industrial design practices even though there is a clear distinction and expert skill sets involved. This should be obvious in the simple fact that both disciplines are placed and taught within different university programmes and degrees.

While Industrial Design is commonly part of Art & Design, engineering will be part of a sciences department or even its own school. The misconception that both would be able to conduct each others work to the same level of expertise – especially within complex projects and a demanding market – is astounding and sometimes frustrating. Surely, an engineer might not need a designer when creating an internal gearbox, while an designer might not need an engineer to create a simple stool or table. However, things change once users directly interact with parts of a system or technical requirements become more complex. In both cases I suggest working in close symbiosis, with respect and an open mind rather than try to become a jack of all trades or turf defender at all costs. As the recent Design Thinking and Agile philosophies suggest, bring in diverse expert knowledge will enable outstanding results which is great for a business and the consumer/users alike.

Good products are the foundation for a successful business, just like a house needs a solid foundation to stand on. Any activity to build the business on top of that foundation, from supply chain management to marketing, will in the long-term be a waste of time if the foundation (product) is weak or market-irrelevant. The smartest engineering around a useless, difficult to use, unappealing or user context-unrelated product is like building on sand. It often surprises me that companies are willing to invest large amounts on the top floor, but skimp in developing a proper product foundation. (e.g. offices which outshine the own product portfolio , costly website and SEO around unappealing or outdated products, complex tooling for difficult to use products,…)

Other than a building though, the product foundation needs more than fulfilling technical-functional requirements. Nowadays products have a multitude of functions which are all linked to the user’s interaction and physical, social and cultural context. Otherwise any sneaker would do for walking. But as you know, there are religious followings around sneakers, which require more than a savvy production engineer to satisfy. Competing on lowest price might shift a few units, created solely by an engineer otherwise you need a designer on your team. Why? Because he is an expert in converting wants and needs from a complex user subculture into a tangible offering (or better form).

It is often stated that design is problem-solving. Despite being a misleading simplification of the complex process and profession of design, it is true that it helps to provide users with suitable solutions to their ‘problems’ (as far as they can be solved via a product, service or artifact). Such a ‘problem’ can also be displaying social status, belonging to a ‘tribe’ and more rather than just function (e.g. protecting and supporting ones feet during walking and running). Therefore interaction with a product starts already with the first (visible) encounter. Even if the product works perfectly, it might not even be able do prove functional or ergonomic qualities as it will not be picked up from the shelve.

Understanding and converting social codes and signals within and around different milieu is one part of the designers role.  Once the user actually grabs the product and wears it a chain of other interactions and behaviors are triggered which are enabled through attentive, empathic and clever design. Engineering is often essential to enable a product to perform such interactions, defined and detailed by design. So we really need each other. And this goes obviously beyond fashion products. It is as relevant to industrial machinery, health care products and more.

To stay within the building analogy, providing a structural sound shelter, as complex as it might be, is no problem for a civil engineering team, however the architect makes sure that a building is also tailor-made to the people (and organization/s) which are meant to use it. He also considers how it responds to the environment or context it is located in (not in regards of infrastructure, but socially, historically, aesthetically,..) rather than focusing on a system internal view alone. Both is necessary and equally important. It is rather a question of spitting the tasks relevant to expertise. While engineers should have ownership over technical aspects, designers (of which architects are a sub-category) should have ownership over the way objects (products/houses/…) and humans interact, by using, perceiving or communicating with them.

Not to forget, the popularity of the term ‘Design thinking’ shows that designers also have a set of tools and processes which are useful beyond their own area of expertise, especially in the fuzzy front end and in situations where the brief is still rather vague or poorly defined. While other disciplines have difficulties with interconnected and  shifting criteria sets (wicked problems), design is more familiar and at ease with such shifting targets. As such, designers can be great facilitator for innovation and problem solving processes.

This short interview is not an attempt to define design in general, but to highlight a certain role within a development team. Obviously the activities of product designers go far beyond the discussed and will be subject of other videos to come:

 

*(Note that this phenomena is mainly one of the English language world! In German, Spanish, French,.. the distinction is much clearer.)

Advertisements

Agile Sprints vs. Design Sprints

View story at Medium.com

Just found this article by J. Melone: Design sprint vs. Agile sprint

It relates not only to digital product development, but also to industrial design (and other design fields).

Since ‘Design sprints’ became popular, many get them confused with the much older process and term of ‘Agile Development Sprints’ and ‘Scrum’. However, Design Sprints are very different in nature. They are fast paced design thinking process cycles with user-tested, tangible outcomes, but mainly applied in the fuzzy front end phase.

In the first four comments following the article, the author gets to the core, by explaining the different aims and outcomes.

In a nutshell…

design sprints produce a raw, but highly viable concept and learning/insights around it while

agile sprints are actually part of the detail refinement (tangible products or services) or production process (coding/ UX/UI…) itself.

1 wE_z3b2_-VPeZAYXNev09g

Source: J.Melone, 2017

 

View story at Medium.com

Juror at Copic Award

Copic_ceremony1
Jury and Winners during award ceremony in Tokyo

 

In April I was invited to present the winner and head the jury in the Arts & Design category of the Copic Award 2017.  See https://copic.jp/en/news/20180419

I have a long standing relationship with Copic, since producing the two part educational DVD series on Product Design Rendering (in Japanes, English and German). However this was the first time to actually visit them in Japan.

It was also an honor to run a workshop and demo during the event. (Hope to get some footage to post it here).

ctp-DSCF3396-300x200

Live demo in during Copic 30th anniversary event in Tokyo

I was able to meet a great mix of people during the event. Even though I was teaching sketching and marker rendering for decades now, it is still a thrill to present in front of an international crowd of leading designers and artists. Despite markers are getting replaced more and more with digital sketching in industrial design, they are gaining more and more popularity, especially with crafters and makers. And it is still true that marker renderings, especially quick sketching, is an invaluable skill to have in the design business.

Let me know if you want to run an workshop for your staff, either full marker rendering, quick sketching or simple, but effective sketching of ideas for engineers (email)

Building Prototype Flipchart 04

Building a flipchart prototype from folded sheet metal. Here the process in reverse order. Some more about this product for Magnetoplan is following soon.

Magnetoplan_Beta04_show2-0

The first test assembly

The first test assembly

The first test assembly

The first test assembly

Testing the mounting of plastic parts

Testing the mounting of plastic parts

Exploded view with all essential parts

Exploded view with all essential parts

Exploded view with all essential parts

Exploded view with all essential parts

Pull out solution for the paper arms and the board corners. Such a solution will prevent also denting of the corners.

Pull out solution for the paper arms and the board corners. Such a solution will prevent also denting of the corners.

Final layout of top part of the board

Final layout of top part of the board

Inner corner parts for the board - not final shape yet, but something like that will benecessary to hold top bar in place and close the gap between the board layers.

Inner corner parts for the board – not final shape yet, but something like that will benecessary to hold top bar in place and close the gap between the board layers.

Rubber feet - they will be taken of and repalced with casters if needed

Rubber feet – they will be taken of and repalced with casters if needed

Testing the fit of the compartment in the column

Testing the fit of the compartment in the column

Marker compartment and handles for each side - both would be plastic injection molded

Marker compartment and handles for each side – both would be plastic injection molded

Plastic parts almost finished

Plastic parts almost finished

Initial test to build the marker compartment. Laser cutting turned out to be too complicated

Initial test to build the marker compartment. Laser cutting turned out to be too complicated

Paper hooks (pins) re-designed and 3D printed. Note that the top bar has a milled out flat section

Paper hooks (pins) re-designed and 3D printed. Note that the top bar has a milled out flat section

Column and feet mounted

Column and feet mounted

Legs from 10mm metal rod and 20mm endparts welded on. They are very sturdy and stabil.

Legs from 10mm metal rod and 20mm endparts welded on. They are very sturdy and stabil.

Test if colum parts fit. The inner MDF sections are for model making only. As the lower part should function as a paper roll compartment

Test if colum parts fit. The inner MDF sections are for model making only. As the lower part should function as a paper roll compartment

Finished column bends fitted with MDF joint brackets. These L Brackets should be made from laser cut aluminium or other rigid material

Finished column bends fitted with MDF joint brackets. These L Brackets should be made from laser cut aluminium or other rigid material

Tray to close board up on lower end. Herem ade out of MDF. In reality it should be billet aluminium or plastic

Tray to close board up on lower end. Herem ade out of MDF. In reality it should be billet aluminium or plastic

This MDF insert is for model making only and should be replaced by a joined part with the tray

This MDF insert is for model making only and should be replaced by a joined part with the tray

Glueing wings in place - we ended up using some weld points too

Glueing wings in place – we ended up using some weld points too

Finished bending of board and column (see inner sheet part)

Finished bending of board and column (see inner sheet part)

Bending half way

Bending half way

Bending rig in order to achieve R4 edge - we finally ended up with 5mm edge radius

Bending rig in order to achieve R4 edge – we finally ended up with 5mm edge radius

Laser cut sheet (0.8mm) for board before bending

Laser cut sheet (0.8mm) for board before bending

Hello!

Oliver Neuland, Designer

I am Oliver Neuland, a practicing and teaching Industrial and Transport Designer and Innovation consultant.

Design practice (Gestaltung) today is a task of providing the best possible solution for a specific user, suited to their environment and experience horizon, while producting profit for the enabeling company/manufacturer. It should act responsible for a economy and society as a whole while doing so.

Many of my colleagues agree with me that in New Zealand organizations – especially small to medium/ owner-operator businesses – the role of engineer and designer are often misconceive as  identical were in fact they are separate expert roles, dependent on working well together in order to get an idea from paper (or the shed) successfully onto global shelves.

This misconception can easily result in remaining to provide only basic functionality rather than a great user experience. This however is key for the transition from reasonable local sales to a wider market share.

In great new product developments getting to the point of making a product perform its core function the journey has only just begun! Factors like usefulness, usability, desirability, affordance and product semantic, brand values, aesthetics and more are key whenever humans interact with products and expected to spend money on them in a demand-driven market. They need to be continuously well considered before and while rigorously improving detail quality well after the first working prototype and even production run.

Having an experienced industrial designer and design thinker in an organization (like yours) would not only add an advocate for user-centred aspects of product innovation, but also contribute to design thinking processes in day-to-day operations and strategic planing.

Design Thinking and Agile processes have proven highly beneficial in the early stages of new product development and when assessing and evaluating initial and further developed ideas for market potential and feasibility on ground level – with real, honest user and market feedback, but also in an general business context.

I am one of these experts eager to take on your innovation projects as enabler as well as adviser or facilitator.

Read more here.