Archive for August, 2009

Design Principle 5: Pay Attention to Details

August 28, 2009

Many problems crop up during usage of a product or service when designers fail to pay sufficient attention to details during the design and specification stage.

A classic example of this the case of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. She was the longest and beautiful suspension bridge in the world. Even during its construction engineers did notice the unusual vibrations the bridge made but they choose to ignore the inherent resonance problem. As a result this beautiful bridge collapsed within four months of its grand inauguration. This beautiful bridge would have continued its existence only if the designers had paid sufficient attention to details.

Examples of such unmindful behavior of designers abound.

For instance, a vertical sea water pump created problems for four years. Here again engineers overlooked the resonant frequency of the stool on which the motor was placed. They also overlooked the critical L/d ratio of a sleeve bearing that generated a broad spectrum of frequencies through rubbing that excited the resonant frequency.

Similarly, in another case the internal cooling fan of a large motor was so badly designed and constructed that it broke twice in a year. The engineer simply failed to take care of the aerodynamics of the cooling fan.

We also find such cases in products and services that we use daily. The humble electric kettle that I have in my hotel room is one such product. The base hasn’t been designed well enough. It is so unstable that it might cause an unfortunate accident. And the thermostat does not work. Shoddy design – I must say.

To say the least design is a work of love. Care must go into every detail. And the beauty of detailing comes out in the specifications and construction of the product.

Then only a product or a service is a pleasure to use.

Design Principle 4: Observe the User

August 23, 2009

This microwave in the photograph looks good. I am the not so proud owner of this oven. But ‘looking good’ is part of design. Otherwise people would not buy.

However, I take this as a badly designed product since I could not use it from the day I bought this. The trouble was that the microwave seemed to have a mind of its own. It simply refused to listen to my commands.

And why was that? The electronic touchpad command control centre got damaged thrice in its very first year, indicating a design defect.

Moisture somehow got into it and damaged it again and again. This was probably because this oven lives and works in an Indian Bengali kitchen in Kolkata having over 90% relative humidity for most part of the year and is surrounded by Bengali cusine of steamy spices.

So the poor designer overlooked the point. They simply didn’t care to observe as to how their great product is being used by the not to happy users and respond by modifying the design. The company was happy to send their service mechanics to replace the ‘touchpad’ control for a relatively small fee.

They think that they are doing a great job.

But I, the poor user, definitely think otherwise. By now I have atleast asked ten people who were taken in by the stunning silver ‘looks’ not to buy this and suffer.

So dear designers beware of this fatal mistake of not bothering to observing the user in action.

All that gliters is not gold!


Design Principle 3 — Solving Problems & What Managers can learn

August 7, 2009

Reynolds: “Solving problems is what designers do.”

 They solve problems or otherwise take the current situation and try to make it a better one.

There are four important things managers can learn from designers:

1) Embrace restraints.

Designers are all about working with restraints (time, budget, location, materials). Identify your limitations and then create not the perfect solution, but the best solution given the restraints. If you can do it with less, why add more?

2. Take a risk.

Change does not happen without taking some chances. Designers are comfortable with the notion that they might be wrong, but still they experiment and try new approaches.

3. Question everything.

Answers are important, of course, but first come the questions. Designers are used to asking myriad questions that may lead to the right question — which will lead to the right answer.

4. It’s not about tools, it’s about ideas.

Designers from various fields spend a lot of time away from new technology tools, using pencil and paper to sketch out their ideas.


Duarte: “The primary principles of design are eminently transferable to management. They aren’t just visual guides but guides to a state of being that makes sense for institutions of all types.”

Hierarchy brings order and meaning to messages and organizations alike. Just as employees need to identify who is leading, audiences need to come away from your communications with a clear understanding of what’s most important. If there’s confusion about who is in charge or the order of steps that must be taken, it can increase the chance of failure.
Balance is the deliberate arrangement or weighting of elements on the page, stage, screen or in an organization. That does not mean all things must be in balance all the time. It is often effective to jar people and thereby effect a change in behavior or thought. Be aware, though, that once something has been thrown out of balance, it is the nature of the universe to find a new state of equilibrium.
Contrast focuses attention or highlights differences. Contrast requires context: We can present
a new vision of the future and contrast it with the status quo, but we must adequately explain the benefits, challenges and opportunities inherent in the change. The value of contrast lies neither in the black nor the white, but in the tension between them.

Clear space, oft maligned, is one of the most important elements of design. We want to utilize all our resources, not “waste” space, time or talent by leaving them unused. But what happens when we use things to 100% of their capacity? When a desk is 100% covered with papers, it is no longer a useful space. When people are kept busy 100% of the time, no time is available for generating new ideas.
Harmony brings together hierarchy, balance, contrast and clear space in a meaningful way. Harmony happens when a vision is agreed upon, communicated well and acted on with conviction.