Left brain, meet right brain

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

Three Jigsaw Puzzle Pieces on Table

When Louis Henry Sullivan said, “Form ever follows function,” he was talking about architecture of buildings. But today his 19th-century credo is cited in many other spheres where engineering and design interact, including technology and software.

The lines are blurring, though, so that in the future, engineering and design will be seamlessly integrated.

Good designers are engineers,” says Blade Kotelly, senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and vice president of design and consumer experience at Jibo Inc., which makes a social robot for the home. At the same time, customers are no longer as wowed by raw technology and they expect an easy, and aesthetic, user experience.

Design runs to the core of things,” he adds. “Large companies realize they’re being outdone by smaller companies that are putting design at the center of their thinking.”

Brainstorming Brainstorm Business People Design ConceptsThis design-thinking approach can be hard for engineers to understand, Mr. Kotelly says: “The beginning of the design process looks like very little is happening, because the designers are trying to get their brains around the problem fully. Before that, they ask whether the problem is even a good one to solve. Then they figure out what’s going to make the solution successful, then they begin the typical design process of research, prototyping, testing, iterating.”

Modular structures or open-source components that can be swapped in or out in a modular way reduce the risk of change, so “you can iterate faster,” he says.

“It’s important to think architecturally about the system—how it breaks out at the top level and the smaller and smaller components—to be able to observe technology as the landscape is changing,” Mr. Kotelly says.

The Internet of Things is making it possible to create systems as never before. However, we’re likely to soon stop talking about the IoT as it becomes the norm.

“It’s like plastics in the 1960s,” says Dirk Knemeyer, a founder of Involution Studios, a Boston-area software design studio. “The distinction of things being plastic was super-important. A couple of decades passed, and plastic things are just things.”

In the same way, “in the future, everything that is digital and many things that are not will be in the Internet of Things,” he says.

Systems require holistic thinking. And that requires integrated teams. “Getting to a successful integrated model that puts design in an appropriate strategic place can be challenging,” Mr. Knemeyer says. “It requires overcoming the biases and preconceptions of stakeholders who are already in place and who often have a skeptical view of design and creative expression as part of business. They also have existing fiefdoms they control, and fear that order might be upset by redesign of people and processes.”

Tearing down management silos provides a new problem-solving methodology and mindset that can augment the traditional perspectives, whether financial, operational or technological.

The engineering perspective is raw capability: what is the range of possibilities technology can do,” Mr. Knemeyer says. “Design says, ‘from these technologies, here are the things that can be done specific to the needs of customers.’”

Addressing customer needs is at the core of high-impact design, or design that brings a meaningful change in increasing revenues and reducing costs, he adds.

Business People Team Teamwork Working Meeting ConceptAt the same time, design thinking doesn’t just create efficiencies, but new ideas, says Mathias Kirchmer, managing director of BPM-D, a West Chester, Pennsylvania, consultancy that helps companies increase performance through cross-functional business and information-technology initiatives.

In the classic approach, a company starts mapping the processes it needs to accomplish, then optimizing so the processes will be carried out efficiently, then writing the actual software, then implementing or installing it. “It’s very inside-out driven,” Dr. Kirchmer says. “In today’s world, that’s a huge problem. First, it’s too slow. We need a faster approach. Second, the inside-out view doesn’t deliver results to drive profitable growth. It doesn’t improve the customer experience sufficiently. It’s good to be more efficient, but that doesn’t make enough of a difference for the client and move the organization to the next performance level.”

Companies compete in just 15% of their processes, he says. The rest is commodity—that is, matching competitors rather than differentiating beyond them. That high-impact 15% requires innovation enabled through design thinking.

Dr. Kirchmer sees four aspects of design thinking:

• empathy to look at high-impact processes from a customer point of view;
• transfer of ideas from unrelated fields to introduce innovation;
• storytelling to communicate the customer journey and intended innovations in a way that will resonate with all the involved teams;
• rapid prototyping to quickly get to the visual design of user interfaces and software development.

The melding of disciplines means that in the future, designers will need to be more knowledgeable about core science or core engineering. “The way science is moving is going to pull all of us into a more quantified scientific environment,” Mr. Knemeyer says.

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Foamy Headphones and Smelly Clothes: Designing for the Second Moment of Truth

By Estelle
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This post originally appeared at Core 77

High tech products

News about a bad product experience travels quickly. Maybe it’s because of the fact, according to a white paper “Designing for the User Experience,” that five times as many people will tell a friend about a bad experience than a good one, or that social media makes it easier than ever to share that negative message, but news of design shortcomings and failures spread fast.

If I’m buying a pair of headphones and the sound is good, but they’re not comfortable, they’re too small for my head, they are too foamy… I’m not going to have a good Second Moment of Truth with that,” explains Stuart Karten, Principal and Founder of Karten Design.

The same goes for a bottle of laundry detergent you may have purchased for its swanky packaging: if your clothes don’t come out smelling clean, you probably won’t buy it again. That Second Moment of Truth (SMOT) often relies on the user experience, what happens when a consumer actually uses the product. As more and more of those products move towards the digital space, that experience comes down to a digital interface, the intuitiveness of those interactions and ease of use. Karten elaborates:

In general, there are multiple trends that are happening in the consumer electronics arena. One is that things are becoming rectangular boxes with user interfaces. The “stickiness” and the appeal and the connection are moving into the digital space. That puts a lot of challenge on—not only the overall form factor of the product on that first level—but the second level of that digital engagement”.

There are other challenges as well when it comes to designing high-tech consumer electronics. “With High-Tech, the technology is usually brand new, so this thing that you are designing is actually morphing as you move down the development cycle because, as time is changing, the technology is advancing,” explains Rob Brady, CEO and Design Director at ROBRADY, which focuses on consumer, industrial, marine and medical products.

Both Karten and Brady agree that designing for that second level requires a user-centric approach, spending time with the target audience to anticipate and better meet their needs. For electronics and other high-tech goods, that means understanding the incentives behind why a consumer would want this product and the motivation behind their purchases. “People make a conscious decision that they want a new pair of headphones, a new laptop,” says Karten. “They want it to define who they are and the person they want to be.”

Watches rendering

Designing with a broadly aspirational approach often means putting a series of virtual prototypes in front of focus groups, simulating interaction and providing a realistic rendering that can then be iterated upon before even printing out a physical prototype. Once the limits of virtual prototyping have been reached, focus groups can be brought in and products are placed in their hands. As these products move into the digital space, however, so do those focus groups and companies like Dassault Systèmes are creating solutions that virtually emulate the product development process from coming up with a concept to testing it in a online retail or working setting.

Ideation & Concept Design

You build a model and you test it. You do an alpha and you test it. You do a beta and you test it. You prototype early and often,” says Brady. “At the end of the day, it’s all about humans interacting with products and designers making these different products approachable and accessible.”

Do not miss the new edition of MADEin3D contest “Cup of IoT”, featuring the theme of Internet of Things! Register to the MadeIn3D community to enter the contest now! Also, you will want to check out our white paper titled “Designing the User Experience”.

Enter the Cup of IoT contest!

The World Can be Changed Through the Power of Design

By Vincent
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Concept design of Smartwatch

My colleague Michel and I recently imagined and developed a new product concept related to connected objects. With this in mind, we had a conversation with Jean Hong, Product Designer at Dassault Systèmes, to talk about his perspective on industrial design in the consumer electronics domain.
We decided to share that conversation with you to get your reaction and comments. Feel free to let us know.

Question (Q): If you had just three days to design a new electronic connected device, how would you proceed?

Jean Hong (JH):

Well, it depends on the objectives I get. Re-styling an existing product is obviously faster than defining a fully new concept. A few years ago I would have asked for about seven days to produce a new concept proposal. I usually needed this time to deliver a pretty exhaustive mix of hand sketching, 3D modeling, and realistic rendering.

Today, with the design solution I adopted, I can overcome this challenge, and deliver a finalized concept within three to four days. By the way, this is the kind of time pressure many of my customers ask me to deal with.

Electronic connected device sketching

Q: So you are telling me that you are now delivering the same output in three to four days that required seven days few years ago? Are you really delivering the same output?

JH:

Good point–there is a big difference in the output. Today I am able to deliver a concept with higher quality, ready for manufacturing, and containing more details than before in less time.

Sketching on paper is very time-consuming. You need multiple viewpoints, details, and colors to make yourself understood by other project team members and customers.

Now I can directly and quickly sketch my idea in the 3D environment. Keeping my design intent, I rely on this 3D sketch directly to model the product with the clay modeling approach of “Imagine and Shape” application.

Ideally, sketching and modeling should be done at the same time in the same environment. It is now possible with this software solution. I can mix these two ideation steps, evaluate, and validate the volume of my product concept. Technically speaking, I save a lot of time because no data import /export between different tools is needed.

3D sketch of a SmartWatch 3D rendering of a SmartWatch

Q: You talked about “design intent.” Why is it so important for you?

JH:

Many times products lose their initial design intent because so many people are behind the project and there are many steps before production. The concept shape, proportions, materials, details, and finishes express the high-level message I want to communicate. If this message is misunderstood or not technically specified correctly, the mechanical engineers will have a different interpretation or no idea at all, which will impact market success.

Q: How are you dealing with this issue?

JH:

Now that the entire project team relies on the same cloud collaboration platform, I can iterate in real time with the mechanical engineering team. All the specifications I add either to sketches or 3D models are directly usable. Because we work on the same data, the risk of misunderstanding is minimized. In addition, because the engineering data is visible to me, I can detect any issue and find a solution with the engineering department before it gets critical.

Q: Is the product design validation 100% digital?

JH:

We now have an incredibly powerful digital definition. We take advantage of it to share, communicate, and finalize the design concept. Did you see how realistic product rendering can now be with advanced effects such as physical light and reflections applied to the accurate materials definition? This can be done even by people who are not expert in this domain.

One might think that digital is enough, but this is not the case. At some point in time I need to touch, feel, and place the object in its real physical context. Weight sensation, hand-grab, and materials touch cannot be fully evaluated digitally yet. Taking the example of a smart watch, how can we validate ergonomics without being able to wear it? For this, anytime I feel the need, I just press the 3D print button, and create a product prototype.

Rendering smartwatch

Q: Do you think that we could see the digital world merge with the physical one in the coming years?

JH:

This is already happening. 3D print is starting to be affordable for people like you and I. Virtual reality devices already propose an immersive approach, and prototypes start to address more human senses such as touch and taste. The boundary between digital and physical is getting ever blurrier. I am fine with this, provided that I can still access user-friendly applications. I am sure that in the very near future, thanks to all the new applications, I will be able to leverage my design intent for usages we just can’t imagine today.

3D print product prototype

We really think that we can change the world through the power of design!
What about you?  Share your comments below.

Want to know more ? Visit our Ideation & Concept Design website, or Watch our video about new Concept Design and read the Whitepaper “The power of Design Thinking” written by  Phil Gray MDesRCA, Managing Director, Quadro Design Limited, part of Sagentia Group.

Vincent Merlino and Michel Monsellier are passionate members of the Dassault Systèmes High Tech Industry Solution Experience Team.



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