Monday, July 31, 2017

A random selection of good designs

Appreciating excellent designs is more uplifting than criticizing design. In order to balance my criticism of the Mars Rover, I wanted to offer accolades for these designs (none of them are mine.) Searching for what is appealing and useful is a much better pursuit than hunting for dirt.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The cost of art in design

The Mars Rover Concept Vehicle is eye catching art with the imprimatur of space exploration. But does the art in a design like this make a mockery of design? It seems to discard the facts that there is virtually no atmosphere on Mars and the planet's gravitational pull is only 1/3 that of earth’s. Therefore, aerodynamics and center of gravity issues are not too important. The dominant issues are safety and transporting costs to Mars.
Why the swept back windshield? Why not have a more cubic form to ease storage and enhance visibility? Won’t rocks get wedged into the wheel slots? Do the occupants want to see the sky or do they want to collect solar energy? Why the giant steering yoke? Do they want to ensure they don’t hang up the vehicle or do they want to look cool?
Human space travel is inspiring, which has a cultural value. However, it unnecessarily endangers people and wastes money that could be used on real space exploration. Adding this ostentatious hipness to space travel further denigrates it value – even in a concept vehicle that intends to inspire. Won’t some of the clever kids say, “Why is it shaped like a Hot Wheels car?”
We wish to be surrounded by beautiful things. Our aesthetic desires have real value and can be satisfied in design. However, there is a space for the ugly and purely mechanistic. Things that cost millions of dollars per kilogram to transport are one of them.

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Designers end up getting all sorts of jobs. I recently visited a former student who was doing fascinating work in set design. It is a great example of merging art, design and engineering.

Jeff was very gracious and toured me and my family around the wonderful sets made at Sight and Sound Theater. It is encouraging to see that people can take largely unconstrained ideas, draw them and then build them in such grand style. They bring much enjoyment to everyone involved.

I’m also impressed by all the attention to detail that is rooted in experience. Knowing where the actors wear out parts, where they actually walk, what parts have to be done with high resolution and which can be simplified.




Saturday, July 1, 2017

Weaknesses in design capability


My last entry had some meandering thoughts about the foundations for disciplines. Here let’s consider addressing design weakness through: 1) technology, 2) techniques or 3) talent (people).
Following are some of my materials (warning shameless self-promotion!) but there are many other sources available. Below are some approaches for common weakness among designers.
Weak at or hateful toward:
Use graphics/rendering programs or scribble sketch.
Model making
Use materials you are comfortable with like clay or foam core.
Work in a group, do creativity exercises, Develop techniques. Make sure you experiment with ideas you have never seen before, create surprise.
Impossibly complex, wicked problems
Check out all the discussion on design thinking:
Material selection
Surround yourself with real materials that you can touch and experiment with. Find favorites such as in my previous blog post:;postID=6130921847858290005;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=10;src=postname
Use software such as Excel (Solver etc.), Matlab or make new friends.

Identifying personal weaknesses in design capability

Disciplines are founded on principium. These are the necessary truths that allow the existence of a discipline. The principium cognoscendi is the ground for the knowledge of a discipline. While it is pretentious to write about principia essendi and cognoscendi, I always feel more comfortable going back to philosophical foundations. Even though principium cognoscendi ties more closely to epistemology than articulating what interdisciplinary actually means in design, it is fun to include these Latin terms because it reminds me of James Joyce’s irritating inclusion of Gaelic in his English writings. This snobbish behavior seemed almost mean to a non-Gaelic speaking person like me. I hold my grudges a long time. So I am joining Joyce’s disenfranchisement parade by using geeky philosophical terms in italics. Perhaps I should write these off putting terms in bold Edwardian script?

In any event, design is interdisciplinary to the extreme. We are working with art, engineering, math, sociology, psychology etc. Designers are not expert at all of these fields. In fact, we are probably weak in some of them. We may be bad at drawing, hate math, or fearful of science.

It is helpful to identify weaknesses and address them through either: 1) technology, 2) techniques or 3) talent (people). For example poor drawing skills can be improved by graphics and rendering software. Techniques such as ethnography can improve empathy and subsequent user centric design. Most importantly, key people can fill voids in abilities such as engineering or psychology. I will elaborate on these in my next post.

The problem with identifying your weaknesses is that you may wear them as a self imposed and enduring tag. It is sad to live your career saying, “I am and always will be bad at math so when I see numbers I run.”  Don’t be that guy.

BTW, ignore the first paragraph. This is why I'm not a journalist. Only a brave few will have gotten to this line...