Thursday, May 30, 2019

Design is stressful!

This is an excerpt from the epilogue of my newest book:"Intense Design: Product Design Lessons From Cold War Era Skunk Works"

Design is stressful. You don’t have a clear path to success. Your stomach churns because your design seems to rely more on gut instinct and desperate assumptions than on things you can explain mathematically. Most painfully, you think you haven’t found “the great idea.” You wonder what you haven’t done correctly and what you have missed.

On top of this angst is our ego. It follows us and taunts us. We want to say “This is my design,” when in reality, 99 percent is existing stuff that you rearranged. You want to develop a great design, but you realize your work is in response to someone else’s insight into the need for your design in the first place. Your idea did not fall into a valley of awaiting desire, but was sculpted from rock laid before you by others.

I have lost sleep and dealt with a lot of angst in the process of design. Personally, I battle with:

1) worrying about missing the best design solution and 

2) subordinating my ego to the design.

I want to believe there is some ideal design, and I want to keep the creative process going until I arrive at this ideal. The ideal design doesn’t seem to be the case as I look at the man-made world around me. All designs are ephemeral, replaced in good time by designs more suitable for the day. I have had technically sophisticated designs get completely replaced by a new technology. I’ve had embarrassingly simple designs that have lasted for decades. Basic forms and functions already exist in nature, from geometric forms in crystals to round trees rolling down hills. Designers more often than not are manipulating what already exists. However, we tend toward perfectionism and strive to create the perfect design. Because our identity is in design, we wish to separate ourselves from the “amateurs” and dazzle the world with our ability. We can get some peace in knowing that our design is not the ending point, but one of many points in a galaxy of evolving ideas. Is there a perfect poem or painting? If so, has it been read or observed, or does it live in an artist’s mind, never to be degraded by actual execution on paper or canvas?

This leads into the problem with ego. Pride is a fundamental fight. We want our mark on the world because we believe we have something distinctive to contribute (and we do!). We don’t want to be someone who shovels coal all day with nothing to show for our labors but a pile of coal. We want to create. We were meant to be creators. We identify ourselves as such, and strive to execute this desire in our profession. Therefore, we want all our professional work to start with “let me show you my design.” However, we work in a collaborative community with an intellectual ecology, whether across time or contemporaneously. We wonder if we are a singular sensation like the Slinkey and Salinger, or copious creators like King and Kandinsky.

See the book at: 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Engineering for Industrial Designers and Inventors made it to the Best Product Design Books of All Time

BookAuthority Best Product Design Books of All Time
I'm happy to announce that my book, "Engineering for Industrial Designers and Inventors: Fundamentals for Designers of Wonderful Things", made it to BookAuthority's Best Product Design Books of All Time:

Saturday, May 25, 2019

STEAM Education Hurts Art

Leave art alone. Why has art gotten drawn into STEM education, producing the cute acronym STEAM? Is art the decorative box that you put technology into? Have artists devolved to stylists?

The problem with STEAM is that art is pulled in as an afterthought, it is anchored to something not of its own making.

Art is often connected to technology, whether paint pigments or casting processes. However, art should not be constrained by these technical matters. Art merely uses the tools of technology. Technology shouldn’t use art.

Every year, my students and I make and launch rockets. The science is pretty simple: make everything aerodynamic and keep the center of pressure behind the center of gravity. There is no math. It is a lot of fun and it is always magical to touch the sky with rockets. However, it is not really STEM education. It is building stuff and having fun.

Launching a rocket or flying a drone is not STEM education, it is using technology. The acronym STEM is problematic in that it gives equal value to all subjects and suggests a sequential movement that is wrong. One must first understand math and science before moving to engineering and finally technology. Using technology has nothing to do with understanding the science and math that undergird it. It is unwise to equally couple the easier insights of using technology with the more difficult challenges of understanding science and math.

Technology is more important than science and math for most of us. We want X-ray technicians to be expert practitioners on safely operating X-ray machines. We don’t care if they know calculus or physics. But our educational system is locked into developing structured, theoretical foundations for professions.

Interdisciplinary study is good but we should study MSET and A instead of STEAM. Maybe MSET&A education is too hard to pronounce, let’s call it design education and move on.

And one more thing…

While it is easier to define what art is not, the Oxford English Dictionary commonly uses terms such as creative expression, beauty and emotional power. However, non artistic expressions can be creative, non artistic expressions can be beautiful.

One of the OED’s actual definitions is:

The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.


Rocket party: STEM-like activity but actually model building and fun.
Painting party: Art with nothing to do with STEM.

Birds nest: I took this photo in my yard today. Is the bird an artist?