Marco Perry is well placed to assess what makes engineers and designers tick since he's both.
With a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's in industrial design, the principal of New York design firm Pensa LLC addressed the ever-popular issue of facilitating teamwork. Perry spoke at last fall's annual international conference of the Industrial Designers Society of America in Miami.
Regardless of where we worked, he said, referring to himself and his current Pensa partners, we always found there was an animosity between the design and the engineering departments. The designers felt the engineers were there to kill all good ideas, and engineers always felt that designers came up with those crazy, kookie ideas that were impossible and, he admitted slyly, they were right.
When we started our own company, we really wanted to bring those two teams better together and work on folding in a close-knit team.
Perry, who also serves as vice president of IDSA's Northeast District, acknowledges the key roles both professions play in developing successful products.
Design's aim often is aesthetic beauty, exceptional user experience, those types of things. Designers thrive on divergent thinking. At the same time, engineers want to produce things that are durable, reliable, on budget and delivered on time. They rely more on convergent thinking, on finding an established rule of thumb.
While acknowledging that there are many types of each animal, Perry felt comfortable making some broad observations.
Engineers strive for standardized solutions, because they make sense, because they have repeatable success, he said, noting how standardization of the threaded bolt, for example, was vital to the industrial revolution.
Additionally, judging whether something is great design is often very subjective, and in the eyes of the beholder. Successful engineering, on the other hand, is usually quite objective: Make the product cost-effectively and make sure it works reliably, and the bridge doesn't fall down.
On top of all that, the management to which each group reports often rewards them for achieving their specific aims, rather than necessarily for a common goal that might help measure the success of the final product, such as, perhaps, hitting a certain sales target. A product's real-world success, after all, would tend to indicate it is both functional, works well and fills the creative vision of its customers.
I'm striving for a common language of the success for all employees. The company's goals need to be common to all.
The key, Perry feels, is to try to get these cross-disciplinary teams on the same mission, with a clear understanding of timing in the product development process. All parties need to know when the time is the right to think outside the box and explore new concepts, and when it's time to reel it in and focus on execution.
Designers and engineers, as a team, need to come up with various divergent ideas, and then, through their own prisms, evaluate and debate what works, what doesn't, and why.
The Formula 409 household cleaner is called that, he said, because the first 408 attempts failed. It's OK to fail, Perry stressed. Be sure to use the many rapid prototyping tools available out there today, to try new concepts and build such experimentation into the basic cost of product development, he said.
Avoid the relay race approach, he cautioned, where the design department does its thing and then hands off the baton to the engineering department.
The right way to structure it, Perry suggests, is to make the designers also be accountable as to the feasibility of making the end product. But, at the same time, he said, It's also not a well-engineered product if it doesn't meet the vision.
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