Material Thoughts - Design for Manufacture or the Customer?

You don’t have to be a designer to appreciate great design.

Does it get any better than the Apple iPod?

In terms of function, all it does is play music from a small computer hard drive. This may not seem all that impressive given that transistor radios were unleashed upon us in 1954 and other portable music players like the Sony Walkman have been available since 1979. Yet with sales figures exceeding 2 million IPod’s in the last financial quarter compared with 860,000 in the previous quarter you can’t argue with the numbers.

It’s a great success, which is now evolving into a photo and music album in the form of the recently released iPod Photo.

So why is the iPod so successful?

Simple really, really simple design.

It does what it’s supposed to do, it’s easy to use, it works with the other machines it needs to work with, its fun to use and, as an object, its very desirable.

Now, I’ve never used an Apple Mac, but I often sit behind my ubiquitous beige PC box, desperate to find a reason why I need an Apple G5 and one of those big floaty screens.

On top of the design chic there’s the warm fuzzy feeling of buying an Apple product.

Currently, everything about the look and feel of the company and products feels right and they also do their bit for the planet by using materials in an environmentally sound manner and adopt “design for recycling” principles.

There’s no rocket science involved in understanding these principles, it’s really simple stuff like:

  • only use one polymer type for the large parts.
  • label the parts with their polymeric type so it’s easy for them to be sorted when they are at the end of their life.
  • limit the use of paints on polymers.

Dyson, the manufacturers of the bagless vacuum cleaners are another great example of a company where leading edge design principles run through the company from the CEO, James Dyson, through the manufacturing environment to the Parisian shop where you can buy the latest in effective vacuum cleaners in a pleasant environment.

Driven by his core belief that there had to be a better solution than the age old design of bagged vacuum cleaners, 5000 prototypes later, James Dyson was there. Well almost.

A bit of investment later, a few patent disputes and you have for the first time ever, vacuum cleaners that really work with functional, uncluttered styling that leads to them also becoming an object of great desire.

So if effective design is simply about effective functionality and simplicity, why do so many companies get it so wrong?

Take the automobile industry. 50% of the world’s population is female, but is there a car designed specifically for women?

Well it’s moving that way a little. Volvo has shown some leadership in introducing a car designed by women for women and Land Rover have initiated a “women’s panel” to help them with their design.

For the benefit of the rest of the Auto Industry, we thought it would be interesting to take a straw poll of car owning ladies in the local coffee shop to ask them what they would do if they had an unlimited budget and the ability to change the design of their vehicles (sample size 3, average age 30 something with kids).

Our totally unrepresentative survey revealed the main design features that appear to be missing from the “SheKar” are:

  • Sizeable Handbag Storage – preferably within lunging distance of the driver’s seat for mobile phone access.
  • A Dustbuster (small cordless vacuum cleaner), located within, and charged by the vehicle.
  • A Microphone and roof mounted loudspeaker for road raging at chauvinistic male truck drivers (Ed. don’t think they were serious about this).
  • Very large elastomeric shunting/parking bumpers/fenders.
  • Non-scratching paint, with a high specific resistance to dog claws.
  • Window tint coatings with a surface hardness greater than diamond to survive internal razor scooter collisions, ice skate abrasion testing and fishing rod impacts.
  • Self cleaning windows – preferably every time the window is lowered and raised.
  • An essential oils dispenser, located somewhere within the air conditioning system to mask all dog smells, soft drink spills and 2 year old chips from global fast food producers.
  • A modification to that beep-beep noise from the reversing sensor to, brake, BRAKE, WHOA BRAKE!

Current common design features that are apparently no longer required on the SheKar:

  • Large engines that need petrol.
  • Skirts around the bottom (of the car).
  • Loud exhausts.
  • 4 wheel drive.
  • Spare wheels.
  • Bull bars.
  • All external accessories and trim (only internal driver bling-bling is required, apparently external bling-bling has been known to interact with chain–link fences during parking).
  • Dashboard symbols that don’t mean anything.
  • Dashboards
  • Plastic fittings that are a pathetic attempt to look like walnut wood veneer.
  • Music systems with lots of button.
  • Music systems with not enough buttons.
  • On board computers.

Before we’re bombarded with anti-sexist e-mails, we’d like to point out that all the above comments are genuine and from real life car driving ladies, although in the traditional MyAZoM style we’re sure many of their comments are tongue in cheek.

The obvious conclusion is that the gauntlet is now thrown down to all you automobile designers to pay more attention to your feminine side!

Now, the second topical design challenge is how do we design a voting system suitable for a very large country? …………. “mm, what if I produce some parchment and trap some graphite in the middle of a wooden tube that can be used for marking an X on the parchment?”

Nah that’ll never work, let’s use some complex perforated cards and lots of IT equipment, that’ll keep everybody happy and ensure a fair result!

This article has been extracted from the October issue of MyAZoM, the monthly newsletter from If you would like to receive your own dose of MyAZoM, containing similar fresh, witty looks at the materials around us, subscribe your free monthly copy.

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