7. Shifting your Mindset
Typical Engineering Mindset:
“Enough of the pretty pictures and get on with finishing the design so we can make this product manufacturable.”
Typical Designer Mindset:
“Engineers have zero artistic vision and don’t realize that aesthetics are crucial to selling the product. Thanks for butchering the vision!”
Don’t mistake me…not all mindsets are like the stereotype…however, if you do fall into this category, there are solutions.
The fact of the matter is product design excellence is very much dependent on the affectivity of all facets of design. Each team member must bring their “A” game to the table. The final product is a true culmination of all disciplines working together toward a common goal. That goal is to make this product the best that it can be.
Paradigm Shift in Status Quo Thinking
However, just because everyone brings in their “A” game does not mean they have the best solution. Now how is that possible? If you have respected professionals from each discipline that performs their job at a high level, how is it possible that you did not end up with the best solution?
Time to start innovative thinking! I’ll start off by saying knowledge is power. I recognize that there will always be some sort of conflict between disciplines. It is indeed healthy and a certain amount of conflict is needed in order to think and rationalize ideas. There is no way to completely avoid it. However there are ways to optimize your impact to your design team that will help put you a cut above the rest. That is…getting learned! Not necessarily about your own discipline, but about other disciplines. The only way to reduce conflict is to break down the barriers to misunderstanding and type casting of jobs (ie engineers focus on engineering, designers focus on design).
This does not translate to “must I become an engineer if I am a designer and vice versa?” It means that you try to understand a little about engineering to have more impact on your design.
For example, if you are a product designer that needs to make a product that uses plastic injection molding process; understand the limits of the process and costs associated with complex design vs. a simpler design to reduce tooling costs. Think a little more pragmatically. Gain enough knowledge to challenge the engineer. Some principles in plastic injection molding do not require you to have a degree in engineering. They can be learned such as the merits and properties of certain plastic materials from polypro, ABS, or nylon.
“We don’t want to have a feasible solution at Phase 1; it takes away from our creative process.”
This is the common criticism that I have heard from design colleagues. That does not mean we should create a feasible solution during Phase1. It means we take an active role in rationalizing the design and refine it during Phase 2.
The chart above shows where Industrial Design can continue to play an active role during the feasibility process. The more you engage in the details, the better you are at minimizing repeated mistakes. I would argue that as a designer moves on to their next project, it may be valuable to observe the processes through Phase 4 in parallel.
I am a firm believer that you can never have too much knowledge. I don’t believe knowledge can ever take away from your creativity. If anything, it adds to it. Throughout your entire life, you must continue to learn and build on your current skill sets. Why restrict your skillsets to your professional discipline? The more knowledge you have with understanding process, the more you set yourself apart from others. You just need to know when to leverage it.
Similarly, engineers can also benefit from the very act of sketching out ideas. It broadens their mind and perspective in formulating creative solutions. I always encourage my engineering colleagues to learn more about design. Design has always been more than creating “pretty pictures”(one of engineering’s lackadaisical terms for design). It’s about solving problems in a creative and unique fashion that brings value to your customers.
8. Are there limits in Design?
In this day and age, virtually anything is achievable and producible. You are only limited by your own creativity, technology (which is always advancing) and most of all, your budget. All it takes is a large enough budget and projected earnings to justify the budget. Apple is a fine example of this as money is no object in the research and development of innovative products. Their products are driven by industrial design rather than engineering. Therefore, the engineers must do what it takes to make the design “vision” a reality. That costs money….and when you can sell 30 million iPads a month; you have all the money you need and market demand to support innovative solutions.
9. Short and Long Term Goals for building an Innovative Approach
Short Term Solution: Attitude
The short term solution is to convince yourself that shifting your thinking or attitude towards a particular field, works in your favor. I am a firm believer that everyone has the ability to be creative in their own way and excel to greater heights. One can easily find a way to reach their “unrealized potential.” It all boils down to attitude. You have to be receptive to the idea of learning different subjects. When you do the same job every day, you tend to pigeon hole yourself into a comfortable zone where it prevents you from thinking outside the box. This is a phenomenon that occurs for every discipline including Industrial Design.
One main point I would like to make regarding attitude.
“Once popular status quo thinking is established, one rarely challenges it. It is accepted as the norm.” – Arvind Ramkrishna
I remember when I first interviewed for an entry level product design position with a consulting firm in California before graduating from college. It’s the first time I experienced the attitude that engineering is bad for the designers mind. The senior designer was intrigued about my educational background in engineering and design but felt that it was a deterrent to my creativity. At the time, I really did not know what to think because I did not have enough experience to challenge it. Hopefully, from the experience I have described in the Case Study, you can see this thinking methodology is false. It’s fair to note that it could have been true but bottom line is that I did not allow it to happen.
Letting someone know that too much technical information stifles creativity, tells me they have the wrong attitude and are just limiting themselves. If you have already made up your mind that it will not work, then it simply won’t. I guarantee that it won’t be because you made an honest effort to try it and put it into practice constantly.
You have to know when to apply certain ideas and to what phase of the development. That comes with experience and the willingness to learn. If you don’t have the right attitude to be open to new ideas, you’ll lack the knowledge to understand the potential for it to affect your future ideas.
Learning the ins and outs of both disciplines had been the best strategic decision I have ever made but without applying what you learned, the knowledge would have no purpose.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” – Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs learned Typography when he attended college and fell in love with the subject not because he was required to take it but because he was curious enough to want to learn about it.
It wasn’t till he released the first Macintosh computer that he recalled the attributes of San Serif fonts and implemented it on the keyboard. It was of course a smashing success.
At the time…Mr. Jobs admits he did not have enough foresight to know where he would use this knowledge or if it would be of any use at all.
The fact of the matter is, you may not know when you are going to use information but building your knowledge is clearly never a bad idea.
So to summarize, changing your mindset is a critical element and is the underlying foundation that will help you to grow and see things “differently” on all levels. Be receptive to learn new ideas, disciplines, subjects, etc. The more knowledge you have the more respect you gain from others which leads to more influence to your final product.
To be honest, I hated the switch from design to engineering. Initially, I found it very difficult to cope with the drastic change. However, it was evident that my initial negativity was preventing me from not only learning the new tools that I so desperately needed, but also the ammunition that was necessary to realize my full potential and write this article envisioned post-graduation.
I have learned to cherish every experience, whether good or bad. I work for a terrific company that provides me with a rich framework and opportunity to build and grow that experience.
Long Term Solutions:
Educational institutions such as engineering or private design schools should start to see the value of introducing subjects from other disciplines that will help to aid their creative thinking processes and build not only innovative solutions but also the practical application.
We talk about how education must be improved in this United States and part of that solution lies in the way we must emphasize creative thinking and problem solving even at the elementary school level. This proposal is applicable not only to the U.S. but many other countries that are used to running their curriculum status quo.
The power that a designer or engineer has to be able to not only sketch their ideas but to also look at implementation and execution is a priceless talent to have.
It will allow you to:
- Innovate on a different level by implementing creative solutions in less time.
- Increase your impact to the final design
- Build your own knowledge base that will enable and feed you with more ideas
- Reduce overall development costs
- Minimize production risks that could affect the quality of the product
- Set yourself apart from the competition
The bottom line here is that companies need innovation but there is not enough knowledge on how companies can leverage their talent effectively. Combining disciplines is the natural progression and evolutionary change that is necessary for this to happen.
I have read about and witnessed a lot of R&D that occurs with the absence of Industrial Design and similarly, Design will tend to go solo and create their visions without the backing of engineering. In some cases, both solutions can lead to money wasted with no real practical solution. That said, there is nothing wrong with going full out and creating beautiful exteriors of automobiles or products that stretch the boundaries between concept and reality. It gets the public excited about the brand and brings optimism and pride in the creativity and innovative thinking of the company. However, reflection on those ideas and how to bring them into reality should be the focus of R&D and should not stop at the conceptual stage.
So how can one accomplish this?
The best way to bring about new product is to understand the change needed in the product itself and whether it is appropriate for the market. You then need to understand the technologies out there (or being developed) that can help realize the vision. Part of this process is to understand the limitations and cost of the technology and whether a suitable price point can be achieved through a predicted volume.
Finding the right balance and making optimal use of both hemispheres of the brain is challenging. However we all have the potential to be able to leverage the hidden talents within. Whether we know this or not, all of us can be creative in some way. You simply cannot function without using both hemispheres of your brain. Perhaps you feel that you cannot draw but play a musical instrument. Playing an instrument uses both the left and right side of the brain. You have to be able to read the music (left hemisphere), but to avoid playing the music mechanically; you must leverage the emotional component (right hemisphere) to bring the music to life! The same goes for drawing, depending on the level you want to achieve. To understand the technical aspects of drawing such as perspective, you must tackle it analytically and make sense of it. Then you must practice before it becomes an emotional experience to create and sketch with rhythm and fluidity.
It may not be a practical solution to be able to completely change the way some businesses think or restructure a designer or engineers thinking methodology. It will take a lot of time and focused effort to welcome new ideas into your current frame work of thinking.
However, designing a product does not mean aesthetics alone. The final product is a culmination and reflection of all disciplines working together toward a common goal. To make the best product they are capable of.
I am reminded of one of the greatest inventors and true archetype of the Renaissance Man. His name was Leonardo Da Vinci. Da Vinci had the abilities beyond comprehension because he was not only gifted but had an undying thirst for knowledge and understanding how things worked. By understanding the technical details, his concepts gained respect and credibility that carried through in virtually everything he imagined. He visualized the fantastic from helicopters, flying machines, tanks, solar power, and calculators. Just think what one could accomplish if they did not set limitations to their job responsibilities.
Why does any of this matter to you?
We live in an extremely competitive world where we must not only compete for jobs domestically, but globally. Outsourcing trends seem to continue with companies looking abroad for talent at cheaper costs. Other countries like China and India are searching for ways to change the status quo in their own educational institutions seeking more creative courses and disciplines. They are hungry for knowledge and creativity. It will get more difficult to set yourself apart from the competition. For this reason alone, it is to anyone’s benefit to go above and beyond their jobs to not only create value for your company…but more importantly…yourself. You owe it to yourself to be the best you can be.
Reflecting on my own experiences and appreciating history I have to admit that Da Vinci was just an amazing human being that was driven by his desire to constantly learn without boundaries. Take the attitude to learn for the sake of learning. Hopefully as we all search to understand the evolution of design, we can realize that positive thinking and the quest for knowledge is truly the only key to creating innovative products no matter your field of expertise. Who knows….perhaps someday as you reflect on this article, you may indeed decide to embrace some of these concepts in your quest for knowledge and self-improvement. When that time comes, you may very well be…our next Renaissance Man.
About the author: Arvind Ramkrishna is the creator of the inspirational Automotive Art and Design blog Driven Mavens
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