Designed to fail: An absence of commitment

Ugh! photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

I had a discussion recently with someone about a not entirely uncommon situation consultants can find themselves in. You get hired to solve a problem, but the reason they have hired the work out rather than do it internally is because they aren’t really committed to making the project a success. What do you need to know to best deal with this situation?

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FreeCAD for Industrial Design

The open source community has produced a number of serviceable tools for two-dimensional design. These include GIMP for bitmap graphics and photo editing, Inkscape for vector art, and Scribus for page layout. On the 3D side, Blender, Wings 3D, Art of Illusion, and a few others have served the needs of those doing surface and subdivision modeling. And while lots of good work has been done using those tools, I haven’t found surface and subdivision modelers very useful for industrial design work, except for occasional rapid ideation or visualization. FreeCAD is different in that it’s a parametric modeling tool, which has a history of effective use in ID.

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Designing out designers?

I’m teaching myself React, the JavaScript library du jour that’s meant “for building user interfaces.” Interestingly, it doesn’t use a templating language. Instead it offers JSX: an extension of the JavaScript language that lets you write JS code that looks very much like HTML and that can be rendered into HTML. On the surface this seems like a cool idea, but the apparent simplicity starts to break down when you want to do anything other than straight-line HTML.

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Designers are developers

It’s common in the web and app development industry for stakeholders to make a distinction between “designers” and “developers”. One of the things I’ve noted about this distinction is that it opens the door to antagonistic perceptions and even behaviors between the two camps. At a conference a few years ago, in the presence of developers expressing disparaging views regarding designers, I suggested that, “Designers are developers.” The deafening silence suggested I had to explain what I meant:

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Displays for classic Arduinos

Arduino driving TFT display

You often hear that to work with graphic displays on the Arduino platform you need to use a Mega or other high-performance board. I got curious about how much you can actually get done on an a measly Uno and similar boards based on the classic ATmega328P. You can find the ongoing results on my wiki.

The story so far: 128×64 and smaller monochrome displays are usable. The smallest TFT displays much less so.

AVA preamp chassis

AVA “SLR” remote controlled preamplifier chassis

A recent chassis redesign project I undertook for Audio by Van Alstine is now in production.

This project pushed “constraints as creative resource” to the limit. The client specified that the design language and elements from the product’s predecessor be maintained—down to the knobs, faceplate treatments, and typography.

The project brief revolved around electronic and industrial design work to bring the client’s preamplifer platform up to functional parity with current market offerings within a framework that fits with the client’s existing manufacturing capabilities. The result is a platform that is significantly more capable than what it replaces yet easier for the client to manufacture. It is also amenable to comprehensive appearance changes if and when the client deems the timing is right.

So while it might not seem there’s much innovation on the outside, there is a lot of innovation for the client on the inside.

I write therefore I’m improving

According to Fast Company, John Madea is positing that writing skills are important for design because many interactions still depend on text. I’d like to approach this from a different angle. What I’ve found in my personal development is that the better command I develop over my natural languages, the better everything becomes. Visual thinking, musical thinking, engineering thinking … everything.

Some people have described my approach to design as linguistic. In addition, I think of coding primarily as an extension of linguistic skills. So the apparent close relationship between natural language skills and other skills might just be me. But since language is such a core part of how the human mind works, it could very well be universal.

So, yeah, writing.