The Blend of Science, Function & Style
What is ‘Total Design’? I suppose many definitions exist, but we like to encapsulate the concept as the ‘Elegant Solution’. It involves more than just the look or the feel of a product. It includes more than great function. And, it encompasses more than intuitive user interaction. It’s bring together Science, Function & Style.
There are some products you get a hold of and think “Wow that is a cool design”. For whatever reason, the item just works. It feels good, it looks good, and it works. We call it the ‘Elegant Solution’ — which is the essence of ‘Total Design’.
Simple Everyday Example
A spoon is a pretty good example. Although many artistic renditions exist, spoons almost all have the same recognizable shape and function. Some focus on lightweight and inexpensive (think plastic spoons), while others focus on artistic presentation (think fine silver). Yet, still others are more utilitarian (think daily wear in your silverware drawer at home).
With whatever the artistic preference, the spoon is the functional portion that makes it work — and makes it easy to use. The item is so common we almost forget about material choices, design attributes, and manufacturing methods. Or, the engineering balance for those items. Yet, all of these things make the Total Design as the complete package.
One reason the spoon is such a good example — even with the well proven concepts, some designers still get it wrong. Think about the last plastic spoon that was too small, or too flimsy, or had rough edges that scrape your mouth. Integration of function with presentation into a great product is more than just a repeat. As proven by the spoon, making the elegant solution is bringing all the parts together in one pleasant experience.
Seeking Total Design Solutions
A big part of engineering is finding new solutions to challenges. Sometimes it’s overcoming a problem. Other times it’s figuring out a faster, or more efficient, or easier, or more effective way. Then, sometimes solutions are more ‘Blue Ocean’ — totally new, creative, or innovative. With all of these there are opportunities for Total Design. Sometimes there is open freedom (like designing a new product). Yet, more often the scope is limited.
Here are a few examples of Design Solutions within the defined scope.
Design Examples from the Bicycle Industry
Let’s illustrate with some actual examples of designing new bicycle forks.
Example 1. The first assignment from the customer was design input on the function of a damper design. The challenge was making the design they had work more effectively. The engineering solutions were applications of principles in both design and manufacturing. With scope limited to existing components and existing operational parameters, the design and development was an optimization, rather than a recreation.
Example 2. The next step was simplification. Could we simplify the design? Could we use fewer parts? This challenge requires a little more thought and creativity, and the solution came with innovation and an entirely different damper concept. Here the design field was more open allowing greater creativity. The result was new IP resulting in patents. This fits the concept of the “Elegant Solution” within its limits, but is not really total design.
Example 3. Eventually, a bigger challenge: Can you build a 1 kg hydraulically damped fork? This is innovation on many fronts. The engineering solution came in pieces a little bit here, and a little bit there. The result: A 1.1 kg fork. While it is just shy of the goal, the solution is still, the lightest hydraulically damped production fork.
Fun fact, it was raced to a USAC Mountain Bike Marathon National Championship by Travis Brown.
This is more the concept of Total Design because it involves the blend of Science, Function & Style — inside and out.
To accomplish the weight, the original Aeris had a Titanium Crown, Scandium Stanchions / Steer Tube, Magnesium Lower, and special internals. Function, Science & Style. The drawback? Cost. See the image.
There is obviously more to the story which we won’t go into. Though they still use the Aeris name, the forks are different now.
The Pieces of Total Design
As illustrated in the above examples, seeking the elegant solution is not limited by the project scope. You can find elegance in solutions for the most mundane of engineering problems. And we do.
Total Design, on the other hand, is combining Science, Function & Style. Science – including the engineering, materials and physics. Function – with all the various aspects from User Interface to mechanical and electrical functionality. Then style – the artistic and attractive aspects of design. It’s not by accident that really great products include all 3 of these characteristics.
Engineers are often get criticism for lacking Style in their designs. Generalizing, the analytic skills of great engineering are Left-Brain, and the artistic portions are Right-Brain. Of course, no one operates totally one side, yet we do tend to one side or the other.
The third, which resides for both Left and Right brain activity is Creativity. Can you become more Creative is an interesting topic. Crossing the two (Left and Right) with creativity and combining the results is Total Design. It’s something we strive for at Synthesis.
You Know It When You See It
There isn’t a good method or process for always landing on that elegant solution. It isn’t a computer program that you just plug into. Seeking the elegant solution is a concentration on all the aspects of design that must come together. And, bringing in creativity to explore areas beyond the traditional or obvious.
When you have conflicting design requirements, it’s time to explore the design space with out-of-the-box thinking. When your goals reach beyond the current traditional thinking, it’s ripe for thinking more in the Total Design arena.
While we can’t just dial up an Elegant Solution, bringing in all the aspects of Total Design — Science, Function & Style — our odds of hitting it improve. The funny thing is, you definitely know it when you see it.
Dialing Up Total Design
While we have some fairly simple examples in this post for description, don’t be deceived. Even the blend of the Crescent Wrench and the Vice Grip took a lot of years to come together. It seems so obvious now, and it’s incredibly useful, but it’s not that simple. And, the more complex the product, the harder it is to find that sweet spot in Total Design.
So it’s not easy, but that’s the beauty in seeking the Elegant Solution in all you do. Sometimes that elegance doesn’t present itself, but if we’re looking, it’s often right there.
Good luck with all your engineering and design efforts.