What is the Problem with Digital Design?
Tucker Marion, Sebastian Fixson and Marc H. Meyer, writes a wonderful piece for the MIT Sloan Management Review on the challenges of Digital Design without good Design Management. Here is an excerpt:
So, what’s the problem? There are potentially two. First, because the technology makes the work look complete at every step in the process, it can create a false sense of security. There can be a tendency to move on to the next stage in the process before teams have taken the time to deeply learn user needs, construct alternative solutions and vet both of these. In other words, the “fuzzy front end” of the design process may be cut short — to the company’s long-term disadvantage. This is, we believe, one of the major reasons product failure and success rates have changed little over the past several decades.
Second, the very ease with which designs can be digitally drafted and prototyped might afford engineers the opportunity to “try it again and then, again and again.” In other words, the final design process can remain fluid longer than is useful. The ability to quickly iterate designs can lead to a spiraling effect, chewing up time and labor expense and effectively mitigating the benefits of digital design itself. Research has shown that these “virtual design rounds” can account for 75% of total project development costs, and they can delay project completion. For example, Airbus suffered severe delays in the development of its new A380 due to issues with CAD revisions
While this is something I have observed anecdotally in my years in the industry, the authors have backed it up with some good research. The reality is that engineers and designers should NOT be designing in CAD. Period. The only time someone should get into CAD is when the design direction is finalized and you need a dimensionally resolve a design.
The challenge going forward is that CAD is getting really easy to use these days. So the problem becomes an issue of process and as the authors say an over emphasis on CAD leads to team shortchanging “…valuable activities such as extensive user research, intensive parallel concept development, and deeper systems and architecture design as part of the front end of development.”
This fuzzy up-front work should be kept fuzzy. However if CAD is brought in too early in the process, things look too complete. Especially when you throw V-Ray into the mix. Furthermore, you do not want a client to latch on to an idea early in the process, especially if you don’t really know if it is going to work of if the inside is not even shelled!
The author’s second insight on the repeated iteration problem is an interesting one. In many ways it feeds into a designer’s creation engine and his or her passion for perfection. A designer could spend a whole bunch of time tweaking radius and curves just to ensure it’s “right”. Again this supports the notion to stay out of CAD until the design is done.
Another way to look at it is that, if you find yourself tinkering around a design, it is time to step away from the computer and either get back to sketching or making foam models.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not have anything against CAD. I would even consider myself an expert in Rhino and have also been extensively trained in advance surface modeling in Pro-E. But just like a pencil, CAD is a tool and we should be very aware of what it can do and it’s limitations (which are often difficult to see).
Anyways check out the rest of the article, as it has some great real-world examples. Enjoy!
Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)
Brian is a multidisciplinary Design Leader with more than 18 years of experience leading strategic design programs that drives successful Brands and Fortune 500 businesses such as GE, Philips, Nakamichi, Flextronics, Ericsson, Hannspree, and HP. His passion is in helping organisations leverage on Design Driven Innovation to make people’s lives better.