The great divide is still there

I recently have had a lot of meetings with vendors and engineers trying to get our designs realized. Each time after the different meetings, I noticed that there is still a great divide between the workings of engineers and designers. Its really not about the ability in speaking each other’s language or terminology but about a whole mind set and approach to product development.
This is interesting in particular as there is a lot of talk and concern of outsourcing strategies and of contract manufacturers moving up the food chain providing value add services like design or mechanical design. If you ask me, I will boldly state that contract manufactures (CM) will never be able to provide upstream industrial design services. Simply because the people running CMs are not designers.
This dawned on me after a meeting with what we thought we a designer’s dream CM. This was not the first time we met up with them, but from the beginning they sold to us that they were different from the run-of-the mill CM. They claimed they were customer oriented, flexible, provide design advice and best of all able to build anything we wanted. They kept on insisting that the PCB and components were not important, as they would build the PCB (printed circuit board) to fit the shape of our unique designs. Finally they sealed the discussion by mentioning that they wanted to focus and worked with brands to develop intellectual property. What a great marketing story.
I had though WOW this is amazing. Imaging the ability building a design with no internal constraints? Possible? I did not think so. From my experience, operating completely without mechanical constraints is as likely as snowing in Singapore. Anyways we went along with them.
We refined our designs to meet our best case scenarios. But it went rapidly down hill after that. After studying our designs. They kept on insisting that our design would not work because the designs size could not fit components they wanted to use. We were like this is not right, not when they did not provided us with component layouts in the first place! What about building things to fit our unique designs?
We countered what they said. We told them that we are not engineers and we needed their help to advice us, as promised, what components could fit in the product, and as part of the design refinement for engineering we would modify the designs accordingly. But they insisted that reiterations were not efficient as we should have figured out the shape in the first place. Furthermore they kept on talking about the same things over and over again, in particular asking us about detailed specifications when we had relied on them for recommendations.
In the end I gave up and asked them bluntly what did they need to do the work? They replied a completed design with details specifications and a budget! I was shocked. Their definition of “flexible” was doing exactly we want and operating within our requirements. We needed to give them concrete limits. We had though to work with them on a collaboration level to create a working specification and towards a draft budget they wanted!
To cut the long story short, I told them if you want to support the development of intellectual property they better get use to iterations! I also decided at that point was the people to talk to the CM should be the R&D engineers not us the designers.
Anyways the take away from this is that when designers develop products its about dealing with unknowns, making reiterations and changes until the right solutions are found. This almost involves in thinking, trying and exploring. Each time trying again when a mistake is made.
Engineers on the other hand, as the CM told us are practical people. Details orientated, focused and need to work within limits. Their objective is to get to the solution as quick and efficient as possible. Making mistakes are not an option.
It was a tiring process, but I’ve lean for one thing engineers will be engineers and designers will be designers. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but I hope we can all learn from this pain. Including myself.

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