I’m lucky enough to be in the position where I can have an ongoing dialogue with multiple design engineers every day. Sure, sometimes the conversations are a bit feisty as things heat up in the pddnet.com comments section (where cooler heads rarely prevail), but often it’s a conversation over the phone, on the job, or somewhere in between.
A reoccurring theme recently crept into another one of those discussions when John Kelly, CEO of Atomo Diagnostics, discussed the “assumed knowledge” that engineers project into a product. Now, I have heard worse backhanded compliments, but does Kelly have a point? Are engineers too smart for their own good?
Essentially, he states that a common pitfall for designers is the expected level of end-user intelligence. Unfortunately, he claims it’s too high — the expectation, not the intelligence. It must be frustrating, borderline infuriating, to have to dumb down a new product design simply because mass appeal runs in parallel to keeping it simple.
READ: Self-Testing Takes Center Stage
Feel free to choose your root cause for the de-evolution of man, I typically swing at easy targets, like reality television, USA Today, and increasing adult interest in adolescent literature. I will concede that sometimes your frustrations are warranted, and that extra bell and whistle may be the features that turn a good product into a great one, but you must always consider the end user.
Kelly has a unique point of view as he is trying to bring a simple, self-testing diagnostic kit to a global market. Until his engineers made it out into the field and visited these developing communities, they were unable to fathom the lack of education gripping these people. As far as they were concerned, the product was easy enough to use.
As it turns out, that was not the case, and now that the product is ready for market, the company is running into challenges with the packaging – is there an appropriate word count for instructions going into an illiterate community? How do you bridge that gap? You could rely on photos and graphics as long as they didn’t turn into some IKEA-like stick figure monstrosity (always with the hex key, really?).
READ: Engineers, Too Smart for Their Own Good
The biggest takeaway from the discussion was Kelly’s investment in getting engineering boots on the ground. The global innovation community is now connected more than ever, but it seems to have hamstrung itself when it comes to interaction and tangible experience.
Sure, field trials and testing still occur, but how often is that process outsourced or, better yet, executed in partnership with another company (i.e. contracted out). Exactly how much information do you glean from your partner’s abstract or executive summary? You know that you’re not going to read that entire document. 26 pages? Are you kidding me?
Part of the reason that some engineers are too smart for their own good is because they don’t know what they’re up against. They’re penned in to cube farms and leashed to increasingly powerful design and predictive software. Get out, get experience, get … dumber?
What’s your take? Are you too smart for your own good? Send comments and potshots to [email protected].
This blog originally appeared in the September 2014 print edition of PD&D.
Filed Under: Infrastructure