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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Design Thinking

Ever since I took a serious interest in the origin, principles, and process of design thinking, I've started to look at products in new ways. What used to be simple short-lived frustrations -- with the way an object doesn't work ideally in a way I'd like to use it, for example -- have blossomed into full-blown grievances, often accompanied by a conviction that, with just a little time and effort, I could come up with a much more appealing product.

(Okay, maybe the umbrella isn't
entirely at fault in this case.)
Take, for example, umbrellas. Is the inside of an umbrella not the most uncomfortable place to be? Especially for women, whose hair inevitably becomes tangled in the spokes every time. How many times have you been poked in the eye (or ear or face) by an umbrella user walking with or by you? How many times have you pinched, sliced, bent, or scratched your fingers while opening an umbrella? For me, every time. What a horrible experience!  What drives us to use a product that we know will invoke cursing or weeping with every use?

Which is why, when I look outside and see rain, I automatically run an internal risk analysis: Injury by umbrella vs. flat, wet, mop-like hairstyle for the rest of the day. Usually I opt for freedom from dangerous, encumbering umbrellas and design my outfit around a hat, scarf or hood.

Now, if I were an umbrella manufacturer, hearing a customer (or rather, potential customer) testimonial like this would be a sign of complete and utter failure on my part. Clearly, a pretty new pattern or more ergonomic handle isn't going to win this customer over; the umbrella would have to be completely overhauled before such a person even considers a new purchase.

In looking at umbrella alternatives, this actually seems cool!

Here's another example: my laptop case. Mom & Dad just bought me a beautiful new Vizio Ultrabook, a top-of-the-line laptop (which, by the way, except that it's lacking a built-in SD memory card reader, is exemplary of good design). Naturally, I want to protect this investment with a good home (i.e. case). The one I chose has nice, stiff corners that won't let the laptop get its edges and corners banged up. It has a great zipper pocket for accessories, a handle, and an easy-access zipper on one end.
HOWEVER, and this is a big however, the case in its present state is completely unreliable and I won't even use it unless it's put into another bag. (Think about it: a case that requires a case? That's ridiculous.) Why is it useless? Look at where the zipper ends. In the zipped-shut position, the zipper pull is located at the start of a rounded corner that provides zero resistance in the unzipping process.
Since gravity works in the downward direction, the universe is against you if you're trying to protect your computer with this bag. You're just asking for that zipper to unzip itself!

My worst fear (and I've had a nightmare about this) is that I'm walking down the street and, by the pure, natural momentum of an arm slightly swinging while walking, the zipper slowly works its way unzipped and my slick little ultrabook slides out onto the sidewalk. It's so lightweight that I don't even know it's gone, until what rises from behind me are the joyful cries of another pedestrian who's picked it up and knows he's won the laptop lottery.

Exhibit A: Carabiner
This design flaw could be easily and inexpensively fixed by a mini carabiner-type hook or clasp to secure the zipper. Or even an extra piece of fabric into which you could tuck the zipper to keep it flush against the side of the case and therefore far less likely to be snagged on something and unzipped. I feel that, for a company with a name like Logitech, a little more logic -- or maybe some field testing? -- is in order to ensure better product development in the future.

Well, now you have two examples of the design ponderings that occupy my thoughts as of late.
No doubt these sudden urges to (re)design my world have been encouraged and brought to the surface by my environment. Helsinki was declared the World Design Capital (WDC) in 2012. I've also been spending a bit of time in the Aalto Design Factory, which one fellow student described as "the cradle of Finnish design, which is the cradle of the most progressive design in the world."  Now I just have to recruit some engineering students to bring all my designs to life. Let the fun begin!


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