Tao of Design

The following post (as always) is of my opinion and can be summed up in one sentence: Design is highly important and is the molding to shape the product and design has to be balanced.

I am not just talking about UI,  a design coding aspect (engineering), and  process.  There’s always pros and cons to an item and having some sort of archetype/prototype helps to make the abstract ideas more concrete.  Not everyone has an easy time with the transition, so using the prototype to show the pros and cons helps with the matter.  To be able to play with it physically.

Steve Jobs once said that most people don’t know what they want until they see it.  He also stated something along the lines that creativity comes from putting parts of what already exists from various places and piecing them together.

Here’s a story of something I came up with in high school to win part of a competition and it’s relevant to design.

In my sophomore year, I joined the Physics Olympics Team and got stereotyped in being Japanese as “Hey, you like folding paper, right?”  I was given the task of just getting some points in a division called the Egg Drop competition.  The basis of the competition was for the competitor to create a device out of only regular 11 x 8 printing paper and tape to have an egg survive a three story drop.

Being that I like a challenge, I said sure.  I had no idea where to start at first, made tons of designs, but all were huge in scale.  The idea I had was basically some sort of contraption that would slow down due to air friction.  It was a beast of a device when I was done that year.  I hated it, but it worked.  It basically looked like I was holding the torch from the statue of liberty.  During that first year I was set out to see what other people were doing.  The first place, which I took high interest in was done by a guy from Wooton (or whitman… I forget which).  I remember the design well though.  It was a cone shaped bottom with fins along the side and a clever and time staken pieces of paper that acted as corrugation inside the cone to cushion the blow of the impact.  From there, I immediately knew the design I wanted.  I basically combined what I knew from physics and the elegance of design of the small cone shape but without the hand made corrugation.  I wrote it down on my sketch book that day on my design and set it aside for a whole year.  We won overall that year, but I felt like I had to redeem myself for a crappy design that I didn’t care for.

I was so confident in my design that I didn’t bother making a prototype until my teammates got mad at me and said “look.  at least test it once.” This was the day before the competition.  I opened my sketchbook, and showed them the design and then went to work.  I showed everyone the finished product and they were skeptical, but said… if that thing works… (you fill in the blank)

First attempt…

Success.   The cone shape at the bottom hit the nose dead on, and you can see concentric rings on the impact.  The egg remained unscathed.  Not a crack.

The next day in the competition, a repeat of the day before.  The scoring system was based on the inverse propertion of the weight * height against the top scoring team.  The design I had came in first with 400.  The second place got half that, and everyone else got a quarter or less.  The accusations when people saw that the cone was empty and there wasn’t many parts to it went flying.  Things such as the paper was tampered with, etc.  The rules changed the following year so that we had to build the device on site within 1 hr.

For the following year, I trained a couple of freshmen to make the pieces that I needed to put it all together.  Basically 2 big pieces, and two small strips of paper.  We built on site, the same device from the year before in a construction assembly format and built 2 devices in less than 15 mins.  And won again.  I also showed them the design and trained them for the following years.  Whether they kept the design/competition, I have no idea.  I hope that they had modified it to be smaller and lighter if the competition is still there.

So what’s the design?  It uses the laws of physics of drag and conservation of energy.  The idea that potential energy can be dissipated with kinetic energy and the idea most of the idea came the smallness of the cone and straps from the first winning design that I saw made, a helicopter seed, and a parachute.

It looked like an ice cream cone, with the egg strapped in wearing a sombrero that had parts of the edges cut off so that the device would twirl.  It was simple and elegant.  Teachers called me a genius for making such a small device without the weight, which I hated because there were much smarter people that were my high school peers.  (Also esp, because my middle brother is more of a genius than I am.)

So what’s the morale?  You can have elegance in UI design, elegance in the engineering design and elegance in the process design.  Too much UI leaves clutter.  Too little UI leaves out functionality.  Too little thought in the engineering design makes a huge ugly contraption.  A well thought out engineering design makes clean and maintainable device.  Too much process could clutter a line, but too little process could cause disarray.  In a lot of things in life, there needs to be balance.

Getting out the knicks with a prototype or design is key, getting out a specification to make sure everyone knows how things fit together is crucial.

Software is really not that much different.  It’s people working together to build a product and there really is no us vs them nor any individual working to be better than anyone else, but us (a team) working to make a kick ass product and in the process, hopefully we all gain some beneficial knowledge to improve ourselves.

That is my view.

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About shizen008

Breaking things and getting in trouble for it since '74. Disclaimer: I am not responsible if I make your head explode reading this blog! The writings here are my own expression and not of any companies. I currently work on being a QA for B2G aka Firefox OS
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