Guest Post by John Ayers (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
What Does Eloquent Design Mean to You?
Eloquence has many definitions primarily applied to speaking and writing. One definition is the art or practice of using fluent, forceful, and persuasive discourse. Over the ages, authors have variously described eloquence as “words sweetly placed and modestly directed” (William Shakespeare), “a painting of thought” (Blaise Pascal), “the poetry of prose” (William Cullen Bryant), “the appropriate organ of the highest personal energy” (Ralph Waldo Emerson), and “the art of clothing the thought in apt, significant and sounding words” (John Dryden).
I think many of these words describing eloquence can also be applied to product design. Some examples and rational are presented below.
Example 1- Startup Company
After retirement, I was working for a small startup company owned by a brilliant thermodynamic engineer. He was always looking for an eloquent design solution for a product he was designing. When I asked him what he defines as eloquent design, he gave me the following example: The motor generator we were designing was a closed cycle gas turbine design approach. It had a rotational speed of 84000 rpms, a very high speed for higher efficiency and other increased performance parameters. The preliminary design was finished when he announced it had to be re-designed to reduce the speed to 48000 cycles. His reasoning was the bearings for the high speed design required foil bearings, a rather new design where gas levitates the rotating shaft above the foil bearing surface resulting in a long life bearing. A standard off the shelf bearing with a long successful track record could be used at the lower speed. He called this an eloquent design solution. In this case, his eloquence definition was to reduce risk and go with a reliable known bearing.
Example 2-Lift Truck
One of my first jobs as a young design engineer was designing lift trucks. The time frame was the early 70”s. At that point in time, lift truck design focused primarily on reliability, functionality, and ruggedness for a long life in a factory environment. Because it operated in a factory, very little if any effort was placed on esthetics. One of our competitors changed this paradigm by developing a very esthetic looking lift truck that was flying off the shelves because it looked beautiful. As a result, my company hired a well known and expensive product design firm to come to our facility and review our latest lift truck design before it was released to production. This firm spent 1 day reviewing our design. They recommended adding a red strip around the midpoint of the lift truck and enlarging a few radii. That was it. That event started a new focus on lift truck design for the company where esthetics was a high priority.
Example 3- Steve Jobs
Based on his biography and numerous other books written about him, Steve Jobs spent a lot of time and effort in his product designs incorporating esthetics, simplicity and user friendly features. He was master of it. I recall in one of the books about him, he spent weeks defining and re-defining the corner radii on the Mac Computer. It was more important to get it right than the added time and expense it took. The apple branding symbol had a bite taken out of it making it very unique and creative. Liza is an example of simplicity, esthetics, and user friendly features. The iphone is another example. I consider these design solutions as eloquent design.
I do not recall hearing the word “eloquence” applied to any product design during my 40 years as mechanical engineer. This was true up until the day I met my new boss at the startup company. He made me think about eloquence in design and what it means. Upon reflection, I recalled a number of examples, three of which are noted above. My current view on eloquence in design include: esthetics; reliability; simplicity; user friendly; and environmental friendly, to mention a few. I suspect the machine looking robotics today will also become eloquent designs as the technology and demand for them grow.
This article discussed my view and examples of eloquent design. I am sure there are many more interpretations of what eloquent design means to you.
John earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering and MS in Engineering Management from Northeastern University. He has a total of 44 years’ experience, 30 years with DOD Companies. He is a member of PMI (project Management Institute). John has managed numerous firm fixed price and cost plus large high technical development programs worth in excessive of $100M. He has extensive subcontract management experience domestically and foreign. John has held a number of positions over his career including: Director of Programs; Director of Operations; Program Manager; Project Engineer; Engineering Manager; and Design Engineer.His technical design areas of experience include: radar; mobile tactical communication systems; cryogenics; electronic packaging; material handling; antennas; x-ray technology; underwater vehicles; welding; structural analysis; and thermal analysis. He has experience in the following areas: design; manufacturing; test; integration; selloff; subcontract management; contracts; risk and opportunity management; and quality control. John is a certified six sigma specialist, certified level 2 EVM (earned value management) specialist; certified CAM (cost control manager).