The preceding post on QXbD research notes – Part 1.1 shared a retrospective with insights from my early college years, which were influenced by Bruno Munari‘s “projected methodology” and the Bauhaus‘ design principles.
Research Notes Part 1.2 (this post) takes me back to BarcelonaTech’s school of engineering in the early 90s, which I joined to study Human Factors Engineering while pursuing my last year of Industrial Design at Escola Massana, an art & design school.
Those days, Donal Norman’s “The Psychology of Everyday Things” and Henry Petroski’s “The Evolution of Useful Things. How Everyday Artifacts Came to be as They Are” became must-read books for anyone interested in thoughtful design principles in a new light. Norman was an Apple Fellow and became VP of the Advanced Technology Group in the mid 1990s. He popularized the term of User Experience.
Petroski was an engineer whose best known work focuses on failure analysis. He stated that the best Industrial Design involves “seeing into the future of a product” and that Human Factors Engineering is concerned with “how anything will behave at the hands of its intended and not intended users.” Here is a summary of some of his design principles:
- Tools make tools.
- Artifacts multiply and diversify in an evolutionary way.
- There always is room for improvement.
- Good can be better than best.
- Efficacy can be subjective, want overpowers need.
- Form follows failure: inventors should be technology’s severest critics.
- Focus on different faults means different solutions to the same problem.
- Engineering is invention institutionalized.
- Sometimes it is about a new job, sometimes about a better or faster job.
“Though the best designs deal successfully with the future, that does not mean they are futuristic […] There is an apparent reluctance to accept designs too radically different from what they claim to supersede […] if things are redesign too dramatically and the function that they perform can be less obvious”.
“Loewy summarized the phenomenom by using the acronym MAYA, standing for most advanced yet acceptable. Dreyfuss emphasized the importance of a survival form, thus making the unusual acceptable to many people who would otherwise reject it [Industrial Designers] have learned to strive for a delicate balance between innovation in order to create interest, and reassuringly identifiable elements”.
Donald Norman pointed to design issues leading to human error and making users unfortunately blame themselves in the process. He claimed that the “paradox of technology” takes effect when added functionality comes with unwanted complexity, which denies the sought-after benefits. These are some of the design principles:
- Design should be user-centric and consistent.
- Identify the true root cause of a problem.
- Well designed products teach the user how to use them.
- Make things visible, give clear clues, enough information and feedback.
- Get mapping and system state right, simplify task structure.
- Design for error, exploit the powers of constraint.
- Make possible to reverse actions, and make it harder to do what cannot be reversed.
Following up on the topic of technology’s paradoxes, it is worth reviewing Geoffrey A. More’s “Crossing the Chasm“, which was published in 1991. He explored the rationale behind the failure of emerging technologies, which fail to take hold.
There can be a deep chasm between enthusiasts and early adopters and the broader user groups shaping the mass market. Avoiding the Valley of Death starts with an understanding the adoption lifecycle: different user groups come along with different expectations. That prompts the need for the design of specific transitions and adaptations.
“Whole Product R&D […] begins not with creative technology but with creative market segmentation. It penetrates not into protons and processes but rather into habits and behaviors […] it implies a new kind of cooperation between organizations traditionally set apart from each other.”
HUMAN-MACHINE-SYSTEM DESIGN PRINCIPLES
BarcelonaTech’s teaching addressed Human-Machine Systems as an interdisciplinary undertaking. Human dynamics entailed the study of individuals and collectives such as teams and organizations. That would encompass the following disciplines and an strengths and limitations
- Psychology – skills, cognitive appraisal and workload, workstyles…
- Physiology – form factors, motions, anthropometry, biomechanics…
- Social Sciences – teamwork, organizational behaviors, culture…
Tools and machines involved hardware and software components. HMS’ holistic approach consistently tackled end-to-end solutions. These were placed in context and in specific physical environments. The sough-after outcomes of “Designing for People” zeroed in on:
- The delivery of capable high performance systems as defined by productivity by effectiveness and efficiency metrics, and success rates.
- Designing for users’ wellbeing and safety.
- Human Error is often a consequence of poor design.
- Addressing the broader user base possible, typically set at 95% coverage with adaptations, accounting for diversity rather than designing for just averages.
- Extreme case and stress testing, factoring life-long / lifecycle changes as solutions evolve and/or can be deployed in other context and environments.
We followed this iterative methodology, starting with due diligence on:
- Initial problem statement and goal setting.
- Operations assessment: use cases’ current state / present mode.
- User Taxonomy and Analysis: jobs, tools, work motion studies (tasks, workflows, success and failure rates) often relying on instrumentation.
- Data collection, processing, analysis and insights.
- Identification of value based activities, waste and risks.
- Critical success factors and possible scenarios at play.
- Information, process, hardware and software specifications.
- Contextual and environmental considerations.
The next phase focused on Human-Machine-System design, including all relevant subsystems and interactions across them:
- Operations review: new target state and mode.
- Interaction Matrix* correlating human and design factors.
- Prioritization criteria and conflict resolution.
- Job and process streamlining, often leading to redesign, or new design.
- Goal setting based on metrics optimizing for system wide operability.
- Iterative improvement cycling through experiments, prototyping, simulations and testing.
The *Interaction Matrix correlated human factors (rows) for a given design option with the following “realization” ones (columns) and the degree to which those relationships were weak, medium or strong (matrix).
- Customer acceptance criteria.
- Operability levels, including safety.
- Conformance with functional requirements.
- Reliability and performance levels, as well as maintenance.
- Productization feasibility and costs.
- Aestetics and affective considerations.
Just a quick reminder about the fact that this article is still discussing topics set all the way back in the early 90s. Those days, Total Quality Management (TQM) and Lean lead the way. Note that ISO 9000 standards had been first released in 1987.
The top three key values were: Customer Intimacy, Operational Excellence and Product Leadership:
“customer intimacy: tailoring offerings to match demand […] detailed customer knowledge with operational flexibility […] customizing a product and fulfilling special requests […] engendering tremendous customer loyalty“.
“operational excellence: providing customers with reliable products or services at competitive prices and delivered with minimal difficulty or inconvenience“.
“product leadership: continuous stream of state-of-the-art products and services. First, they must be creative […] Second, must commercialize their ideas quickly […] business and management processes have to be engineered for speed. Third, product leaders must relentlessly pursue new solutions”.
High operational performance was broken down as follows:
- Productivity & scalability.
- Flexibility & adaptability.
- Mix complexity.
J.M. Juran discussed quality in the context of “Big Q” and “Little Q” where the former addresses a business problem and is all encompassing, while the latter is siloed and focuses on tackling technical issues. Big Q delivers the sort of value that users can appreciate.
Strategic Quality Management was meant to learn from customer experiences and leveraged House of Quality charts to design with.
The first step was to map out a taxonomy of customer attributes (CA) decomposed in primary, secondary and tertiary levels, the latter being the most granular list of customer requirements and expectations… all largely based on surveys and user feedback. This was done for the value chain consisting of end users, consumers, retailers, distributors, regulators, etc. Weightings were set to prioritize attributes based on contextual relevance.
CA items would then be placed on the left rows of the above spreadsheet for the purpose of cross-checking them with technical features to be shown as column headers. That was done by correlating CA and engineering characteristics (EC). The resulting center matrix was used to assess what items were positively and negatively impacted, co-variance, and to what extend. Each cell featured icons and color coding for strong, medium, weak relationships.
The pyramidal roof at the top was filled out afterwards to look into technical synergies and conflicts alone. Basically, becoming aware of how engineering characteristics interact and making decisions on optimizations and conscious trade-offs.
SOME OTHER THOUGHTS…
Attending both Art and Engineering schools was a fascinating experience to say the least. The opportunity to cross-pollinate across disciplines could made anyone feel like being in a reenactment of the Renaissance’s blending of arts and sciences.
Both Industrial Design and Human Factors Engineering optimize for the human experience and, therefore, make their professions be about “Designing for People”. Technology that does not account for human skills, strengths as well as limitations, all in context and in the scenarios and environments will operate under… becomes greatly exposed to failure.
Striving to make designs that fit people’s potential, rather than just expecting users to just fit… does require an interdisciplinary and iterative practice, painstaking attention to detail being critical. At that point, it also became clear that addressing the Big Q also had to do with articulating the business value of design.
- D. Norman. The Psychology of Everyday Things. Basic Books, 1988.
- G.A. Moore. Crossing the Chasm. Harper Business, 1991
- H. Petroski. The Evolution of Useful Things. Vintage Books, 1992.
- J. Krafcik and J. Womack. Triumph of the Lean Production System. MIT Sloan Management Review, 1988. Accessed on May 18 2019 http://www.lean.org/downloads/MITSloan.pdf
- J.R. Houser and D. Clausing. The House of Quality. Harvard Business Review, May 1988. Accessed on May 18, 2019 https://hbr.org/1988/05/the-house-of-qualityT.S. Clark and E.N. Corlett. La Ergonomia de los Lugares de Trabajo y de las Maquinas. Tylor and Francis, 1984.
- M. Treacy and F. Wiersema. Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines. Harvard Business Review, January – February 1993. Accessed on May 18, 2019 https://hbr.org/1993/01/customer-intimacy-and-other-value-disciplines
- House of Quality Template. QFD Online. Accessed on May 19, 2019 http://www.qfdonline.com/templates/
Let’s start with a retrospective. While studying industrial design in Barcelona, all the way back in the late 80s, some of our class’ courses followed Bruno Munari‘s teachings, whose methodology was captured in “How Are Objects Born?”
A PROJECTIZED DESIGN MEDTHODOLOGY
Munari’s world was introduced to our class as a multifaceted down-to-earth creative. He positioned a so-called “projectized methodology” as a logical sequence of desing operations aimed to maximize outcomes by applying the minimum required effort.
Munari emphasized the merits of painstaking work addressing “objective values” to generate creative outcomes… and strongly dismissed any whimsical and fanciful approach that would shortchange thoughtful due diligence and, therefore, proper design.
In that context, no disciplined practitioner should ignore the fact that discovery and iterative workstyles can lead to modifying and improving any method, as design tools and process also become a subject of design. Why? The set of assumptions, principles and rules deployed a project’s front-end… might not necessarily be the ones delivering successful outcomes at the project’s backend.
THE UNDERLYING THINKING
Munari’s referred to Rene Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method,” which was published 344 years before “How are Objects Born” was released. Most people relate Descartes’ better known “I think, therefore I am,’ statement. At the expense of possibly sounding corny, let’s translate that into “I Design Think, therefore…” for the purpose of this discussion.
In the 17th century, Descartes positioned a proven-fact based approach to problem solving: “true and sound judgements” that we can “intuit or deduce with certainty.” The so-called cartesian doubt involves methodological skepticism: nothing is taken for granted. The Scientific Revolution was taking hold. Earlier momentum generated the Renaissance was taken to new levels of enlightenment.
Descartes taskflow entailed decomposing complex matters down to what become atomic level ones: those are still coherent and manageable enough (cognitively speaking) for us to effectively address. His method calls for solving for the ones that can be successfully tackled first.
GETTING THE DESIGN JOB DONE
Munari’s mind-mapping illustrated a taxonomy of primary, secondary and more granular lower level problem statements as needed, followed by data gathering and analysis. Experimentation ran options assessment.
New discovery was encouraged. Technical and production feasibility considerations being instrumental early in the process so that constrains and implementation choices were well understood. Once testable prototypes become available, iterative user involvement and validation drove improvement and optimization A design prospectus and project file would feature:
- Final design proposal and prototypes.
- Problem mindmap.
- Design specifications sheet.
- Notes on streamlined design considerations optimizing for simplicity.
- Production cost and comparison analysis.
- Use cases, expected functionality and performance.
- Sensory and experiential assessment, accounting for all senses.
- Ergonomics, usability, maneuverability, including health hazards.
- Journey touch points and wear & tear: upkeep, maintenance, serviceability.
- Impact of ad-ons, packaging, and any other attached and surrounding items.
- Aesthetic coherence and modular design components.
- Social value and cultural contribution.
THE GREATER VALUE OF DESIGN’s WHOLE
Back to Descartes, he would point to the need for addressing the integrity of the overall system and, therefore, the higher value of the composite view. This also is about ensuring that no gaps, breaking points, ruptures, weak-links, leaks, and loopholes remain. Basically, stress testing our solution with a “continuous and wholly uninterrupted sweep of thought” as he would put it.
Just a couple of more things about Descartes… in his “Rules for the Direction of the Mind” explicitly he stated that “we need a method if we are to investigate the truth of things” and should investigate “what others have already discovered.”
And in the “Discourse on the Method” he introduced data visualization by means of correlating values with the cartesian coordinate system, which intersected geometry and algebra to become the foundation of analytics geometry.
The Bauhaus’s centenial anniversary, 1919-2019, is worth highlighting. During my industrial design studies, the German Bauhaus‘ lasting influence was quite significant and largely conveyed by professors and program directors with a professional background in architecture. Here is a summary of what that meant:
- Form follows function.
- Less is more: straighforwarness, abstract simplicity, and great refinement.
- Clean design and aestic finesse, all production friendly and scalable.
- Adopting and pushing the boundaries of emerging technologies.
- Designing is not a profession, but an attitude.
- Indivisible unity of formerly separated and indenpendent fields and silos.
- Craftmanship pride and signature designs that make a difference.
The American New Bauhaus influenced the post-World War II culture and settled in Chicago at the Institute of Design, part of th IIT, Illinois Institute of Technology.
Our class was confronted with a compeling Bahuasian approach that could result in highly formal, rigid and austere geometrical configurations while Barcelona’s environment was (and continues to be) a reminder of the contrasting Catalan Modernism of the early 20th century, unapologetically being:
- Abstracted organic shapes, shapes and structures that are nature inspired.
- Carefully crafted eclectic sophistication and visually arresting outcomes.
- Celebratory by mashing up historical elements under a new light.
- Theatrical experiences as people become design’s live audiences.
- Strong sense of cultural change agency.
Also worth recalling that the late 80s intersected Post-Modernism, a movement that featured a wide variety of optics and was a departure from rationalism and, therefore, purposevely confrontational. Subjectivity and and criticism abounded.
DESIGN FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Munari’s “projectized methodology” helped dissect problems and got the design job done while keeping any rushed and whimsical design at bay: no need for the overly and out-of-touch “romantic” stuff as he saw it. Munari also confronted any “luxurious” and “fashionable” design statements, which he qualified as superfluous and frivolous, and the antitesis of design.
But, it did present the sort of shortcomings that can come from applying constrains from the get go. The fact is that freethinking can make a difference at the project’s onset. Applying Descartes’ methodological skepticism would neutralize that. However, relying on Descartes’ rational wisdom alone does not suffice. Damasio’s “Descartes Error” exposes the following:
“Reason may not be as pure as most of us think it is or wish it were […] emotion assists with the process of holding in mind the multiple facts that must be considered in order to reach a decision. The obligate participation of emotion in the reasoning process can be advantageous or nefarious […] when emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions”.
My next article will continue this late 80s and early 90s restropective, which takes me back to my college years. I will switch to my experience in engineering school for the purpose of deliverating about what QUALITY really is about. As an example, I will exchange views on TQM, Total Quality Management, and Operational Excellence… and will circle back to this post to connect the dots to clearly define QXbD, Quality Experiences by Design.
- Damasio, Antonio R.. Descartes’ Error. Penguin Publishing Group, 1994.
- Munari, Bruno. Como Nacen los Objectos. GG, 1981
- Descartes, Rene. Discourse on the Method. 1637
- The New Bauhaus. Opendox, 2019. Accessed on May 12, 2019 https://www.thenewbauhaus.com