Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Science of Product Design

Rarely applied to items for which sales are driven by fashion and fickle trends, there are many rigorous methods that have been developed to make products better. Better is usually wisely defined by customer satisfaction over the entire life of the product.

In my early years as a design engineer, the American manufacturers were just learning, or re-learning about Statistical Process Control, "six Sigmas", Concurrent Engineering and Value Engineering. We were desperately trying to catch up with the quality of our Japanese and German counterparts. Harley Davidson began applying modern principals like Just-In-Time manufacturing and the quality and reliability of the American classic began to rise from dismal levels.

Later while working for a division of Sony Electronics, I learned about a product design method called Quality Function Deployment. It includes a rigorous vetting and evaluation of all of a products characteristics from the point of view of the customer as well as the organization making the product. One tool in the process is something called the House of Quality.
It requires more patience than most people have but it is really effective and one of the reasons you don't see a lot of Toyota's on the side of the road. I mean really.....sometimes I think I could design the whole product before I finished building the House of Quality.

At Empiric when we say,

[that we] "...apply analytical and rational values to the often elusive, vague and ambiguous world of furniture. Determining the merit of a particular piece of furniture would focus on observable qualities like materials, construction quality, functionality, condition and value. Fashion and feng shui would take a back seat."

this formal application of design methodology is an example of what we are talking about.

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