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Petroski on Engineering: a Geography of Design

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naperlou
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Dingbats
naperlou   6/1/2012 10:14:43 AM
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Henry, thank you.  Now I know what dingbats are.  I have seen them in listings of fonts, but I never really used them, or understood what their origin is. 

 

I really appreciate your description of the subtleties of the design of the book.  I have always liked such things, but I am becoming more used to electronic versions of books as time goes on.  In the end, they are lighter (on one move my wife and I made we were informed that our books weighed 3,000 pounds).  I do miss the tactile feel of the real books, though.  Most readers put a book in a standard format with pages being decided by screen size.

 

As for your mention of Apple and design, I find it interesting.  I have always looked on their products as being much too expensive and closed.  Many years ago I was the CIO of an aerospace plant.  We had a large proposal to do and the team (which I had previously worked for) decided to go around me to purchase a network of Macs to do the proposal on.  They wanted to bypass our tech pubs group and do the page layout themselves.  They spent $200K on equipment and overran the proposal budget by $400K.  As you can imagine, there was an inquest and the program manager lost his job.  The reason I mention this in the context of your article is that of design.  What we ended up doing was having senior engineers doing something they had no training in.  The page layout and design aspects of the proposal (which was thousands of pages) was awful.  We were lucky that we had bought the competitor before the bidding process was over.  By the way, it was a $1B project.

 

There really is an art to creating a book.  Even in the most plain text only books you would see references to fonts used.  These had a lot to do with readability and the feeling one gets from reading the book. 

 

Charles Murray
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Re: Dingbats
Charles Murray   6/1/2012 5:26:37 PM
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I agree, Naperlou. I, too, have long thought that Apple products were overpriced. Maybe it's my engineering sensibility talking here, but I've always thought that the genius of Steve Jobs was in marketing and industrial design, not in technology, as is so often claimed. Apple's products have a reputation for being easier to use and learn, and Apple has been positively brilliant in appealing to customers who want, and are willing to pay for, high-end products.

SparkyWatt
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Engineering Design
SparkyWatt   6/4/2012 1:51:16 PM
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Anyone who thinks that Engineers lack design sense (in the Aesthetic sense) should look at the things that Engineers designed in the 1930's.  They looked strong, solid, sleek, fast.  In their own way they were beautiful, definitely not awkward.  Even the weapons of WWII had a very rugged practical look.

Of course, that was a day when Engineers sketched things by hand.  Their inherent sense of fit guided their pencils.  It wasn't a conscious thing.  They simply drew things at a position and size that felt right.  Then adjusted them as the requirements demanded.

Nowadays with the complex intermediary of the computer, we can do far more complex things.  But that simple guiding flow has been broken, and it shows terribly.  Making things beautiful and visually "organic" has become much harder.

I actually remember when I first saw it in the early 1980s.  A shopping mall in my area had been refurbished, and I was stunned (in a bad way).  The interior looked like a computer graphic (and back in those days, that was pretty simplistic).  They had tried to incorporate "design" elements to make it visually interesting, but the overall effect was to make it look like it was built out of Legos.

I don't think architectural design has ever recovered, and I think the bull-nosed things they call cars today look heavy and mean.  But who knows, maybe soon a method of creating things on the computer that is as intuitive as the pencil will be invented (don't say the stylus, it is a perfectly good input device, but until CAD software can make shapes from stylus sketches, it doesn't count.  It is the method that needs to be invented, not the device).

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Engineering Design
Rob Spiegel   6/4/2012 2:01:27 PM
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I agree with you about engineering deisgn, Sparky Watt. Even today we see it. The Apple products are sleek and clean, engineering simplicity. Of course that changes quite a bit when my 16-year-old daughter customizes the products with bling.

Charles Murray
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Re: Engineering Design
Charles Murray   6/4/2012 4:27:20 PM
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Rob, my kids are a little older than yours, so I'm embarrassed to admit I don't know what it means to customize Apple products with bling. Are we taping jewelry to our iPads? Is this a trend?

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Engineering Design
Rob Spiegel   6/5/2012 11:25:50 AM
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Yep, it's a big trend. You can accessorize your iPod and iPhone to match what you're wearing. Apple and other suppliers are doing a big business in brightly colored sparkling covers for iPods and iPhones. Additional bling includes little items of colorful shapes. I bought my daughter a smartphone and inherited her dumbophone with has two sparkly hearts on the front. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Engineering Design
Ann R. Thryft   6/6/2012 12:55:56 PM
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Now I know what to do with all that rhinestone jewelry I've got left over from the glitzy 80s: tape it to my notebook! It will be totally blinged out.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Engineering Design
Rob Spiegel   6/6/2012 3:07:02 PM
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Yes, that will do it, Ann. My daughter asked whether I minded that the dumbphone she swapped with me (for her smartphone) had bling on it. I told her the bling looks great. The phone has hearts with colorful dots. And you can't get them off.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Engineering Design
Ann R. Thryft   6/6/2012 4:23:33 PM
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Rob, I think rhinestones qualify as bling (since they're in essence fake diamonds), but don't you think that sparkly hearts are more flair than bling?

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Engineering Design
Rob Spiegel   6/7/2012 9:17:07 AM
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It's all the same to me, Ann. But from a materials point of view, I'm quite amazed at the adheisive on the back of these little hearts. Once they're on, you really can't get them off. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Engineering Design
Ann R. Thryft   6/12/2012 2:22:57 PM
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Thanks for a thoughtful post, and one mentioning what used to be a favorite subject of mine: book design. I think SparkyWatt's comments on CAD are unfortunately true, at least for some objects we live and work with. And I see the same trend in book publishing, if you can call it that anymore, due to the proliferation of electronic "books" and e-readers. I think Apple has been a leader for exterior consumer electronics design, at least. Too bad that other areas are not benefiting from their leadership. I wonder if 3D printing could be that new, more intuitive design method.

Rob Spiegel
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Art department out of control
Rob Spiegel   6/1/2012 11:56:48 AM
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What you're describing here is an instance when the art or design department made decisions apart from the need for simple functionality. As a former publisher, I know that the art department -- a wonderful crew -- needs to be monitored. Their aesthetic decisions can quickly divert from the practical needs of the reader.


jljarvis
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book design
jljarvis   6/4/2012 9:24:13 AM
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Henry,

From your picture, I fear you're falling prey to the same experience related shortcoming the rest of us with grey hair are feeling, to a greater or lesser extent.  :)   Opticians rejoice, I'm sure.  

Design has a value, in how it makes us feel, and how it allows us to use technology.  That value is irrespective of the age... errr experience... of the user.   Business week has shifted to a layout which flags the page number in the middle of the right hand side of the page, in bold color.  Most helpful, if lacking in subtlety. 

 

ChasChas
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in the mind
ChasChas   6/4/2012 10:37:03 AM
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Excellent read.

It shows that we design our physical living space for practicality and stimulus, but our true living space is in the mind.

ricardo
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Beauty in the Mac
ricardo   6/4/2012 7:30:02 PM
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It wasn't Jobs that brought beauty to the Mac.  It was Jef Raskin.  Search out his books & papers if you really want to know about form & function.

In an earlier age, L F Herroshoff's advice to a budding yacht designer was to ".. draw as much as possible (particularly freehand drawing)".  Herroshoff was the son of an outstanding yacht designer and was himself one.

Both him & his father made significant advances to the technology of ship engineering for which, ".. it is very necessary to serve your time in a boat shop, where boats are really built, as this is the only practical way to learn."

I think his advice is just as valid to the budding engineer today.

An engineer's eye should be always looking to function.  But in the greatest designs, form & function are one.  Witness Mitchell's Spitfire or Sayer's E-type

bobjengr
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Petroski on Engineering: a Geography of Design
bobjengr   6/9/2012 12:59:06 PM
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I have always been involved with manufacturing a product, consequently designing jigs, fixtures, conveyors, robotic equipment to automate processes etc.  As a result, getting the job accomplished trumps getting the job accomplished—with flair and style.  I certainly do appreciate the work of Jobs and the Apple folks but then again, all of the Apple products are consumer products.  I never expect the buying public to see the conveyors necessary to expedite production and handling.  When I think about all of the "pains" and effort put into the i-Pad, i-Phone, i-Book designs I conclude I'm on the right side of the commercialization equation.

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