Does changing the outside change what’s on the inside?
While browsing articles about the current CES, there seems to be decent buzz about Lenovo’s new IdeaPad. A CNET UK photo caption called it “one of the prettiest laptops we’ve ever seen.” Then I found an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “PC Makers Take A Stylish Turn To Tackle Apple” about PC makers doing “a radical overhaul of their machines’ appearance.” In 2001, Dell had 6 designers and 40,000 total employees. Now the company reportedly has over 90 designers within its 89,100 employees and is still actively hiring designers.
The biggest possible problem I foresee for good product design is that designers are consulted in the wrong place in the product life-cycle. Cutting edge components require specific heating and cooling specifications, hard drives need impact protection, sensitive chips need shielding, and so many other factors play into the usability of a laptop — let alone its looks. The ease of use of buttons, ports and closures are some of the human factors that aren’t normally known until long after a product is purchased. A prettier laptop may sell better, but a repeat buyer will remember the usability of a brand’s product — certainly if it’s negative. The wow factor usually wears off after a period of time and daily-use reveals the true design. As PC makers are trying to increase US sales with showier computers, I wonder if they are making any sacrifices.
Where does this fit with mechatronics? Mechatronics hopefully encompasses the entire life-cycle of a product and helps enable a whole-system approach to the production of a product. Buyers of most products are tuned to performance, usability, aesthetics, components, durability, stability…basically how well a product performs. I think the design of the most competitive product should not fall significantly short in any particular area. However, a product that’s mediocre in specifications yet well-rounded is not necessarily better than a product that’s skewed towards performance and away from durability — it depends on the user’s needs.
I think the designers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, computer engineers, production engineers and environmental engineers have to work together during each iteration of a product to voice their specialized pros and cons in order to create the best usable, powerful, inexpensive and environmentally-friendly product for consumers to purchase. This would ideally create a product with a synergistic combination of appearance, performance, and sustainability.
Maybe one of these new laptops will spur me to replace my Dell Latitude D620.