Boston, MA —What makes a good website according to design engineers?
Like every organization dedicated to serving engineers, Design News wanted to find out. So we recently gathered together a dozen engineers representing several leading Boston area companies, such as Gillette, Phoenix Controls, Foxboro Company, Radionics, and Boston Scientific.
The design engineers participating in this focus group were all veteran engineers, designing products for such industries as aerospace, appliances, automotive, consumer products, communications, industrial controls, medical, processing machinery, and semiconductor equipment. All of them said their use of the internet was up from last year—and that usage would likely continue to climb. Average time spent on the web each week: five hours. One of the engineers remarked: "It's always on"—much like background noise from a radio.
By far the most popular use of the web was accessing catalog pages and spec sheets online from OEM suppliers. Yet the engineers complained about the poor quality of graphics in many online catalogs, which is why most still do not want to give up the paper version of the catalog.
Among other frequently mentioned work tasks on the web: downloading software, researching technologies, getting patent information, tapping into university research, finding information on manufacturing processes, accessing databases on materials and components, identifying vendors, and participating in industry chat groups and software user groups. More engineers also are participating in extranets and doing collaborative design work, including down- loading CAD models and project management information from colleagues.
All the engineers in the focus group rely heavily on search engines, with Yahoo the clear favorite. Even so, they complained that many of the general search engines contain too many blind alleys. (Design News in March launched "Search Engineer," which taps into more than 3,000 vendor, consultant, publication and research websites, all engineering-related.)
If employers are worried about engineers whiling away unproductive hours on the web, forget it. Our group didn't engage in much unfocused surfing. Instead, designers view the web as a valuable tool to trim design time. Said one of the engineers: "I use the web when I'm on a mission."
Many of the engineers dislike animation and other gimmicks, as well as cumbersome navigation schemes that require "too many clicks." As for advertising banners, they noted that "it requires a real time commitment" to click on an ad banner. In contrast, said one, an ad in a magazine can convey more information faster.
While the web is clearly gaining ground as a vital design tool, engineers are by no means ready to give up engineering publications. Most still read three or four on a regular basis. They see magazines as a way of updating themselves on key developments in technologies and industries important to them. In contrast, they look to the web for targeted information needed to solve a particular task.
If the engineers at our focus group are any indication, companies designing websites to attract engineers need to make them useful tools for speeding design work. Among the desired features: tutorials, selector guides, downloadable drawings, good application information, and testimonials showing how a vendor's products enhanced product design.
In short, engineers want a site that embodies the web at its best: fast, diverse, dynamic, and ever changing.