As one who also values my vacations, Tool_maker, I thought you might want to know that the Cadillac engineers vacationed with families for hours, not days and nights. Even in this era -- luckily -- there are limits to what engineers can be expected to do.
Alex: In answer to your question about why engineers in consumer electronics don't experiment more, I can only assume it's because someone upstairs sees it as a mater of money. Cadillac engineers said that GM executives were appalled when they heard what they were doing. Their concern was cost. A commonly-held management viewpoint is that engineers need to keep their productivity up, which can only be accomplished by keeping their heads down.
I do agree with you to some extent. Even though industries are different there are many aspects. Vacationing with customers will not work in the case of a medical device. In this case may be we have to work with the customer. But yes your comment are really thought provoking .
The difference, though, is the industry. In the later years, Jobs had name recognition, a big following, and money. If his disruptive design (such as iPod) failed, so be it. In the early years, Jobs was all about the risk and Apple could very well have turned into a company nobody would even know any more. In this case, it's an existing auto company that doesn't have that level of risk tolerance, so they need to aim more at what the customers actually do want.
(Unless, of course, they just put the new designs into the "package" that includes the engine and tire....)
Steve jobs has shown the successful way and he did not much care about customer's inputs to design. What matter is the engineering sense to think and outthink customer in turn to surprse the him. If the engineer waited for the customer to help then disruptive innovations would not have taken place. What we need is Jules verne engineers. But yes design engineer must think for customers ...!
That's an intriguing question, Alex. Having spent some time on the dark side, aka marketing, I believer the answer lies there, instead of in the world of design. It's a combination of time to market and unit cost/profit margin. The lower the unit cost of the product--consumer electronics relatively low, cars relatively high--the higher the profit margin must be, so the less time is spent on anything not considered essential. In a separate track, the shorter the time to market, the same thing goes. Combined, you get lots of consumer electronics that some of us feel should have been designed a lot better.
The other angle we're not factoring in is what can loosely be called the rise time of the product development cycle. So for example, with automakers, they have to be very careful about what customer comments they factor into their designs, because they (the automakers) have lengthy and costly development cycles. More importantly, they can't easily change stuff at the end once the product is out in the marketplace if the idea/implementation turns out to be a bad one. At the other end of the spectrum are PC and smartphone makers, which have 6-month product lifecycles and are thus free to experiment. Which kind of begs they question, why don't they experiment more than they actually do (which is not much)?
To me and my family vacations are precious times, careflly planned and generally both restful and memorable. So when I read the title of this article my first tought was, "Oh no. Now someone is trying to make me feel guilty for wanting some downtime away from work." That ain't gonna happen.
But to get first hand customer feedback in unguarded moments is a great idea. I often wonder how opinion polls would vary if the participants were unaware of the fact that they were participating in an opinion poll. That is what is being constructed here. The methodology described is unadaptable to my field, so I can easily tell everyone else to go for it, knowing I will never have to. However, we do get customer feedback and it is usually reflected in repeat business or lack of the same.
Alex, I'm not sure people don't care about the warning, safety, and preventive stuff built into vehicles, I think it's more that the vast majority don't want to know all the particulars. They make an assumption that given the big bucks they are shelling out for modern vehicles, that under the covers there is plenty of hidden technology that will ensure their safety when driving. It's more of a given compared with those infotainment and performance features that can get the average lay person more excited and engaged with their car.
One way not mentioned yet, that I can recall, is asking customers about what they don't like in a product. Of course this means that there must be product in the customers hands already. The "focus group" method is not even close, since it is primarily a tool used by marketing weasels to steer things around to match their own point of view.
In my particular line of business it has always been vital to know just exactly what my customers needed, because all sales were based on the product solving some problem for the customer. Occasionally it wound up that the customer was asking for something that would not solve their problem, although they were assuming that it would. Those times usually wound up building customer confidence when the final product solved their problem. OF course, the difference there is that I could be close to my customers, not separated by multiple distribution levels. Also, they were closely associated with their processes that they usually had a rational understanding when we discussed the product solutions.
Auto companies seem to not always be aware that some folks keep a vehicle for more than six months, and that product defficiencies that could be accptable in a one-day rental would be deal breakers when attemting to sell a product that will be held for several years. My guess is that all of the automakers decided to make this change at the same time so that they could point out that "everybody does it that way now."
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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