With the plethora of visualization, digital mockup, system modeling, and 3D publishing tools available today, there are plenty of options for replacing those PowerPoints at every stage of the development process giving executives the technical understanding they need without having to master complex geometries or system-level designs. My hope is with Michael and Lauren that the space programs once again get funding and we have opportunity to see what 21st century design can deliver.
Michael, your comments about the shuttle being built with old methods brings to mind an excellent presentation I heard once from Edward Tufte, an authority on visual communication tools. He made the point that engineers make excessive use of PowerPoints to make technical presentations. He used the NASA shuttle Columbia as an example. He said that NASA executives had a fatal misunderstanding of the potential danger to Columbia because of overly simplistic PowerPoint presentations made by Boeing engineers. His viewpoint was validated by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board in a report issued in 2003. “The board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communications at NASA”.
PowerPoints are a problem for technical communication because 1) They oversimplify complex technical data, 2) They tend to reflect the biases of the presenter, and 3) Information becomes even more filtered as PowerPoints are summarized and moved up a bureaucratic hierarchy. Tufte put it simply: “Serious problems require a serious tool: written reports.”
I can only hope this is not the last American-manned space flight. Although it is the end of one era it leaves a window of opportunity for better design techniques and a more efficient process. Hopefully NASA will receive funding again...at some point...so we can one day see the new designs in action.
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