All you have to do is read through the Made by Monkeys columns to see this theroy of overengineering and complex standards resulting in shoddy products born out. Appliances loaded up with features no one really cares about breaking after a year or two in the field. Same story with modern vehicles. With some much commodization and the public cry for feature after feature, what's the answer to this problem? How do you get back to simple, elegant designs that work the way they're supposed to??
Transoptimal Engineering may be a relatively new term, but it is a very old, persistent problem. Feature Creep has sunk many a successful product, converting it into an unsuccessful product over time. Standards Creep and Regulations Creep are part of a long cycle that exists within product and industry life cycles. Creep is an appropriate term that emotes visions of creeping vines which immobilize a design and slowly suffocate it from the nutrients provided by its environment. If a product or industry last long enough, it needs to reinvented itself through redesign from the ground up following the adage "start from scratch, rather than patch". If it is time in the life cycle to wind down, creep is the hallmark of the gentle goodbye. Dissatisfaction with the current product/situation provides the fertile ground necessary to sprout the next innovations.
Love the creeping vine analogy, William. It really paints a vivid picture of the constraints engineers face with day-to-day product design and how hard it is to detach from the status quo and pursue a fresh slate when it comes to innovation.
Good points, William. Resistance against feature creep was Steve Jobs's key insight and the driver of Apple's success. I've never understood when adding new features is so much a part of the engineering mindset; there's no reason for it. Elegant design requires that something does what it's designed to do well, not that it have a lot of extraneous do-dads.
AMEN!Alex; what a breath of fresh air! I hardly know where to begin with so many points I agree with!
Beginning with the quote from Rich Merritt, "transoptimal engineering" where enhanced features result in a product so non-intuitively convoluted that it's impossible to operate.
But we, as product design engineers, can't help ourselves and we have to improve every model, every year, with "New and Improved features".So when the obvious enhancements have been exhausted, we invent the non-obvious ones, and marketing convinces the public that it is the latest "must-have" feature.
I concluded that so many (worthless) enhancements were often the design engineers attempt at getting their name on a patent-pending, and was once guilty of this frenzied behavior myself.Today I recognize how we, as product developers, so easily fall into the trap.We can't help it – we're engineers.
"I know Engineers – they LOVE to change things!" – Dr. Leonard McCoy, U.S.S. Enterprise
Or, to the point of Biz Dev Mgr Herat Shah's comment that programs now require products to be both the cheapest and the best; but practically speaking, that's not possible. I whole-heartedly concur and have long subscribed to this formula when kicking off a development effort:
□ LOW COST□TIME to MARKET□ HIGH QUALITY
And if you allow other pressuring forces (usually the VP of marketing) to add late-breaking product requirements after the scope has been defined (feature creep) you can blow that equation by sacrificing all three.
One problem that goes along with Transoptiimal Engineering is products are becoiming "fiscally unrepairable." The new transmission in some BMWs, for example, can't be repaired--they have to be replaced at a cost of $18,000. Too many computers for the local tranny shop, I guess. So when the value of a 7-Series or M6 drops down into the $20,000 range (as soon as it goes out of warranty) and the tranmission fails, it becomes fiscally unrepairable and is sold for its salvage value.
The solution? Lifetime warranties. We just bought a new Chrysler 300C Hemi AWD, with all its zillions of sensors and onboard computers, and one reason we bought it was it came with a lifetime bumper-to-bumper warranty. Let them sensors fail! We're covered.
When design engineers realize they have to make products that last forever, they may think twice about Transoptimal Engineering.
I have two older BMWs--an M3 and a 740--and thought about buying a new one--but not until they offer a lifetime warranty. My old BMWs can still be repaired.
Part of the problem is that engineers (more younger than older) are convinced that eventually they will be exposed for the fraud they truly are (in their own mind of course). They compensate by constantly trying to prove to themselves and others how truly smart and competent they are. It takes a healthy dose of self confidence to simply say to yourself "I know Im capable of making it more complicated but thats not whats called for in this case". A restoration of the mentor/understudy relationship would help this but is not likely to occur.
As far as the comment about standards being too complex, one need only read the USB standard to see this is true. These standards are too often bowing to presure from various private companies looking to get their own proprietary information included in the standard to gain market advantage. The result is a hodgepodge of un-readable and obfuscating text.
This is why I became a designer, builder because I just could not get what I wanted. Instead we get all this mostly useless stuff that takes a while to learn how top use, Or too small to use and not able to fix.
I started doing EV's after it took me 4 hrs to change the thermostat on a Pontiac 6000.
While the marketing dept plays a large roll in this, many engineers add to it trying to justify their existance, paycheck.
There is no need for one thing to do everything as you get the mess we have now. What's even more interesting much of the time you have to pay more for something more simple or smaller, which makes little sense in most cases.
Take electronics in cars. They say they are for the customers when really it's to get you back in the repair shop where you pay $400 for a $20 circuit that only works on that model and fees to Onstar, etc.
Mine will have a large blank spot where the customers can put in whatever they want.
I believe the mark of a real good engineer or designer is making things work better, more cost effective by making them more simple, making fewer parts do multiple things more eff. Anyone can make something complicated. I find the opposite too, keeping things simple can make them more eff, cost effective so done right they feed on each other.
One last thing is I leave off the last S as too rude though some may need it.
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