I think that one reason these changes are made if for the sake of change. In the past most items did not change that often. Now rapid change is expected. Look at the large number of each item a given company produces. Computers, home appliances, autos, and almost everything else seems to have endless variations avaliable. Along with this, new versions are expected frequently. Therefore. in making all of these changes some bad designs are going to be used.
I have a Toyota Matrix that was changed in 2009. I was bedazzeled by the fancy instrument panel, and failed to notice the poor visability. The large windows in the rear had become small slits that are almost useless. The front doors and the dash were changed so that with the low seats, you could not see over the hood, or over the door to see the road. I finally had to raise the driver's seat 3 1/2". Not many other owners could do that.
In addition, I too have had many problems with appliances. Sometimes it is not bad design, but lack of available information on how to fix somethig. Not only is it hard to find repair manuals for home appliances, it is gettig harder to find them for cars. Almost everything we buy now is consider a consumable throw-away item.
Maytag produced a "pretty' machine with a nice user interface control that "wows" you in the showroom. I bought one... "Job done, next customer please. Are you interested in our extended service contract? "
I think they ( and many other companies ) have misplaced the concept of designing a product that should be functional and user maintainable for years ( if not decades, My grandmothers' 40 year old Maytag was running fine when she passed away. My sister took it home. ) Instead of their previous business of durable, dependable, household goods, they have focussed on the quick turn, design for this year and we'll sell a different version next year, product line. This might work well if you sell smartphones, computers, HDTVs,etc.. But we're talking washing machines.
Those little changes are likely due to time and cost. Tweak something to make a part smaller or less expensive or perhaps eliminate a part altogether and don't do the proper testing, and voila, you've introduced a spate of new problems that don't surface until the product is well into its lifecycle.
Beth, I think you've nailed it: the profit margins on consumer white goods are not high to begin with, and must be kept low by foregoing things like market research, focus groups, or usability studies. OTOH, what I have trouble getting past is the lack of rocket science/design in many of these basic machines, plus the fact that it's all been done before, and often much better, a zillion times over several decades. So where and how do the dumb changes come into what was a better, older design?
@Tekochip: Useability studies would be a great way to get to the truth and find out whether the product has been designed to meet the "real" user requirements, not the ones merely translated via marketing. The problem is useability studies add time and cost to the development cycle, which in the realities of today's market, likely isn't viable for most companies and for most product development cycles.
We allow unsupervised guests to use the laundry facilities and they do not usually empty the beach sand, coins, car keys, cell phones,etc... from their pockets prior to washing.
I was quite surprised to find in a rather high end, well reviewed appliance that something I had previously checked weekly through a simple plug in the front panel was now akin to removing the seats and dashboard in my car to refill the wiper reserve. Also since this officially requires a service call to maintain the warranty, it could become rather expensive. That's likely going to be the case when the washer finally jams solid with coins and sand.
It's a very pretty machine with all of sorts of nifty features and user interface but Maytag seems to have missed the point that someone will have do some sort of simple routine, maintenance to use their product. I'm surprised that the dryer lint filter is still removable.
I'm surprised--maybe I shouldn't be--at how many Made by Monkeys posts are about problems with washing machines or clothes dryers. You would think by now all these issues would be resolved by basic design principles. My 12-year-old low-end GE traps coins in the lint filter, or they just fall on the bottom of the inside drum where they can be easily removed. No coins or other loose objects ever go anywhere else. I'm still amazed--and I think I should be--at how many machines with filters that need cleaning are not designed to make this possible, let alone easy, without disassembling everything. All I can say is, keep 'em coming: I learn a lot about repair and maintenance, as well as which models to avoid. I'll certainly avoid this one.
GlennA, you're right, and I never really thought of it that way. As engineers we have a good design if it matches the specification, not if it works properly for the end user. The specification is typically written by the Marketing people and we hope that they know what the customer really needs. I frequently demonstrate the product as it goes through the design phases so that Marketing can see exactly what it is that the device will do, since they may not have carefully though through the user interface. If I find an issue I'll demonstrate the design as specified and then demonstrate the design with the altered specification so we can agree upon the approach. Agency approvals are now requiring that usability studies be performed to make certain that a well designed product isn't simply a product that meets specifications.
You share an interesting perspective GlennA and unfortunately you are correct if success is measured by achieving the design specification rather than how well the product meets the needs of the consumer. This is a major reason why I never make an appliance purchase without reading consumer reviews first and waiting for the product to have been on the market for awhile because these problems inevitably surface. Unfortunately the writer of this article didn't have much choice in his purchase given his circumstances. In a perfect world the consumer would not be the test ground for a product's serviceability (especially for pm!) but unfortunately that is often not the case.
This doevtails with quality vs. perceived quality. Quality is conformance to specifications. A 'good' design conforms to design specifications. To say this is a poor design because you can't service the machine is an opinion. If the design specification was for the least expensive assembly cost, coupled with common parts across a product line, but didn't include being consumer friendly to empty the coin-catcher, or filter; success has been achieved.
For the record, I am also frustrated by appliances and machinery that are designed for assembly, vs. designed to be serviced. The first time I heard that a car engine had to be dropped to change a spark plug I thought it was a joke. When I read a story that Volvo was going to change the hood latch so that only a service technician could open it - not the owner - I thought that I would never consider buying any car with such a restriction.
What should be the perception of a product’s real-world performance with regard to the published spec sheet? While it is easy to assume that the product will operate according to spec, what variables should be considered, and is that a designer obligation or a customer responsibility? Or both?
Biomimicry has already found its way into the development of robots and new materials, with researchers studying animals and nature to come up with new innovations. Now thanks to researchers in Boston, biomimicry could even inform the future of electrical networks for next-generation displays.
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