Medical Drone Technology

Medical Drone Technology

Nigel Whittle - Head of Medical & Healthcare

By: Nigel Whittle
Head of Medical & Healthcare

21st February 2018

Home » Product Design » Page 2

There has been much spoken about the use of drones for delivery of commercial products. In 2013, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos claimed that drones would soon become ‘as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road’. However, despite significant expenditure and extensive testing programmes, that goal still seems a long way off. Meanwhile, use of drones has quietly moved forward in another significant sector…

One of the biggest challenges facing the provision of affordable healthcare in the developing world is the patchy distribution of facilities and expertise. In particular, remote rural areas often lack trained healthcare workers due to the difficulty in attracting such practitioners, and the general migration of better educated people to the cities. The problem can be compounded by a poor infrastructure of roads and other transport networks, and as a result it is not uncommon for patients to walk many miles over harsh terrain to consult a healthcare practitioner, who himself may have limited resources. And that walk may have to be repeated many times for further diagnosis and treatment.

A paradox of developing countries is that they are often capable of leap-frogging more advanced economies through infrastructure developments, in the same way that mobile networks have rapidly supplanted fixed line networks in many countries. Similarly, disruptive health technologies have the potential to transform the lives of millions of people in countries where access to healthcare is limited. This is because many novel diagnostic technologies are being designed for use at the point of care, where the need is most acute, rather than for the centralised hospital and laboratory systems found in the developed world. For example, rapid and affordable DNA-based tests for infectious diseases can not only provide sensitive indications of exposure to pathogens but can also indicate the correct course of treatment.

However, there still remains the problem of delivering appropriate medicines for treatment to the patient, while again avoiding an arduous trek to the doctor. Additionally, where such tests do not exist, health care in remote areas is still dependent on logistic support to transport samples to the nearest health centre and to transmit the result back to the clinic. In practice, this has meant reliance on land-based transport in the form of motorbikes or cars, which are vulnerable to the state of the roads.

Future Delivery of Medical Supplies

A solution that is being adopted in a number of countries is the use of Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs), or drones. Drones have the potential to make the transport of drugs, vaccines or medical aids much faster and more efficient, due to their ability to be rapidly deployed and to function in conditions that are unsuitable for wheeled vehicles. Perhaps the most impressive example is Zipline International, a Silicon Valley start-up that uses drones to deliver medicine and blood to rural clinics in Rwanda. This system for the delivery of life-saving medicines, established well in advance of the introduction of pizza delivery in developed countries, has been so successful that the company plans to launch a further system in Tanzania in 2018.

The organisation is now functioning so well that health workers at remote clinics and hospitals can simply text orders for necessary medical products to Zipline, and within minutes those products are loaded from distribution centres onto drones, arriving by parachute 15 minutes later for what would previously have been a 4-hour journey. Having this agile supply chain can make a massive difference in the provision of critical healthcare to patients and is hugely effective at empowering doctors.

It seems likely that the use of drones for distribution of high-value items in remote and adverse environments will only grow, leading to an increasing need for enhanced control and navigation systems. For technology companies to take advantage of this, solutions will need to be designed specifically with drones in mind. This means miniaturised systems with minimal size, weight and power factors to allow for deployment. We’ve pushed the development of enhanced control and navigation further through our micro-radar system, using mm-wave frequencies from a miniaturised antenna to allow for navigation of difficult terrain in all weather conditions.

These unmanned drones offer a remarkable example of how a technology from one industry can facilitate the provision of life-saving care in another sector, either for ‘routine’ use or to help in circumstances when time is crucial, such as natural disasters or medical emergencies. It may be that the use of these medical drones drives the breakthrough in adoption that will see Jeff Bezos’ vision come to fruition.

There has been much spoken about the use of drones for delivery of commercial products. In 2013, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos claimed that drones would soon become ‘as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road’. However, despite significant expenditure and extensive testing programmes, that goal still seems a long way off. Meanwhile, use of drones has quietly moved forward in another significant sector…

One of the biggest challenges facing the provision of affordable healthcare in the developing world is the patchy distribution of facilities and expertise. In particular, remote rural areas often lack trained healthcare workers due to the difficulty in attracting such practitioners, and the general migration of better educated people to the cities. The problem can be compounded by a poor infrastructure of roads and other transport networks, and as a result it is not uncommon for patients to walk many miles over harsh terrain to consult a healthcare practitioner, who himself may have limited resources. And that walk may have to be repeated many times for further diagnosis and treatment.

A paradox of developing countries is that they are often capable of leap-frogging more advanced economies through infrastructure developments, in the same way that mobile networks have rapidly supplanted fixed line networks in many countries. Similarly, disruptive health technologies have the potential to transform the lives of millions of people in countries where access to healthcare is limited. This is because many novel diagnostic technologies are being designed for use at the point of care, where the need is most acute, rather than for the centralised hospital and laboratory systems found in the developed world. For example, rapid and affordable DNA-based tests for infectious diseases can not only provide sensitive indications of exposure to pathogens but can also indicate the correct course of treatment.

However, there still remains the problem of delivering appropriate medicines for treatment to the patient, while again avoiding an arduous trek to the doctor. Additionally, where such tests do not exist, health care in remote areas is still dependent on logistic support to transport samples to the nearest health centre and to transmit the result back to the clinic. In practice, this has meant reliance on land-based transport in the form of motorbikes or cars, which are vulnerable to the state of the roads.

Future Delivery of Medical Supplies

A solution that is being adopted in a number of countries is the use of Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs), or drones. Drones have the potential to make the transport of drugs, vaccines or medical aids much faster and more efficient, due to their ability to be rapidly deployed and to function in conditions that are unsuitable for wheeled vehicles. Perhaps the most impressive example is Zipline International, a Silicon Valley start-up that uses drones to deliver medicine and blood to rural clinics in Rwanda. This system for the delivery of life-saving medicines, established well in advance of the introduction of pizza delivery in developed countries, has been so successful that the company plans to launch a further system in Tanzania in 2018.

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The organisation is now functioning so well that health workers at remote clinics and hospitals can simply text orders for necessary medical products to Zipline, and within minutes those products are loaded from distribution centres onto drones, arriving by parachute 15 minutes later for what would previously have been a 4-hour journey. Having this agile supply chain can make a massive difference in the provision of critical healthcare to patients and is hugely effective at empowering doctors.

It seems likely that the use of drones for distribution of high-value items in remote and adverse environments will only grow, leading to an increasing need for enhanced control and navigation systems. For technology companies to take advantage of this, solutions will need to be designed specifically with drones in mind. This means miniaturised systems with minimal size, weight and power factors to allow for deployment. We’ve pushed the development of enhanced control and navigation further through our micro-radar system, using mm-wave frequencies from a miniaturised antenna to allow for navigation of difficult terrain in all weather conditions.

These unmanned drones offer a remarkable example of how a technology from one industry can facilitate the provision of life-saving care in another sector, either for ‘routine’ use or to help in circumstances when time is crucial, such as natural disasters or medical emergencies. It may be that the use of these medical drones drives the breakthrough in adoption that will see Jeff Bezos’ vision come to fruition.

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Further Reading

4 Steps to Designing Products That Delight Your Customer

4 Steps to Designing Products That Delight Your Customer

By: Polly Britton
Project Engineer, Product Design

7th February 2018

Home » Product Design » Page 2

This year Plextek encouraged me to attend a two-week course on Product Design taught by Magnus Long at Central Saint Martin’s College.

During my time there, I was taught to approach product design in four stages: Research, Ideation, Development, and Communication. I’m going to give a brief introduction to each of these using one of my own designs as an example.

The project brief was to “Improve the experience of ‘privacy’ within shared workspaces.” The product also had to be suitable for the Opendesk brand, meaning that it had to be constructed from simple plywood shapes.

Stage 1: Research

Before you can design for a specific problem you must know about the scenario. Where is it happening? Who is it happening to? Why is it happening? When is it happening, time of day, time of week, time of year?

“Where” was specified in the brief so I started the project by going to shared workspaces: the British Library, the University Library, King’s Cross Station, and Costa Coffee. I watched people working, asked them about their experience of privacy and working in shared spaces in general, and I thought back to my experiences of working in the university library when I was an engineering student.

What I found was that nobody was bothered by a lack of privacy and many of them enjoyed sharing the space with others because it helped them to focus. I thought about improving privacy, rather than increasing it, and about the Plextek office where we work side-by-side and I only need to turn my head to address another engineer in my department. In this instance, improving privacy meant decreasing it.

During the research stage, you might also want to create a user persona to keep in your mind as you develop your design. My persona for this project was a student I met in the university library, who went there to study for exams and write up course-work, but a persona could be an imaginary combination of real people.


Stage 2: Ideation

The ideation stage is your chance to let your imagination go wild. You are probably familiar with brain-storming and talking through ideas over a meeting table, but there are other techniques that you can try. The most important thing is giving all ideas a voice. Perhaps you can think of an existing product that can be improved on or re-purposed to solve the problem, or you have an idea that does not even obey the physical laws of the universe. Sometimes, thinking about what would make the problem worse can help think of a solution. Instead of thinking about why someone else’s idea won’t work, try to top it with an even crazier idea. This will encourage everyone’s creativity and lateral thinking.

After all the ideas have been recorded you can start to eliminate the impossible, the unsafe, and the illegal, then the unfeasible, the prohibitively expensive, and the offensive, etc. until you are left with the best of them. Depending on how long you have for the project, you could bring a few ideas forward to the next stage or just one.

I only had two weeks to finish my entire project so I brought just one idea forward: A desk chair that became two seats, for when two people want to work together at one desk.

Stage 3: Development

Even with just one idea there can be many ways to execute it, so you may repeat the ideation phase to explore the possible embodiments of the idea.

I sketched some different ways the chair could work; a stool could be stowed under the seat, a flap hinged on the side that extended the width of the seat, a similar extension that slides out from under the seat. The solution I settled on was to divide the chair vertically and have the two halves kept together by the back of the chair. When the back piece is slid out, the chair becomes two stools.

For this concept to work, the seat must be stable in its combined form, as well as each stool being stable on its own. This involved the application of basic principles I learnt in the Mechanics module of my Maths A Level and some intuition.


Stage 4: Communication

In my last blog, I discussed some ways to think about product personality, how it is communicated, and how it relates to company branding.

For my project, I chose to put my trust in Opendesk’s branding and style, since they have managed to build a business on it already. I used their most popular products to inspire my chair design so it would look natural in the collection. I added curves in some places and straight lines in others and drew a few variants, which I showed to some other people to get their opinion. This is the ½ scale miniature I submitted for my final design:


How can this help you?

In the competitive world of design, there isn’t always time to go through this entire process, and it isn’t always appropriate. In some circumstances, companies often develop technology before finding an application for it – their clients might even save them the trouble by laying out exactly what they want with a detailed specification.

However, if you can identify a problem that a significant number of people have and provide a product or service that solves that problem, your customers will pay you not just for the work but for also improving their lives. Different projects require different approaches, but when it comes to design you can never have too many conceptual tools, ready to be applied when the right project comes along.

This year Plextek encouraged me to attend a two-week course on Product Design taught by Magnus Long at Central Saint Martin’s College.

During my time there, I was taught to approach product design in four stages: Research, Ideation, Development, and Communication. I’m going to give a brief introduction to each of these using one of my own designs as an example.

The project brief was to “Improve the experience of ‘privacy’ within shared workspaces.” The product also had to be suitable for the Opendesk brand, meaning that it had to be constructed from simple plywood shapes.

Stage 1: Research

Before you can design for a specific problem you must know about the scenario. Where is it happening? Who is it happening to? Why is it happening? When is it happening, time of day, time of week, time of year?

“Where” was specified in the brief so I started the project by going to shared workspaces: the British Library, the University Library, King’s Cross Station, and Costa Coffee. I watched people working, asked them about their experience of privacy and working in shared spaces in general, and I thought back to my experiences of working in the university library when I was an engineering student.

What I found was that nobody was bothered by a lack of privacy and many of them enjoyed sharing the space with others because it helped them to focus. I thought about improving privacy, rather than increasing it, and about the Plextek office where we work side-by-side and I only need to turn my head to address another engineer in my department. In this instance, improving privacy meant decreasing it.

During the research stage, you might also want to create a user persona to keep in your mind as you develop your design. My persona for this project was a student I met in the university library, who went there to study for exams and write up course-work, but a persona could be an imaginary combination of real people.


Stage 2: Ideation

The ideation stage is your chance to let your imagination go wild. You are probably familiar with brain-storming and talking through ideas over a meeting table, but there are other techniques that you can try. The most important thing is giving all ideas a voice. Perhaps you can think of an existing product that can be improved on or re-purposed to solve the problem, or you have an idea that does not even obey the physical laws of the universe. Sometimes, thinking about what would make the problem worse can help think of a solution. Instead of thinking about why someone else’s idea won’t work, try to top it with an even crazier idea. This will encourage everyone’s creativity and lateral thinking.

After all the ideas have been recorded you can start to eliminate the impossible, the unsafe, and the illegal, then the unfeasible, the prohibitively expensive, and the offensive, etc. until you are left with the best of them. Depending on how long you have for the project, you could bring a few ideas forward to the next stage or just one.

I only had two weeks to finish my entire project so I brought just one idea forward: A desk chair that became two seats, for when two people want to work together at one desk.

Stage 3: Development

Even with just one idea there can be many ways to execute it, so you may repeat the ideation phase to explore the possible embodiments of the idea.

I sketched some different ways the chair could work; a stool could be stowed under the seat, a flap hinged on the side that extended the width of the seat, a similar extension that slides out from under the seat. The solution I settled on was to divide the chair vertically and have the two halves kept together by the back of the chair. When the back piece is slid out, the chair becomes two stools.

For this concept to work, the seat must be stable in its combined form, as well as each stool being stable on its own. This involved the application of basic principles I learnt in the Mechanics module of my Maths A Level and some intuition.


Stage 4: Communication

In my last blog, I discussed some ways to think about product personality, how it is communicated, and how it relates to company branding.

For my project, I chose to put my trust in Opendesk’s branding and style, since they have managed to build a business on it already. I used their most popular products to inspire my chair design so it would look natural in the collection. I added curves in some places and straight lines in others and drew a few variants, which I showed to some other people to get their opinion. This is the ½ scale miniature I submitted for my final design:


How can this help you?

In the competitive world of design, there isn’t always time to go through this entire process, and it isn’t always appropriate. In some circumstances, companies often develop technology before finding an application for it – their clients might even save them the trouble by laying out exactly what they want with a detailed specification.

However, if you can identify a problem that a significant number of people have and provide a product or service that solves that problem, your customers will pay you not just for the work but for also improving their lives. Different projects require different approaches, but when it comes to design you can never have too many conceptual tools, ready to be applied when the right project comes along.

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Further Reading

Giving Your Product Personality

Giving Your Product Personality

By: Polly Britton
Project Engineer, Product Design

22nd November 2017

Home » Product Design » Page 2

All products have personality, whether it’s a sleek, modern smartphone or an industrial, rugged drain cover. The “look” of a smartphone is carefully crafted by its designers over weeks or months; while I suspect the drain cover engineers just made a cast iron plate to do the job and added some texture to the surface so no one would slip on it.

No matter how ‘everyday’ a product may seem, each engineer designs with the end-user in mind and how they would ultimately “feel” when they look or use the final product. Don’t believe me? Do you not feel the safety of added grip when walking over a drain cover’s embossed grooves? And we all get a feeling of excitement when we hold and use the latest smartphone. It’s all these major and (nearly almost always) subtle characteristics that create emotion and defines a product’s personality.

What personality should you give your product?

The kind of personality given to a product can depend on a number of things.

If the target customer base is mostly composed of a particular gender or age group, or defined by some other common characteristic then that might make a big difference to how the product looks and how it is marketed. Razors for women are pink and sleek. Toys for children are vibrant and simple. An expensive sports car has to look fast, to the point where the shape of the car might actually be less aerodynamic.

You might also think about the location and situation the product will be used in: if it’s the kitchen, the product should look “at home” among other kitchen appliances and furniture, just like a hand-drill should not look out-of-place next to other tools and workshop equipment.

You also have to take the company’s branding into account, whether it’s your brand or your client’s brand. Brand recognition is very important for business so a product might have to look instantly recognisable as belonging to that brand. But branding is not just the colours and shapes the brand uses, it’s the overall character. Is the brand accessible or exclusive? Modern or traditional? Playful or serious? Think about how the company brands itself compared its competitors.

These are just some of the biggest considerations. There are many more! Not all of them will be relevant to every product and in some designs one will take priority over the others.

Some products are more ambiguous, like Coca-Cola, which is broadly appealing and instantly recognisable, no matter the age, gender, country, profession, or situation. I think this is only possible because of how old the product is; everyone already knows what it is and what it’s for because it has remained largely unchanged for over one hundred years. Compare this to Diet Coke, which is directed at young women so successfully that The Coca-Cola Company invented Coke Zero so men could have a low-calorie Cola drink too!

How do you communicate personality?

Let’s take a look at the Cubert desk lamp, a Colebrook Bosson Saunders product with the electronics designed at Plextek, for modern hotel rooms and offices. Cubert has a simple, modern look to compliment a computer monitor, TV screen, or phone that might be on the desk with it, and the devices that will be plugged into it. This is achieved with the square base, the slender stem, and flat, adjustable head. It is coloured in neutral tones so it will not clash with any colours in whatever room it is in. The light tones also give the impression of light itself, since white is the most reflective colour.

Here is an exercise I find fun and useful: if Cubert was a person, what kind of person would it be? I imagine a man in his twenties wearing a clean white shirt, no tie, likes to solve Sudoku puzzles on his phone and is easy to talk to at parties. This is not to be confused with your target demographic; it’s just a way to start thinking about personalities.

If you want to develop your intuition about product personality, start by paying attention to the products and brands all around you. Look at the furniture in your home, the packaging on your food, and cars on the road, and think about their human characteristics. It can help to compare products that serve the same purpose that look different. For example, the shape and packaging of Cadbury, compared to Galaxy, and compared to Hershey’s. Starbucks compared to Costa, and compared to Café Nero.

“Personality goes a long way”

One of the exciting things about product design is that a small spark of inspiration near the start of a project can have a big influence on the finished product. For this reason, thinking about personality early in a project can elevate the final product from something that functions as it should, to something eye-catching or delightful or so at-home in its environment that you barely notice it’s there. However, you always want your customer to feel a positive emotion when they see your product and you can prod them in the right direction by adding personality.

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All products have personality, whether it’s a sleek, modern smartphone or an industrial, rugged drain cover. The “look” of a smartphone is carefully crafted by its designers over weeks or months; while I suspect the drain cover engineers just made a cast iron plate to do the job and added some texture to the surface so no one would slip on it.

No matter how ‘everyday’ a product may seem, each engineer designs with the end-user in mind and how they would ultimately “feel” when they look or use the final product. Don’t believe me? Do you not feel the safety of added grip when walking over a drain cover’s embossed grooves? And we all get a feeling of excitement when we hold and use the latest smartphone. It’s all these major and (nearly almost always) subtle characteristics that create emotion and defines a product’s personality.

What personality should you give your product?

The kind of personality given to a product can depend on a number of things.

If the target customer base is mostly composed of a particular gender or age group, or defined by some other common characteristic then that might make a big difference to how the product looks and how it is marketed. Razors for women are pink and sleek. Toys for children are vibrant and simple. An expensive sports car has to look fast, to the point where the shape of the car might actually be less aerodynamic.

You might also think about the location and situation the product will be used in: if it’s the kitchen, the product should look “at home” among other kitchen appliances and furniture, just like a hand-drill should not look out-of-place next to other tools and workshop equipment.

You also have to take the company’s branding into account, whether it’s your brand or your client’s brand. Brand recognition is very important for business so a product might have to look instantly recognisable as belonging to that brand. But branding is not just the colours and shapes the brand uses, it’s the overall character. Is the brand accessible or exclusive? Modern or traditional? Playful or serious? Think about how the company brands itself compared its competitors.

These are just some of the biggest considerations. There are many more! Not all of them will be relevant to every product and in some designs one will take priority over the others.

Some products are more ambiguous, like Coca-Cola, which is broadly appealing and instantly recognisable, no matter the age, gender, country, profession, or situation. I think this is only possible because of how old the product is; everyone already knows what it is and what it’s for because it has remained largely unchanged for over one hundred years. Compare this to Diet Coke, which is directed at young women so successfully that The Coca-Cola Company invented Coke Zero so men could have a low-calorie Cola drink too!

How do you communicate personality?

Let’s take a look at the Cubert desk lamp, a Colebrook Bosson Saunders product with the electronics designed at Plextek, for modern hotel rooms and offices. Cubert has a simple, modern look to compliment a computer monitor, TV screen, or phone that might be on the desk with it, and the devices that will be plugged into it. This is achieved with the square base, the slender stem, and flat, adjustable head. It is coloured in neutral tones so it will not clash with any colours in whatever room it is in. The light tones also give the impression of light itself, since white is the most reflective colour.

Here is an exercise I find fun and useful: if Cubert was a person, what kind of person would it be? I imagine a man in his twenties wearing a clean white shirt, no tie, likes to solve Sudoku puzzles on his phone and is easy to talk to at parties. This is not to be confused with your target demographic; it’s just a way to start thinking about personalities.

If you want to develop your intuition about product personality, start by paying attention to the products and brands all around you. Look at the furniture in your home, the packaging on your food, and cars on the road, and think about their human characteristics. It can help to compare products that serve the same purpose that look different. For example, the shape and packaging of Cadbury, compared to Galaxy, and compared to Hershey’s. Starbucks compared to Costa, and compared to Café Nero.

“Personality goes a long way”

One of the exciting things about product design is that a small spark of inspiration near the start of a project can have a big influence on the finished product. For this reason, thinking about personality early in a project can elevate the final product from something that functions as it should, to something eye-catching or delightful or so at-home in its environment that you barely notice it’s there. However, you always want your customer to feel a positive emotion when they see your product and you can prod them in the right direction by adding personality.

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Further Reading

50 ways to leave your lover

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover…. And to Solve a Problem

Stephen Field - Lead Consultant, Product Design

By: Stephen Field
Lead Consultant, Product Design

15th November 2017

Home » Product Design » Page 2

There are ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’ according to singer Paul Simon in his hit song from 1975. Looking back, he only managed to recommend five, quite vague, ways of extricating yourself from a physical relationship. I suppose you’d call that false advertising, or perhaps, over-promising and under-delivering.

Of course, Paul is only tapping into his own personal experiences and knowledge. There are likely more than fifty ways to leave one’s lover and, with no pretence of a subtle transition, I move on to compare the themes of this song to the role of the engineering designer.

In terms of mechanical design, there are usually many ways to solve a design problem. In fact, you’ll be able to find parallels here that relate to any design or engineering specialism. While there are numerous solutions to a problem, no one person, no matter how clever or experienced, can have sufficient insight to see all the possible approaches. Each of us has a limitation on what training and experience we have received and what life has exposed us to. This knowledge informs how we react to design challenges; how we approach them and the courses of action we inherently pursue.

Collaboratively, we can accomplish so much more. The adage ‘two heads are better than one’ is completely true in this scenario. Working together to solve problems enables a much wider experience to fertilise the problem-solving egg. When done at the right time, this can be amplified by the use of brainstorming techniques.

Brainstorming is most effective when the team is comprised of a diverse range of backgrounds. An individual’s engineering experiences ensures each member brings something unique to the creative process and we’re able to visualise many possible solutions as a result. Brainstorming helps us avoid simply opting for the first solution that comes to mind, which may not be the best. Furthermore, working in a team also helps the creative process. One idea sparks another, and so on.

A diverse team with an open dialogue approach to the creative process allows for the introduction of different ways of seeing the world and the challenges we face. These varied viewpoints help to steer the design to the best solution. The person who can see the holes in another’s plan has just as an important contribution as the one making the suggestion.

The moral of the story; during the creative phase of the design process – share and collaborate with your colleagues. Almost certainly they will have a perspective you’ve not seen. When faced with a mental block over your design, share and welcome different and even opposing views from a supportive team. Make a new plan, Stan.

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There are ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’ according to singer Paul Simon in his hit song from 1975. Looking back, he only managed to recommend five, quite vague, ways of extricating yourself from a physical relationship. I suppose you’d call that false advertising, or perhaps, over-promising and under-delivering.

Of course, Paul is only tapping into his own personal experiences and knowledge. There are likely more than fifty ways to leave one’s lover and, with no pretence of a subtle transition, I move on to compare the themes of this song to the role of the engineering designer.

In terms of mechanical design, there are usually many ways to solve a design problem. In fact, you’ll be able to find parallels here that relate to any design or engineering specialism. While there are numerous solutions to a problem, no one person, no matter how clever or experienced, can have sufficient insight to see all the possible approaches. Each of us has a limitation on what training and experience we have received and what life has exposed us to. This knowledge informs how we react to design challenges; how we approach them and the courses of action we inherently pursue.

Collaboratively, we can accomplish so much more. The adage ‘two heads are better than one’ is completely true in this scenario. Working together to solve problems enables a much wider experience to fertilise the problem-solving egg. When done at the right time, this can be amplified by the use of brainstorming techniques.

Brainstorming is most effective when the team is comprised of a diverse range of backgrounds. An individual’s engineering experiences ensures each member brings something unique to the creative process and we’re able to visualise many possible solutions as a result. Brainstorming helps us avoid simply opting for the first solution that comes to mind, which may not be the best. Furthermore, working in a team also helps the creative process. One idea sparks another, and so on.

A diverse team with an open dialogue approach to the creative process allows for the introduction of different ways of seeing the world and the challenges we face. These varied viewpoints help to steer the design to the best solution. The person who can see the holes in another’s plan has just as an important contribution as the one making the suggestion.

The moral of the story; during the creative phase of the design process – share and collaborate with your colleagues. Almost certainly they will have a perspective you’ve not seen. When faced with a mental block over your design, share and welcome different and even opposing views from a supportive team. Make a new plan, Stan.

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Further Reading

Innovation… What Does It Mean?

Stewart Da'Silva - Senior Designer, Product Design

By: Stewart Da’Silva
Senior Designer, Product Design

8th November 2017

Home » Product Design » Page 2

The buzz word of the moment that is constantly being bandied about is ‘innovation’. There is hardly a departmental or company briefing where that word isn’t mentioned.

Indeed, it seems to be held up in the business world as the holy grail of survival; a panacea against the risk of extinction (in the corporate sense). Market gurus metaphorically stand on tip-toes whilst balancing on rooftops shouting through megaphones…”INNOVATE OR DIE!”

But what exactly does ‘innovation’ mean? What does it mean to us as individuals and as a company?

My perception of ‘innovation’ is that it isn’t something that I, personally, should bother my pretty little head about. After all, I know for certain that having spent my whole working life immersed in the world of engineering… I have never once in all those many, many years had a spark of an original idea that has ever taken seed and germinated in the wilderness that is my brain.

No, I had assumed that this call for us to innovate was directed towards the more intelligent amongst us and that they were being asked to dream up some new ground-breaking idea… a blinding flash of inspiration that our company could exploit in the form of some great new product.

Then the realisation began to dawn; that there, in fact, had been very few real inventions of any substance for many years.

A case in point is in our own industry – electronics.

It is accepted that the transistor was the starting point of the phenomenal growth of the electronics industry as we know it today. The ‘invention’ of the transistor took place in the Bell Laboratories in 1947 by John Barbeen and Walter Brattain, in fact, they, together with William Shockley, received the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics for “their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect.”

Except… they didn’t ‘discover’ the transistor effect.

It was, in fact, described by one Julius Lilienfeld in a patent that he filed in Canada on the ‘field effect transistor’ in 1925. Although he patented it – he published no known research articles on the subject. Bell scientists Bardeen and Brattain, in fact, built a field effect transistor utilising Lilienfeld’s patent in their research laboratory and surprisingly it worked, they then set about improving and refining the efficiency of the device and then published their findings – although Lilienfeld’s patent was the basis for their transistor, he was never credited in their published papers.

But then Lilienfeld himself had built upon research and observations that had gone before.

In 1833, Faraday’s research on the negative temperature coefficient of resistance of silver sulphide was the first recorded observation of any semiconductor property. The trail from Faraday’s experiments to the Lilienfeld patent had many, many contributors.

My point?

Nanos gigantum humeris insidentes’ – discovering truth by building on previous discoveries.

The first working transistor wasn’t invented in 1947, it evolved from Faraday’s first observations in 1833. At that time, that is all it was, an observation – with no obvious applications.

This meandering pathway had then progressed towards its conclusion (the transistor) in a succession of incremental steps. Academics and scientists didn’t carry on their given research in splendid isolation from those that went before. If they found some relevance to their own research then they applied those previous observations and investigations to further their own knowledge and that of those that were to follow.

Which brings me back to where I started – ‘Innovation… what does it mean?’

In today’s engineering environment, I believe that it means that we, each and every one of us, could be an innovator. We don’t have to be qualified in a specific field. We just need to be open and have the vision to see how established techniques in the world around us could be transferred and applied to other disciplines to create or improve an existing product: cross-pollination of ideas and skills. Indeed, in the first instance, there is no need for detail… just the vision.

I believe that each and every one of us is capable of doing that.

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The buzz word of the moment that is constantly being bandied about is ‘innovation’. There is hardly a departmental or company briefing where that word isn’t mentioned.

Indeed, it seems to be held up in the business world as the holy grail of survival; a panacea against the risk of extinction (in the corporate sense). Market gurus metaphorically stand on tip-toes whilst balancing on rooftops shouting through megaphones…”INNOVATE OR DIE!”

But what exactly does ‘innovation’ mean? What does it mean to us as individuals and as a company?

My perception of ‘innovation’ is that it isn’t something that I, personally, should bother my pretty little head about. After all, I know for certain that having spent my whole working life immersed in the world of engineering… I have never once in all those many, many years had a spark of an original idea that has ever taken seed and germinated in the wilderness that is my brain.

No, I had assumed that this call for us to innovate was directed towards the more intelligent amongst us and that they were being asked to dream up some new ground-breaking idea… a blinding flash of inspiration that our company could exploit in the form of some great new product.

Then the realisation began to dawn; that there, in fact, had been very few real inventions of any substance for many years.

A case in point is in our own industry – electronics.

It is accepted that the transistor was the starting point of the phenomenal growth of the electronics industry as we know it today. The ‘invention’ of the transistor took place in the Bell Laboratories in 1947 by John Barbeen and Walter Brattain, in fact, they, together with William Shockley, received the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics for “their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect.”

Except… they didn’t ‘discover’ the transistor effect.

It was, in fact, described by one Julius Lilienfeld in a patent that he filed in Canada on the ‘field effect transistor’ in 1925. Although he patented it – he published no known research articles on the subject. Bell scientists Bardeen and Brattain, in fact, built a field effect transistor utilising Lilienfeld’s patent in their research laboratory and surprisingly it worked, they then set about improving and refining the efficiency of the device and then published their findings – although Lilienfeld’s patent was the basis for their transistor, he was never credited in their published papers.

But then Lilienfeld himself had built upon research and observations that had gone before.

In 1833, Faraday’s research on the negative temperature coefficient of resistance of silver sulphide was the first recorded observation of any semiconductor property. The trail from Faraday’s experiments to the Lilienfeld patent had many, many contributors.

My point?

Nanos gigantum humeris insidentes’ – discovering truth by building on previous discoveries.

The first working transistor wasn’t invented in 1947, it evolved from Faraday’s first observations in 1833. At that time, that is all it was, an observation – with no obvious applications.

This meandering pathway had then progressed towards its conclusion (the transistor) in a succession of incremental steps. Academics and scientists didn’t carry on their given research in splendid isolation from those that went before. If they found some relevance to their own research then they applied those previous observations and investigations to further their own knowledge and that of those that were to follow.

Which brings me back to where I started – ‘Innovation… what does it mean?’

In today’s engineering environment, I believe that it means that we, each and every one of us, could be an innovator. We don’t have to be qualified in a specific field. We just need to be open and have the vision to see how established techniques in the world around us could be transferred and applied to other disciplines to create or improve an existing product: cross-pollination of ideas and skills. Indeed, in the first instance, there is no need for detail… just the vision.

I believe that each and every one of us is capable of doing that.

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Further Reading