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A Fundamental Shift in the Product Design Paradigm
by Michael Davis

Solid modeling has taken a strong hold and clearly looks to be the top player for the first decade of the 21st century. Perhaps most importantly, it is paving the way to a simplified design process, shorter design cycles, and a new breed of product designer, says industrial designer, Michael Davis.

Few would argue with the fact that solid modeling has had a major impact on product design and development in the past decade. But other aspects of product design also deserve mention. For one, the design process has evolved. For another, a new breed of product designer is emerging.

The elaborate long-term product development process of just a few short years ago has been reduced to a simple set of steps. This has occurred mostly because of the reduced time for engineering changes with a parametric data set, but also because of the true and real paperless path for engineering and design specification.

Yeah, yeah, I know-paper is still needed to verify a design, but if a company wanted to, it could effectively remove all printed material from the design process. Paper drawings are not technically necessary today to create actual parts and tooling, to review designs or check parts against spec. Yes, I still use a pen plotter and like most designers, feel a little more comfortable reviewing designs on the big sheet, but I am of the boomer generation, having started my career 3 years before the advent of the personal computer. I still prefer the ruffle sound of a newspaper in my hands . . . but that too is fading even in my own mindset.

The fact is that the old ways are quietly being cast aside in favor of newer and faster approaches. A perfect example of this is in the area of product design and manufacture. In some cases, product development cycles that took 24 months a few years ago are now down to between 30 and 120 days, depending on the design. How was this accomplished? In part, through the increased compatibility between the development software and the model and tool production machinery that very directly takes files from the designer to implement models or tooling. The translation process seems to get better with each software revision.

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But there's another key factor that needs to be considered here as well. The process of communication between designers, engineers, marketers, managers, and manufacturers working on projects in diverse locations is getting easier. There is also a new breed of product designer emerging.

The New Rock Star

Last year, I had the opportunity to speak before two groups of about 75 people at the SolidWorks World Conference as one of the presenters. And I asked this question, "How many here are engineers?" to which about half raised their hands. Then I asked, "how many of you engineers practice industrial design?" to which most of the engineer types raised their hands. Then I asked, "how many are industrial designers?" And again, about half the room (the other half) raised their hands, and again I asked, "how many of you Industrial Designers practice mechanical design?" And again most all of the ID people raised their hands. The moral to the story is that it was a powerful confirmation of what I have always believed: that design is a singular-process which all engineers and designers consider themselves capable of.

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