Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Design for Assembly

Good designs are always simple.  They are so simple that you don't realize it if you don't think about it.  I recently bought a patio table from IKEA.  As always, IKEA does a great job in packaging and instructions.  It was a complex piece of furniture with collapsible leaves and a glass top.  But, it came with simple instructions, set of fasteners and the tools required.  How many manufacturers think of including the tools needed?

As soon as I unpack the fasteners I usually dump them all into a bowl to make sure I don't lose any.  BTW, what is wrong with including a couple extra screws and nuts with any item shipped?  Have you ever lost a screw or a nut and found yourself running to the local Home Depot to pick a spare.  It is the most frustrating experience.  You are so pissed that you want to return the piece of junk (after an hour of assembly labor, you discover that a bolt is missing), but you cannot, because it is half assembled and will not fit in your car anymore!  Morons.  If the BOM calls for 24 screws, throw in 25.  I know that in the small scheme of things, every piece matters to the bottom line, but in the big scheme of things, customer happiness trumps everything.

Back to the patio table.  Here I am with my bowl ready to pour over the fasteners.  I open the blister pack and tilt it into the bowl, but nothing falls.  I then notice that the clever engineers at IKEA have used a soft double sided glue strip on the packaging (see pic above) so that the washers and nuts stick to it until I pull them apart. What a clever idea.  The cardboard holds the fasteners for me until I need them.  These simple things are what count for immense customer satisfaction and pleasure.  This is what IKEA excels at.

Have you ever wondered why IKEA has the designer's name printed on every product?  In case you have not noticed, all products have the designer's name printed on the packaging.  It achieves two things:  for one, it honors the designer for the work they have done.  And, two, it makes a public statement about you.  Imagine the designer who created the chair which keeps falling apart.  "Inga, your chair is the worst chair I have ever sat on.  You are not fit to be a designer". On the other hand, imagine your pleasure when your fans call to tell you how great your designs are!

Every product I buy, every product I assemble, teaches me a lesson.  It is amazing to see companies like IKEA, Apple and others push the boundaries in customer convenience and satisfaction.  All other companies should follow their lead and design products that are convenient to assemble as well as use.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why didn't I think of that?

You are in a public restroom and have diligently washed your hands with soap and water after taking care of business.  You are about to walk out and you notice this person walking out of a stall and directly heading for the door ahead of you.  He opens the door with his hand and walks off.

We have all been in this situation.  What do you do now? 

Some of us resort to shrugging our shoulders and walking out the door.  Some of us have used clever means (waiting for another person to open the door, or open the door with a piece of paper towel, etc.) to escape from the restroom without touching the door handle.  These situations always get me thinking about the problem at hand and try to solve it.  There are many ways to solving (preventing) this problem:
- Install door handles that spray anti-bac lotion upon grabbing them.  But, this may not go well with people who dislike anti-bac lotions.
- Install motion sensing doors so there is no need for door handles.
- Install push open (from inside) doors so you can push with your foot.

The prevention techniques are either expensive or not acceptable.  What do you do if you had a door that opens inside and cannot use anti-bac lotion, and are cash strapped?  The simplest solution is generally the best solution. 

That is exactly what I saw at the Delta lounge at DTW.  This solution takes away the assumption that doors are to be opened by hands.  The picture below illustrates how simple it is.  The first image shows the instructions (simple and no words), and the second image shows my foot opening the door.  There are no moving parts and hence no maintenance.  There is no need for electricity or any technology, thus further reducing maintenance costs.  The only maintenance required is regular cleaning.

Elegant and simple solutions like this are what we need.  Nowadays, there is so much technology readily available to us, we start over-thinking the solution.  This is a classic example of a simple solution to a simple problem.