Thursday, October 15, 2009

Design vs Engineering

A lot of products these days seem to be impractical and have features designed strictly for "showroom appeal". A case in point is the high trunk decks, low roof lines and thick rear pillars on many current cars. These combine to hamper visibility to the rear, contributing to many road and parking accidents. Ironically, many of these vehicles now offer optional "rear visibility packages" consisting of a rear camera and a front video screen. An engineer would simply have put in bigger windows with thinner pillars. [Update 2012-10-31: A bill making its way through the US government would make such cameras mandatory on all future vehicles.]

The entire Apple product line is full of such design features, and since Apple's products are so fashionable, these ideas are now being copied by their competitors. To list just a few of the undesirable features of the Mac laptops I have worked with:

  • white case shows every speck of dirt
  • lid hinge design limits range of screen viewing angles
  • slot-loading DVD drive won't accept camcorder DVDs
  • flat-topped keys give no tactile feedback for centering fingers
[Update 2010-07-02: According to Computerworld, Apple's new iPhone 4 "represents, above all, the new power of designers over engineers and usability three design areas [shape, antenna, case] Apple had a clear choice between elegance and usability, and chose elegance every time" The writer says the iPhone 4 is heavy, fragile, and drops calls unless it's held in a special way. See]
[Update 2012-10-31: Apple's iPhone 5 has got rid of the non-functional glass back of the iPhone 4, and now brags about how much thinner it is!]