User-Centered Engineering Design

What a great example of the process and benefits of engineering design!
(TED talk – Amos Winter: The cheap all-terrain wheelchair)

Customer experience (CX) is the primary component of innovative engineering design. The concept of a user-centered design is adopted by some of the greatest minds and companies of our time. Steve Jobs stated, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.” In the video, Amos and his team were the embodiment of this fundamental design principle when they generated an innovative solution in an area of need.

How did they do it? As Amos stated, he and his team started with a user-centered approach, identified and engaged all stake holders, produced boundary conditions, and then applied engineering principles to construct a viable design that could be manufactured, used, and repaired.

User-Centered Design

The user-centered approach means they developed the project’s performance requirements with the perspective and input from the end user, who has tremendous insight. Generally, product design is not just about developing something that works but it must consider the socioeconomic aspects as well as the usage environment. The end user is fully invested and has considered multiple scenarios and ideas but generally does not have the resources to produce their concepts.

The Stake Holders

Much like the user, all stake holders provide valuable insight and knowledge that produce better designs. Thus, their contribution is irreplaceable when defining a project’s boundary conditions. Key stake holders can include the user, manufactures, local repair shops, material suppliers, engineers, and even investors. Each one provides a different perspective and area of expertise for key stages in the product development process.

Engineering Principles

The final element is applying the engineering principles to generate a manufacturable, usable, and repairable product. A common misstep in design is trying to “reinvent the wheel”. However, another key concept in design is to keep it simple. We live in a highly sophisticated and developed world where solutions are abound. As an example, Amos cross-pollinated existing technologies, the mountain bike and the lever arm, with the identified problem and furnished a resolution. Utilizing a simple solution approach allowed the team to maintain focus on the user experience. They then built, tested, and analyzed multiple prototypes until they reached a viable product.

With the help of an established engineering firm, like Polaris Engineering Group, which develops products with a user-centered approach while providing requisite analysis and consulting, you too can convert an idea into reality.

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