Design task wicked problems

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Patterning as ID aspect (but also cad work involved)

Sustainability- i.e. materials, mdf, how the cut outs of ply were used on the opposite side- minimal waste of ply or mdf.


Section 1 - Wicked problems and own example

A wicked, (or ill-defined) problem in design refers to a design task not being able to be completed to the best standard due to restraints such as user, environment or materials available. These might also all be constantly changing, and solving one problem may bring rise to another in a different environment, or with a different user. This means that the problem is never solved definitively

With the design task that I tackled, a coffee table, it can be called a wicked problem due to the fact that no table is the "correct" or wrong way to design one. It has some limits that make it useable such as being a flat surface which items can be placed on, and not tipping over when done so. Coffee tables have areas which can be changed and have so much variability that this brings rise to the question of which design is best? It should be the one that can be used in the most environments, by the most people, and work the best. But in different environments this last point can have differing qualities.

For example in a small home a small coffee table would be wanted, providing enough space to put magazines/books/drinks down on and not taking up any more space in the room. This design in a large room would be almost useless and the table would stick out aesthetically as it would not fit in with the size of everything else in the room, and would not be what the user wanted.

Another problem is that the user would want to use the table for different things depending on their own personal needs, and the environment that it is in. So should the table be designed to have lots of storage space, Or to be as simple as possible?

If a coffee table was designed in a more traditional style with thick wooden legs, a solid base, and a wooden top surface, it would not fit in with the style of many houses, as a very simplistic glass topped table with thin legs would not suit the environment of many houses also.

Should the table be designed to have wheels and be easy to move around, so having many uses? Or should it be a heavy fixed feature of a room?

With many differing opinions on what design would be best for each user, environment, and task; what could be considered the best design, and how do you decide which is best? A design is good if it is able to do the task it is designed for, is wanted by the user, and is sustainable (either by long life or recycling). The last is the most easily solved if a coffee table was to be designed for all users, tasks and environments; and should be dependent on the materials used and the way that they are joined together. The other two problems are much more difficult to solve, as users will want the table for different things, and no table can be designed to do everything and be the simplest table at the same time. This problem is joined with the first of the table being able to do the task it is designed for, as the task it is designed for depends on what the user wants it for, and it will not be wanted by the user if it does not fill the requirement that they want.

When I started the design of my coffee table I did not know everything that I needed to know to design it. I had to find anthropometric data so that the table could be designed to accommodate most people. The data that I used was for the lower percentile females and higher percentile males so it could be used by most. However this data is based only on British data collection so the table may not have been comfortable for use in another area of the world. Another variation is the height of the chair that a person is sitting in as this is not known. I learnt all these problems as I began designing it and soon realised that no 'perfect' coffee table could be designed. I learnt about most of the problems at the beginning of the project, and had to design around them, and in that sense it was not a 'linear' model of design.

I stopped my last design project because I believed I had come up with the best solution to the design task in the time constraints that were applied. I assume that similar cases will apply to my future design projects whilst in education. Professional designers must have time constraints as well, if employed by a company; otherwise they would simply stop designing when they believed that they had arrived at the best solution.

When a person expresses their views about design it is usually to highlight areas of improvement or areas where the product has achieved its task exceptionally well. A design is not 'right' or 'wrong' as long as it performs the task it was designed to do. The criteria that make it 'better' or 'worse' include; comfort of use, sustainability, product life, aesthetics etc.

There is no way to 'test' a so called solution to a wicked problem to see if it is the best way to do it, as for example, you could not trial a coffee table with every single user in the world. Every attempt at a solution to a wicked problem counts as they are irreversible and future designers will look back at what has already been created to find ways to improve upon it. And in this way never starting from a 'clean slate.' There is no way to tell when you should stop designing a wicked problem because you do not know when you will come up with a better idea. However if something is produced which is better than anything else on the market in one way, and equal or better in others then that is a reasonable time to stop designing.

Section 2 - In relation to own project; traditional ID aspects, engineer aspects, sustainability aspects

In the coffee table that I recently designed, there are different areas of the designing process that could be considered traditional industrial designer aspects, or that of the engineer and other areas where sustainability is designed in.

For example I designed as an industrial designer when considering the ergonomics of the table, and the target users. This had an impact on my final design form and function as it changed the dimensions of the table, and the choice of materials used. But linking in with these I also had to consider the sustainability. For example- there would be no point picking a material which would be best for the aesthetics or function, if something just as good and more recyclable could be used. I also decided to only use three types of material in my design, so that it could be easily recycled. I used glass, plywood, and mdf, which is already a recycled material. I also designed the patterning on the legs to be negatives of each other on each side. This meant that the cut outs for one side were used on the other- minimising waste to the tiny edge pieces that the pattern was cut from. (Approximately 1mm wide and 400mm long on each edge)

I shaped the legs to be triangular in shape for stability, and sustainability, as the legs could then be cut from one rectangular piece with no waste apart from sanding shavings. The glass top was cut from one rectangular piece with minimal waste due to the shape. The glass can also be recycled or reused.

The Engineering aspects were linked in with the material choices and dimensions that were picked because I had to find a way to join the triangular pieces together in a way that would balance the glass top and still provide an attractive presentation of the 'legs'. As the height of the triangular sections was fixed due to ergonomic constraints, the length and angle of the bottom edge had to be decided on. This was chosen by designing for sustainability and trying to reduce waste, and making the table most stable by providing a long bottom edge to provide support. The glass top had to be supported in all four corners and I placed my triangles in such a way that the top corners would provide support. I also made my design variable- the user could pick how many 'pairs' of legs to use, how to arrange the pairs, and the length of the table. This meant that the table tops would have to be made to order- but set sizes could be produced. The table now had a wider market as the surface size was variable, eliminating the variable of environment size. The table did however have a minimum size constraint of two pairs of legs- for the support needed to balance the surface.

I joined the pairs of triangular legs together by cutting a slot into one section close to the ninety degree corner and a triangular cut out the same thickness as the mdf on the other section the same distance from the end, so that when slotted together they made an equal lengthed 'L' shape on the outer corner. This put the support points in the outer corners, providing more stability in the product.

Section 3 - Reflect on own performance of above 3 things and areas for improvement

The industrial designer aspects of my project were the basis, (ergonomically), and the finish of my design. They gave size constraints at the start and aesthetic ideas at the end of the designing process when I had considered balance, sustainability and tackling a wide market. These ideas of patterns and finishes meant that I could combine all three aspects to make a good product.

A lot of the sustainability problems that occurred when producing this product could be eliminated if it were to be mass produced. The patterning could be laser cut with no waste, as could the triangular sections. The waste created from the rounding of the glass corners could be recycled straight away and reused. They would be fast to produce by machine, reducing power usage, and each material is easily recycled even by the user.

I could have improved the way that the patterning was attached to the mdf sections as it was glued on in my project, it would be better designed for sustainability and disassembly if the patterns could have been set in to the mdf pieces, and probably would have made the product more durable- increasing the product life.

I would also have designed a rubber foot for the leg sections so that they were more stable and would not slip, and also to protect the corners of the triangular pieces as they were easily misshapen by a knock against something as they tapered down to a point. Another option would be to chamfer the end more; reducing the amount of rubber used for the feet, as they could simply be placed on the underside and not affect the aesthetics of the outer visible surface.

As an engineering aspect this chamfer could also be applied to the top corner that the glass sits on, making the support points more stable and less prone to damage or wear from the weight put on the table or just of the glass itself. This would increase product life as well.

The most expensive part of the manufacturing process is the glass top, this could be replaced with a faster cheaper method, by using a clear acrylic, however, I think that this detracts from the products appearance by a significant amount to dissuade the user market from buying it. Acrylic is also more damaging to the environment to produce and harder to recycle and reuse.

If possible when redesigning I would like to have made the product accessible to everybody ergonomically- adding in an adjustable height feature would do this but would make production processes much more expensive and the product itself more expensive. The other option would be to have different set dimensions for the height depending on where in the world the product is sold, but that does not account for people who live in a different part of the world to where they originate from. I hope to have designed a high quality, low cost to manufacture, and desirable product, for everybody. Therefore making a 'better' solution to the wicked problem at hand.