The Art of Product Design

A recently published book covers changes in the design process brought about by open sourcing and cloud computing

An interesting book crossed my desk recently. Called "The Art of Product Design," by Hardi Meybaum, its title is perhaps a bit misleading. The phrase "art of design," for most engineers, might bring to mind discussions of blended curves and managing the product development process. But that's not at all what you'll find in Meybaum's book.

Meybaum runs the open-source CAD community site called GrabCAD.com where people share CAD drawings and whole projects. His short and quite readable book talks about the state of cloud computing and open-source CAD and how these trends are completely changing the product development process. Though he is originally from Estonia, Meybaum writes in a breezy style that is easy to read and peppered with insights about mechanical design. One of my favorites was this passage: 

"The truth is that becoming a mechanical engineer doesn't enhance your sex appeal. We don't have the kind of glamour (or wealth) betowed on programers in Silicon Valley. Dilbert is a sex god by comparison. We don't get much respect, and what respect we do get usually comes from working for big companies, which is a natural habitat for us given that large automakers and aerospace companies hire mechanical engineers in 10,000 lots. So people nod approvingly when you say, 'I work for Boeing,' or 'I work for Ford.'"

If you would like to get up to speed on cloud computing and CAD, Meybaum's book is an entertaining way of doing so. He also offers a number of charming anecdotes along the lines of this one: 

"As a novice engineer at a door maker in Estonia, I served as the liaison with personnel on the factory floor who, not long before, had been jolted out of their relaxed Soviet work style by a new system of piecework pay. The first guy I had to deal with was a big, burly Ukrainian welder who was so strong he would lift elevator cabin frames all by himself. When I approached him to discuss changes to my drawings for the piece he was working on, he came right up to my face and snarled at me the Russian equivalent to, 'You little snot. If you make trouble for me, I will beat the living s___ out of you.' 

I was absolutely certain that he was not kidding around.

The same kind of warm, loving relationships have long been a part of manufacturing in the United States as well, entrenched by the divide between labor and managment. I've heard that development engineers in Detroit dismisively call their product colleagues 'plant rats.'........"

In the rest of his 226-page book, Meybaum goes on to discuss manufacturing, design contests, and marketing in the dawning age of cloud-based open-source design. All in all, his book is worth the time spent reading it.

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