Mediocrity in the Design Process: Marinara sauce gone wrong.
11.27.08 -- An end user should not be using a mediocre product, and let me explain how marinara sauce relates.
Before super-mega-markets, I would imagine markets had fewer varieties of many products. Those products were likely produced to try to please as many customers’ taste buds as possible. Let me presume that customers only had different preferences between texture and spice of sauces. The two axioms below represent the design space and two functional requirements for each user and the product placement is depicted by the sauce jar, relative to the consumer desire on the two-dimensions.
As depicted above, a product that tries to serve all end users isn’t very effective at capturing much of a market – it’s mediocre for most customers.
The neutrally spicy and neutrally textured marinara sauce doesn’t appeal to anyone who prefers a sauce that is any single characteristic of smooth, chunky, spicy or plain. It’s a tragedy of compromise.
Instead, differentiating the pasta sauce into specific varieties provides many more customers a reason to purchase a marinara sauce variety that fits them well. For figurative purposes, the graphic below shows a sampling of varieties you might find on a store shelf today.
An ideal goal of a design is for everyone to have a product that fits them perfectly, but it’s obviously impossible to reach this.
Pasta sauce aside, back to technology and mechatronics..
A conical example of a technology design choice initially gone wrong: the all-in-one printer-fax-scanner-copier. It took years to master the design, and mediocrity was the main theme of the device for a long time after its introduction. No single function worked well, and often the machines didn’t work at all.
A recent trend I’ve seen are so-called do-it-all robots. One module-based robot from Louisiana State University looks promising, but I don’t think I’d want a single robot that tends my yard, cleans my toilet, and detects intruders. First, I’d rather have a robot that does one of these well. More on this mechatronic design in a future post.
A product time line often starts as a widely-targeted (mediocre) product and slowly adapts to specialized user-centric product designs. This may simply be the nature of adoption in a market, but many technologies have had large growing pains during their proper specialization. Computers evolved from a few consumer types, to many diversified types. I predict the next big diversification will occur in robotics, once a niche for robotics booms, it can be exploited to fund further specialties.
My questions to you: Why are conveniences often introduced as all-in-one and do-it-all devices?
I like the concept of all in one. The Printer/FAX/Copier unit I bought does all the functions I need well plus allows me to expand my use into until now unused areas (Ie FAX feature) if I want to. Switch to industry ... I design valve systems. We buy some actuators that come equipped to do many functions that we do not use. The features we do use are "turned on" by a manufacturer's code we recieve after we pay the fee for that functionality. So if I want valve position, all I need to do is pay the fee and turn on the feature. I do not have to specify and purchase and install a new actuator after fully shutting down the entire process.
It's an interesting discussion that takes place often in the consumer electronics world. In that context, there is a very fine line between too much choice and not enough. If you give consumers too many choices, you risk confusing and frustrating them. It's an easy way to lose customers who are not experts in your devices. Apple is a great example of a product line that is kept nice and slim, but just broad enough to give a good range of choices.
On the flip side, consider the American car manufacturers. They have suffered by too many brands, too many niches, too many unique parts, etc... Toyota on the other hand has been wise in keeping it's number of brands and models relatively low.
I think manufacturers are not bold enough to place a new product into a niche market.
there is a flaw in your arguement: technology is not marinara sauce. sauce cannot be mild and spicy at the same time, but we can combine mechanical/electrical systems that perform different functions. One example that comes to mind is the cell phone: whereas in the past we had separate devices for talking, picture taking, navigation, video, etc., these are now being combined into a single unit. Similarly to the printer/scanner/fax, yes it takes years to integrate these functions well, but ultimately a product evolves that pleases most consumers.
You have a VERY good point. This is really the next trend in mechatronics. I had a grand parent that alwais said: I am a poor man, so I have to buy very good single function tools, because I cannot afford to buy all in one useless stuf, and endding to have a lot of duplicate functions in all my tools. He was right... and that is true till today.
All in one, every function included, they are good for consumers, not for professionals. I have a cell phone with PDA, GPS, photo and Video. But I do not know any professional photographer using a device like mine to take pictures, neither any TV camera operator using it to make any kind of TV show.
I like your thoughts on the robotics and sauces. It's interesting because there are some robots for sale currently that clean, and some that monitor your home, but I haven't seen any that combine functions. It proves your comments true.
SolidDoctor 3D Mechanical Design
To answer your question convenciences are often presented as all-in-one or do-it-all because, using my experience with the real world, fellows in sales and marketing convince everyone that unless it is conceptualized/presemted/marketed that way there will be no mass market for them. In their minds embedded/dedicated systems will only be afforded by few with deep pockets and special applications.
If you consider hand tools there are a multitude of features that are nothing more than gimmicks to sell a product to someone who is not familiar with the use of that item. Simpler is almost always better. What we, in this country, are willing to accept is junk instead of insisting on quality.
I disagree that a printer/fax/copier/scanner is good example for your argument. A copier is a multifunction device. It scans a page, translates it into digital data for temporary storage, and then prints the data onto a piece of paper. To create the printer-fax-scanner-copier you are adding a data port to a computer and a port to the phone line. The scanner remains unchanged, the printer section remains unchanged there may be a little difference in the memory storage but that is about it.
I surmise the reason people like to pick on this lowly do-it-all device is because we expect to get all the functions for little more than the price of a good printer, or good scanner alone, a ridiculous expectation.
Many people think just because it claims to be a scanner that it has the capabilites of a single purpose device. They do not more appropriately compare it to an inexpensive copier which everyone knows has limited scanner and printer abilities.
Your argument regarding marinara sauce is more appropriate where one attribute is the antithesis of another. More chunky is the opposite is smooth. Ignoring price, in the all-in-one device more scanner resolution is not the opposite of any other desired attribute.
This argument is somewhat flawed concerning the office AIO. The scanner, copier, and fax uses all have a UI. One advantage that the AIO has is that more can be spent on the UI which could make it easier to use. Also a consistent UI across all of those products will make it more intuitive for a user to use them all.
Flawed argument? Like many things sauce can have additives. A can of stewed tomatoes, mushrooms, extra meat and spices. Nothing stops me from adding to the sauce the things I like. For instance, it would be nice to find an electrical drafting program that allows me to add in accounting tabulation and graphic export for production segments. Any ideas folks?
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