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What to do with trade-offs

Posted: 03 Dec 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:design process trade-off? product design? analog insight?

Marketing is all about trumpeting the attributes, features and benefits of a product, and that's fine. But engineering design is about managing the complex challenge of meeting design goals while making compromises and balancing trade-offs to achieve that "sweet spot" of performance, power and price constraints.

It's unfortunate that we have allowed the promotional aspects of the business to persuade the public that there is no need to settle for less than "everything." The average person knows that you can't have everything!you have to make some choices. It's true of life in general, and it's certainly true of products.

I get frustrated whenever I hear some smug pundit sniff, "Why didn't they do this?" or "Why didn't they add that?" when analyzing a new product. As an engineer, I'd appreciate some acknowledgement on their part that a complete product design is the result of unavoidable and difficult trade-offs.

The ideal product doesn't exist!nor can it, since nothing is perfect and each person's vision of "perfection" is unique.

I'd like a vehicle that gets 100mpg, totes seven people, withstands a serious crash with only minor damage and never needs maintenance, but I'm not expecting it soon.

The culprit
Who's to blame for this situation? In large part, we ourselves are culpable. As engineers, we are very proud of our accomplishments!as we should be!that we gloss over the choices we made to get there. Perhaps we had to reduce operating speed or battery life to get the full video performance in that multimedia wireless device. Or maybe we had to limit the range of a remote unit to meet size and battery constraints. That's nothing to be embarrassed about; it's reality.

What should we do? For starters, let's be more up-front about what we've done!and had to do!to get to the final product. And let's also try, however difficult or awkward it is, to inform others about the inherent trade-offs of the design process.

If we can't communicate our reality, who can?

- Bill Schweber
Site Editor
Planet Analog

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