Design and Process

I love cool design. I love cool manufacturing processes too. It’s fun to do cool design for cool processes. But sometimes the whole system goes wrong. You’ve got to be careful, even when you’re cool. Or maybe especially when you’re cool.

Kim works downtown, and sometimes I go see her for lunch. I swear these thoughts are related. There is a cool Cuban restaurant downtown that we’ve been to a couple of times. I like it there. It has big windows, and they play salsa music too loud, and its right on the street level, so the people watching opportunities are pretty much endless.

The other day at the Cuban restaurant, I noticed that someone did some cool design on their chair backs. Then I noticed that they also used used a laser to cut the cool patterns out of the chair backs, with all those sharp inside corners you can only do with lasers. Some lightning bolt through a fruit with a leaf or something. This design is cool, but it doesn’t have anything to do with this particular Cuban restaurant. That’s when I noticed that about half of the chair backs were missing some pieces. Yes, the patterns were cool, but they didn’t pass the reality test. If you look closely, you notice that there are a couple of long spiky pieces that are only held on by two very small pieces of material. All it takes is one purse strap or a belt loop to get snagged, and (beyond a potentially embarrassing situation), you’re going to have a chair missing half a lightning bolt, and possibly a horrible injury. The fact that some pieces were missing meant that someone somewhere was already aware of the problem. The edges of the broken off pieces were ground smooth, and painted.

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One chair with, four chairs without

I’m all for cool stuff and good graphic design. But I really don’t care what a graphic designer thinks of me as an engineer, as long as I don’t let something like this get past me. Does a guy welding up chairs have a mechanical engineer check all the artwork? Probably not, but someone, maybe the guy programming the laser, should have caught this one.

Part of what we do as engineers is creative problem solving. Some graphic designer wants his logo to look “exactly like this”, and his company winds up making their personal injury lawyer cringe when he sees all that laser-sharp unsupported metal.

The Cuban restaurant must have got these at a scrap metal bargain price, likely with no warranty and they might have had to sign a waiver.

Nice chairs, nice design, cool process, bad engineering, and a very unsafe product. I ate my pork sandwich from the safety of the wooden bench, and advised Kim to slide forward before standing up.

Updated: December 8, 2013 — 1:18 pm

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