What's More Important Than Design Intent?

Written By: Dave Martin
  • 11/26/2018
Human hand reaches toward robot hand

I have written before on this blog about how, when working in CAD, design intent should help govern the decisions and choices you make.

Design intent recognizes that the initial design cycle is a small portion of the life cycle of a product, and we spend more time modifying and maintaining our models. Therefore, we want to build our features, parts, and assemblies in such a way that when we make changes, other objects update the way we want them to.

In short, design intent makes our design process more efficient.

Yet, as important as design intent is when it comes to product development, carrying out CAD design perfectly is not the most important thing. As a matter of fact, there are two things that are more important: the product and the customer.

Human hand reaches toward robot hand

The Product

In my career, I am tangentially connected to several great products, but there’s one that’s incredibly successful. I didn’t perform any design work on it, but I was the CAD support person at the company when it was released. That product might very well be in your home, and I always get a kick when a television show or some other pop culture outlet references it.

That successful product is great – but it didn’t need complete design intent or otherwise perfect CAD. Products are never perfect. Products can be great without having perfect CAD. And some products with perfect CAD, quite frankly, are terrible.

When it comes to product development, the goal shouldn’t be perfect modeling. It should be whether you can answer questions like:

  • Is it innovative?
  • Does its performance exceed expectations?
  • Does it provide a simple, elegant solution to a complex problem?

Good CAD is easier to analyze, manufacture, and reuse, but the emphasis on good CAD shouldn’t come at the expense of the product itself.

The Customer

Amazon’s Leadership Principles start with Customer Obsession, and that laser focus helps them to rank consistently among the best customer service companies in the world.

The customer is more important than CAD purity and design intent. When we focus on the customer, we can create great products. We need to obsess over both internal customers and external customers.

Internal customers include designers and anyone who consumes their CAD deliverables.

First, you want to make sure that your designers have the skills and knowledge to use the CAD tool that you provide. I’ve seen situations where a company’s internal processes and rules make their end users hate their CAD tool. No one should find that situation acceptable. 

Second the downstream customers of our CAD deliverables need to be able to access and manipulate information – viewables, product structures, metadata – in manners that are efficient for them, and not in terms of what we can give them.

External customers are, of course, the people who buy and use our products. They don’t think about the CAD or any of the other processes that went into delivering the product into their hands. What matters to them is the product and the customer experience.

Staying Focused on What’s Important

You shouldn’t intentionally make bad CAD data or follow unhealthy modeling practices. But remember to focus on great product. Your CAD - and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) - systems should never get in the way of product development. Never lose sight of what’s truly important. CAD and PLM are but means to an end, and that end is happy customers enjoying great products.

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About the Author

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is a Creo, Windchill, and PTC Mathcad instructor and consultant. He is the author of the books “Top Down Design in Creo Parametric,” “Design Intent in Creo Parametric,” and “Configuring Creo Parametric,” all available at amazon.com. He can be reached at dmartin@creowindchill.com.

Dave currently works as the configuration manager for Elroy Air, which develops autonomous aerial vehicles for middle-mile delivery. Previous employers include Blue Origin, Amazon Prime Air, Amazon Lab126, and PTC. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and is a former armor officer in the United States Army Reserves.