Design and words

I think it is a miracle that I can make a series of silly sounds and that someone next to me can interpret those sounds to derive either a mental image or some sort of meaning from them, like “I want a tuna fish sandwich with pickles and lettuce”. How would language-less cavemen communicate that? I can never read my dog’s mind or the way he wags his tail. When he’s sitting next to me at the table and looking at me, I get the hint, or if he brings me his leash, he communicates his point. The difficulty in communicating with animals gives us some idea of what advantages language brings to humans.\n\nCommunication is truly amazing. How did something like this come to be? How can I take an idea from my head and put it into your head? Fascinating, really. And then the written word is even more fascinating. Series of shapes strung together symbolize words which symbolize concepts… and then even the concept of the word “symbol” or the concept of the word “concept” are things we take for granted all the time, and we can use them expertly, but don’t have the first idea of how they came to be. Huh.

Ralph Grabowski pokes fun at some people who are not very careful with their choice of words in his most recent blog post. We all want to believe our kids are superheroes, which may sometimes lead to exaggeration. Exaggeration may be somewhat less excusable when CAD companies evaluate their own products.

The first problem is the use of the word “design”, as in “Even the 11-year-olds are quite capable using SolidWorks to design…” I find this word used on the CSWA and CSWP test documentation as well, assuming that the test is testing your ability to design parts. And then even the claims of most CAD companies that make design work easy.

The word “design” to me means that you are creating something new. That something new may have elements that existed before, but the elements have been brought together in a new way.\

What you do on a CSWA/P test or what an 11 year old does in school is more likely called copying, imitating, aping or mimicking. I’m not putting it down, but let’s call it what it is. This is an act I call “modeling”. Design is making a new concept or idea, modeling is making a physical or digital representation of an existing design.

The second problem is exactly the same mistake, but with different words. “Students clamor for free drawing periods in which some have actually reverse-engineered their iPods.” I doubt this statement very much. Microelectronics? Programming? Thermodynamics? Chemicals in the batteries? What the students have done is modeled the exterior appearance of a small box. “Reverse-engineer” in this case is another romantic euphamism for the word “copy”.

It’s not Ralph’s fault that he quoted two sources trying to romanticize their activities, in fact I think it may have been part of his point. Of course comparing me negatively with 11 year old SolidWorks neophytes qualifies as sarcasm, as does the claim that CAD software allows 11 year olds to “design … fully functional products from start to finish”. I don’t want to take away from the kid’s accomplishments, but as adults, maybe we could learn to assign value to our words so they reflect reality. The quoted phrases are in quotes in Ralph’s post, so I’m guessing they are from SW marketing materials or press releases, and are not Ralph’s own words.

I wish Ralph had waited a little while to write this. As it is, I wind up looking stupid because I can barely pass an easy test on software I’m supposed to be an expert on. I wish I had commented on the tests before he wrote this, but I have to wait a while before I can comment. Let me be clear about this, I don’t think Ralph is making fun of me, I think he’s using me as a benchmark against which to measure the validity of the SW claims.

Back to a question I posed at the top of this post, how can I take an idea from my head and put it into your head? To me, that idea in my head is the design. The model that I make in SolidWorks is the way I communicate the design to you, so you now have the same idea in your head. Solid modeling is a lot more precise than the English language, which I guess is why we don’t just send a written spec that a committee cobbed together to the machine shop to see what they come back with. CAD is about communication, not about design. Design is long done by the time you get to CAD, regardless of what the romantic marketeers at the CAD company want to say. You don’t have anywhere to start if a design does not already exist in your head.

I fooled around with ideas like this in earlier posts called Design Happens in Your Head, The Difference Between Modeling and Design, The Difference Between Modeling and Engineering, and What is Design Without Skill?

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