Design on Your Face

Article excerpt

This month's IDSA feature has two goals. The first is to muse about the role of style and styling in the world of design and designing. The second is to present a project with which you can engage your students in several aspects of industrial design. This brief has been developed so that you can use it either solely as a research activity or as a combined research and sketching/model-building project. The goal in both instances is to help your students gain a stronger understanding of the design process as well as human factors coupled with the psychological needs of product users.

The product family is eyeglasses. Eventually, through biomechanics or microsurgery, we may be able to avoid glasses and other forms of external auxiliary lenses to improve our vision. However, for the present, many of us need glasses. In examining the population, there are some who need glasses very early in their lives while, for others, the need appears at various later points. But as most people reach their forties, the natural aging of the eyeball causes it to become less flexible, and a very large majority of this older population need glasses for as least some portion of their vision range. It should be noted that our great statesman and inventor, Benjamin Franklin, introduced the world to bifocal lenses, which, while making ascending and descending stairs a bit tricky, was a boon for persons needing vision correction at multiple distances.

In many products the balance between design and style is radically different. To avoid confusion--and the two issues are often confused--design will be considered here as those aspects of product development that deal with logical and appropriate form development for the application, intelligent, and economical use of materials and processes and solid human factors considerations to provide good fit and ease of use. Some useful examples include the American axe, the wooden pencil, the World War II JEEP, the Leica camera, the simple white paper container with wire handle used for such things as goldfish and Chinese carryout food, and the Apple iPod. On the side of styling, the goal is to excite the mind and delight the eye with color, form, uniqueness, and, in the vernacular of the day, "coolness." Examples of this include 1950s cars with tailfins, "designer" athletic shoes, and just about any object that looks like it is going one hundred miles an hour while standing still. Design whispers quietly and discreetly: "Use me and enjoy the experience" but without making an overtly dramatic statement. Styling shouts: "WOW, LOOK at ME--I can impress your friends and enemies" by insisting on being noticed. In a word, design is generally built into the product from inception, whereas styling is the application of dramatic elements, primarily for titillation, as the product moves into the final development stage. The two are not mutually exclusive, and most products contain elements of both. There is no question that styling or fashion play a major role in the promotion and sales of products. However, styling does not generally make the product better to use but, perhaps, it makes it psychologically more satisfying to use.

With these parameters established, it would be fair to suggest that in the design of eyeglasses, at least in the latter quarter of the twentieth century and the early part of the twenty-first, the balance between design and styling is tipping quite obviously toward styling (fashion). First, however, consider the design aspect of glasses. A brief for the design of a pair of glasses (pair of glasses literally means two lenses) would specify holding two lenses securely and comfortably before the eyes. Generally this is accomplished by attaching the two lenses to a horizontal beam of material that rests on the bridge of the wearer's nose. This assembly is then stabilized with two rods that attach to the outer ends of the support beam and hook over the wearer's ears. Usually these two rods are hinged at their attachment point with the support beam so they can be folded inward to make a compact object for storage when not in use. …