Monday, 18 June 2007

First design, then TEST.

As I type this I have a gentle but insistent pain in my right thumb, the result of wrestling with the oil-filler cap on my car while checking the fluids this morning (a slightly overdo routine maintenance inspection). It actually represents less damage than I was expecting to happen.

It reminds me of an idea I had long ago and haven't abandoned:

All engineers, designers and anyone else who is responsible for any piece of interface - paper form, electronic form, program interface, vehicle controls, engine accessible bits... - needs to be forced to live with it for long enough to work out if they, the people who designed the bloody thing, can deal with it without screaming in frustration and setting fire to an effigy of themselves.

In particular, I think that Toyota's 3S-FE engine could have been made much kinder on mechanics if the engineers had been forced to:

  1. Change the oil. The plug is angled so that it's extremely difficult to get a wrench onto if you're lying on your back feeling above your head, the filter is angled so that neither of the two commercially available styles of filter wrench will fit and the filler cap is an absolute nightmare of destructive intent to break the seal on.
  2. Change the spark plugs. The leads are horrible things to try and get the right grip on to remove, and most people will need to buy an extra long socket extension just for that job.
  3. Change the alternator. Yes, there really are easier ways to attach it and to adjust the drive-belt tension. Springs, for example.
  4. Change the water pump. This is the clincher. I can guarantee you that if the engineers responsible for both the engine and the layout of the engine bay in the SV21 Camrys were forced to change the water pump using home tools, something which is theoretically possible, they will be curled up in a ball on the floor begging for forgiveness and promising to fix it, change it, anything but this!
The sad thing is that it's such a sweet, willing, eager, reliable engine when you don't have to do anything to it. It's almost like a Peugeot.

There's a lot of arguing back and forth about user interfaces in the computer world, and people spend a lot of time arguing about layout and everything else, but I firmly believe that most of it argued by people who don't actually have to live with what they've done.

1 comment:

phil said...

You have it arse about, I fear. Engineers have the luxury of a blank piece of paper (or the plasticine equivalent), which enables them to build any donk from the inside out. What the owenr has to do subsequently is not their problem. See Mini, any Citroen, my old Peugeot 405 Mi16, etc etc.

On the other hand, it does give us something else to whinge about.

Apart from the cold.

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