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Title: Getting down to details

Pages: 53 - 57

               

Author: James J.LaDue

Text: Getting down to details by James J. LaDue
The author, who is manager of industrial design at IBM World Trade Corporation, is an American who lives and works in Nice. He is in charge of industrial design departments in the IBM laboratories of five European countries, which work to a co-ordinated design programme directed by Eliot Noyes. In the following article, he describes some aspects of his work that he thinks are too often overlooked in the field of product design.
For many years it has been a clear policy of IBM to strive for the highest standards of design and quality in all aspects of the company's work-from the products themselves and the factories that make them, down to the smallest items like nameplates and business cards. Often, however, when the pressure is heavy on some large scale project, there is a natural tendency among the designers to concentrate on the most urgent priorities and to let the little things slide. In this article, I want to show a few of these minor details that we have succeeded in tackling in the odd moments that occur.
Some of these items might well be classified as unimportant in comparison with the many types of exciting new products which are continuously being developed at IBM laboratories. And because of this they could easily be put aside to wait for a lull and eventually be forgotten. Yet it is the attention given to these details which makes all the difference between an average job and a significant design achievement.
Most of the items referred to here were designed during the development of the IBM 360, a major computer system which consists of eight basic computer models. Three of these were developed in Europe, and at the time, all of IBM's European industrial design offices (in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden) were actively engaged on the project. In spite of the problems of co-ordinating the work of 10 groups scattered between California and Sweden, the little jobs were somehow fitted in.
One of these concerned the need to rationalise the 50 or more information plates then being used on IBM products. Our machines do not escape scrutiny on any surface since they are operated or serviced from the front, back and sides. Clear design of the information plates is therefore important. The problem, however, is particularly complex, first because of the wide dispersal of factories through Europe and America, and second because electrical and other requirements vary in the many different countries where IBM products are used. Patent numbers, electrical characteristics, manufacturers' name and address, trade marks, serial numbers and type numbers are all affected and, depending on where the machine is situated, up to six separate categories of information might be required.
In spite of these difficulties, we wanted to have information plates of consistent design, regardless of their country of origin or place of use. Our solution was to make separate, small plates, each of which would carry only one category of information, and then to put as many on a machine as it needed. The result, compared with the mixed bag which it replaced, can be seen in ,1-3 overleaf.
Another problem concerned the electric plugs used on the IBM Selectric typewriter. This machine was designed in the USA for a world market, but unfortunately the contact patterns of electrical outlets vary enormously from country to country. When the typewriters were first produced, they were fitted with plugs bought in the country in which the machines were sold. Later, when the sales pattern for the Selectric became clearer and we were certain which countries the machines were being sent to, we designed a plug which would be adaptable to the contact patterns of the countries concerned (see illustrations e-g).
These are two examples of the kind of minor detail which we think makes an important contribution to the overall quality of our products; others are shown in the illustrations on the following pages. They may well be problems that are particularly noticed by staff designers, who not only have the responsibility for the initial design of a product, but must also maintain design standards in a company over a period of years. This is a strong argument for having an industrial designer on the staff of a large company with a continuous design programme, for the freelance or consultant cannot hope to control the many detailed problems which crop up daily. It is usually the backs of products which testify to this lack of attention. Ugly, inconvenient, difficult to keep clean, they are the classic examples of non-design.
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1 Some of the information plates no longer standard in IBM. Before the new design was introduced each factory produced its own type of plate and more than 50 different designs were used.
2 and 3 For the new information plates a standard grid, 3, was introduced. Size, material, colour and method of fastening are specified in a design manual, from which 2 and 3 are reproduced. The plates shown in 2 are, reading from top to bottom: trade mark, serial number, voltage, and pattern number. The serial numbers are embossed. The unusual looking arrangement of line numbers in 3 shows how various amounts of information should be positioned. The 'beer' symbol is used on all products from the IBM Berlin factory.
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4, 5 and 6 Examples of three machines showing the number plates installed: 4, IBM 1206 inscriber, 5, IBM 2671 paper tape reader; 6, IBM 350 model 20 computer.
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For many years before the Selectric typewriter was designed, the IBM sales organisation made available to its customers a paperholder. This device keeps the paper upright and enables the typist to preselect the number of lines on the page and keep a check on how many she has done. The illustration shows the version now used which was redesigned for the Selectric, but had also to be suitable for the Executive typewriter.
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8 and 9 Electric plugs for the Selectric typewriter, 8, purchased locally, and 9, designed specially for the machine to suit varying electrical standards in different countries.
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10 A company which manufactures machines for a world market must ensure that each product, and its controls, are understandable in countries speaking perhaps 20 different languages. The cost of providing parts with screened, etched, engraved or moulded words In this number of languages is 20 times the cost of doing it once. Symbols are therefore used to identify controls and these examples, designed by Paul Rand in co-operation with IBM's industrial designers, are for the company's dictating equipment. The symbols appear on the products in a size comparable to 10 point type.
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11 Electronic counter designed to demonstrate the speed of IBM's micro-electronic circuits. The counter can indicate and display pulses at selected speeds of up to one million per second. This is a 'one off device presented to Lord Kindersley, chairman of Rolls Royce Ltd. when he opened the IBM laboratory near Winchesterin 1964. Theindustrialdesigner's skill is just as important in such special items as it is in normal production equipment.
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The designs illustrated in this article are by Werner Seydel, IBM Germany; A.H. Metcalfe, IBM United Kingdom; Paul Rand; and the author.

 

 

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