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Product Comparison/History

Doing a Product Comparison, much like those found in magazines like Consumer Reports, can be a powerful mid-cycle activity when designing or redesigning. Novice designers often need scaffolding when designing a device or system for the first time. An initial product comparison can keep in this. If asked to design a jar opener for someone with a weak grip, students might initially flounder for quite some time. However, by using and then comparing different types and brands of jar openers, by finding out which requires more and less force needed and different brands of jar openers, students can gain valuable insights that would come in handy when redesigning their own. Students can do meaningful writing if asked to compose their own product comparison reports. Show them sample reports from consumer magazines.

To do a product comparison, you need to find at least three versions of the same product with meaningful difference among them. Without this, the comparison is trivial and not worth doing. Students then need to devise their own authentic tests and experiments to compare them. Good experimental testing strategies are critical here. Taking devices apart to find out how they work can help. Students also must choose which features are most important for their final rankings. Explanations for these choices are important justifications students will need to make.

In design classes, a Product History report follows the evolution of a design, tells how the product works and notes distinguishing features, key improvements, and the driving forces that brought about major design changes. Writing a Product History is a way for students to get personally involved and invested in the products they are studying and designing. A student who enjoys archery might write about the change in designs from the long bow made of yew wood, to the recurve bow with limbs made of laminated fiberglass and wood, to the pulley-loaded compound bow. Students interested in music could describe Edison's invention of the first sound recorder, to the development of the tape recorder, Walkman, MPEG player and hard-drive digital recorder like The Apple iPod. Product design firms do their own product histories to review ideas that might have been dropped from the marketplace but in fact are worth reviving.

Product history writing can fit in the early stages of students' design work to get them up to speed on a product's varied ways of functioning. Students can also do a history of their own design work, where they detail stages of their own product's development and offer explanations for changes in design. Helping students pick a topic that is not too broad or narrow can make a difference overall report quality. For younger students, writing a product history of the automobile might be appropriate but while a more narrowly defined topic, like the seat belt, might be more appropriate for high-schoolers. Topics that interest students, that they research more deeply, have the chance to be remembered years after a project is concluded (see page Breadth/Depth Coverage).

 

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