HWP Max 2021 recap: embracing design challenges
It is a sobering truth that – to every entrepreneur in every industry – a new product developer has to learn from difficulties, unexpected pitfalls, and trial and error before they can see their product (or, in fact, any venture) come to life. As the IoT-focused trade show Hardware Pioneers Max (HWP Max) in 2021 made clear, for engineers and other industry professionals, such experiences are no different.
Among its many exhibition stands, HWP Max 2021 held a large variety of industry seminars (which were released in February here on YouTube), one of which took a particular interest in the above truth: that product development requires patience and resilience.
This seminar was called ‘How Do We Make Hardware and Software Approachable and Accessible?’ and alongside its host, Ella Rickerson (Business Development Manager, Hackster.io), it had three speakers: Matt Johnson (CEO, LAIIER), Adam Taylor (Ambassador and Embedded Systems Consultant, Edge Impulse), and Duncan La Barre (Head of Marketing, Soracom). The session focused on how people can prototype their product and take it to market – and what to expect when they attempt to do so.
Matt, Adam, and Duncan’s backgrounds are respectively in
Printed electronics prototyping, particularly on such areas as conductive inks and hardware to enable people to prototype new form factors for electronics (Matt’s company, LAAIER, has a specific focus on the development of sensors For smart buildings)
Embedded system development, FPGA design, designing electronics, and technical writing (Adam is also an author and blog writer of engineering content)
IoT connectivity provision for thousands of businesses and millions of devices, the technologies for which span from 2G all the way through to NarrowBand-Internet of Things
One thing that could be considered refreshing about the seminar was that it showed that even these industry professionals – of backgrounds as sophisticated as the above – have needed to learn tough lessons on their way to finding their success.
“There’s always little things that you've never quite considered,” explains Adam. “And even if you’ve done the best design you possibly can … [there] is the ‘Swiss cheese model’.” The swiss cheese model is the philosophy that all systems, no matter how well they are designed, developed, and so on, have weaknesses (i.e. ‘holes’) in them. But while a system can sustain a single problem ‘slipping through the cracks’, if all those holes encounter problems, there could be untold damages to that system.
Matt agreed with this warning: “That’s a really great point actually: not all that time spent planning [involves preparing for] problems that you already know about or have encountered.
“We have to admit that something totally … unpredictable will happen. I think one of the big challenges that we have is that we [LAIIER] have so many different manufacturing competencies. The languages across [our company’s] different industries are totally different. And it can be really, really hard to get consistent performance. So I think, as our team grows, one of the challenges we have is not siloing that knowledge.”
On top of the design and manufacturing challenges that arise in product development that Adam and Matt discussed, there were also the difficulties in prototyping. As Duncan explained: “There’re so many problems that you know about before you’ve even presented it [your product].
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that people spend months, even years, architecting solutions that even years, you know, companies use cases where seven years. But all they’re doing in that scenario is planning for problems that they know about. But there’s a whole load of problems that you don’t know about – and you will never will know about – until your product has been deployed into the market.
“I think it’s really important to get your prototype live as quickly as possible – because, truly, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
With this in mind, Duncan went on to say that it is especially important to find the right people to help you; but again, designers should not expect a perfect product. In fact, he even went as far as to challenge the importance of perfection itself. “I always say: live is better than perfect. Get it live. And then optimise.”
An important lesson when hearing from Hardware Pioneers Max speakers such as Matt Johnson, Adam Taylor, and Duncan La Barre, is that no manufacturer is perfect – and neither are products. Human error, unforeseen circumstances, and other complications are all part of the prototyping, design, and manufacturing processes. And that’s the way it should be. After all, some of the best solutions are learned the hard way.