F522: Product Study

The product study is a really useful exercise in studying a product in depth and looking at the factors that contribute to its success. It is an opportunity to take an everyday item and improve it in some way. Clearly selecting the right item is vital. You are much better off selecting a fairly simple item than a complex one - Potato masher, yes: Microwave oven, no - and it is better still if it is a product that irritates you slightly by not being as good as it could.

It is vital that you pick a specific product made by a particular manufacturer. For example, 'Stanley Tools 99E Craft Knife' not simply 'Craft Knives'. Selecting the correct product to study is crucial and, so that you don't rush in only to encounter problems later, I suggest you read through the mark scheme which I have translated into 'pupil' below.

Those of you with a background in Graphics might wish to carry out a product study on a graphical product. The same rules apply as above. Examples might include, a Sainsburys wine bottle carrier or an Innocent Smoothie 180ml carton.

Product Focus and Analysis [8]

Candidates should be able to:

select a specific single product, which has a focus within their area of expertise, and is suited to
analysis and development within a prescribed timescale;
• examine and give the intended purpose of the selected single product, including the needs of
both the manufacturer and consumer; identify the original key criteria against which the selected
product was developed.

Make sure that you take a picture of the particular object that you are studying being used. If you have picked an Oral-B Pulsar toothbrush, take a photograph of it being used.

At face value, the "intended purpose" should be blindingly obvious i.e.. it's a tin opener, it's purpose is to open tins. You need to dig a bit deeper than this. It's primary function may well be to open tins but it could be a product aimed at the higher end of the market and designed to appeal to fashion conscious users in the kitchen. It could be part of a range of kitchen-ware products that a company sells.

Don't forget that the product that you are analysing has been commercially produced. You will need to identify both the needs of the consumer and the needs of the manufacturer in regard of the product.

In "identifying the key criteria" you need to try to work out what the original product specification would have been for the particular product.

2. Strengths and Weaknesses Comparison [12]

Candidates should be able to:

analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the single selected product;
• compare the product to other similar products in terms of function, suitability of materials,
components or ingredients and manufacturing processes used, ergonomic suitability, aesthetics
and cost.

Do NOT simply write a list of the strengths and weaknesses of your product.

Do NOT write a list of the strengths and weaknesses of a bunch of other products.

You must say what the strengths and weaknesses are of your product when compared to a range of similar products. A range ought to consist of around 5 other similar products.

You can devise a simple scoring/rating system for a number of criteria which I think ought to include function, suitability of materials used, suitability of manufacturing processes used, ease of use/ergonomics, cost, and aesthetics.

You must compare the object that you have chosen against the other objects, not with the other objects. So, if we were to pick 'Cost' as an example, the Stanley 99E Craft Knife retails at £4.64 which is cheaper than the Stanley Titan Retractable blade knife @ £10.99 and the Stanley 'Fat Max' Swivel-Lock fixed blade knife @ £7.04 but more expensive than the B&Q Snap-off blade knife @ 99p. When comparing 'Ease of Use' it is worth pointing out that the blade in the 'B&Q' knife can be snapped-off and changed in under 15 seconds, the 'Titan' has a wheel nut to allow you to change blades and the 'Fat Max' has its own magnetic blade holder to help you. In comparison, the Stanley 99E knife requires a screw-driver to dismantle it first.


3. Moral Implications [8]

Candidates should be able to:

• identify and analyse the relevant moral implications associated with environmental, social and
economic issues in the design and use of a product.

This is a little more tricky. The very first moral implication associated with the environment is to consider whether there is any need for the product at all! If it is just another unnecessary gimmick then it is costing the Earth's resources in just being manufactured. If it wasteful in use - inefficient, overly complex - then it is costing the Earth's resources. If it is poorly made and does not have a use at the end of its life or not easily recyclable then once again it is costing the Earth's resources.

Break down the environmental impact into different categories. Consider the energy used in the development and design of the product, the energy used in extracting, transporting and processing the materials to turn them into the final product, the energy used in transporting them to retail outlets, the energy used during the life of the product and finally the energy used in disposing of the product. Sometimes the extraction of the materials can cause environmental and social problems; copper, mined in the Congo, is often extracted using child labour and can involve the use of toxic chemicals which are not properly processed.

Social factors can be best demonstrated by examples. A personal stereo is an anti-social device because it isolates an individual. A designer would need to consider the response to a personal stereo by people near by so that they are not angered by its use. A mobile phone can be anti-social because the public get irritated by their use in confined spaces such as trains. Designers have considered this aspect to give us vibrating alerts. On the other hand, a mobile phone is an excellent socialising device and the designers have invested a good deal of effort into making it easier to communicate with - speed dialing, predictive text etc. When considering the social implications, you ought to think about how people misuse a product. A craft knife in the hands of an attacker is a rather gruesome reminder that a product can be horribly misused.

A further consideration should be the cultural implications of a product. What might be appropriate for a Western culture may be inappropriate in another culture. A ladies razor might be relevant in Western society but a devout Muslim will have no need for it.

4. Brief and Specification for Improving the Product [8]

Candidates should be able to:

• write a detailed brief for improving the selected product;
• develop and justify an objective design specification.

This should be easy to do. You have picked on a product because you think it is deficient in one or more areas. Re-state the intended purpose of the product and say what aspect you wish to improve.

"I am going to improve the design the Stanley 99E craft knife. The main purpose of the knife is to easily and safely allow the user to cut through a range of materials. The strengths of the design are its durability and quality of the blade retraction mechanism, but I will be aiming to improve the ergonomics associated with the method of changing the blade".

One particular aspect will do. You are NOT redesigning the whole product.

You have all written a specification before so this should prove relatively easy. The first thing you did was to "identify the key criteria used" in the design. You can now reapply those criteria which are still relevant and specify the areas that you will improve. Be as detailed as you can and justify your reasons. How well you do this is determined by how good your analysis of the original product was. Be objective - this is a specification not a speculation.

5. Development of Improvement [56]

Candidates should be able to:

use annotated sketching, real-time digital images and interactive dialogue to generate and
record a wide range of initial ideas, to explore possible improvements;
• photograph, record and comment as improvement actually takes place:
• make sufficient appropriate prototype models to establish the validity of the proposed idea in
terms of:
• physical requirements, eg construction, movement, stability, composition, strength;
• aesthetic qualities and/or taste as appropriate;
• suitable manufacturing processes;
• suitability of materials, components or ingredients;
• test and evaluate developed ideas against the specification in real time and justify the choice of
one idea worthy of being taken forward.

This information should be presented in an integrated form and recorded in real time.

To get the marks here you need a wide range of appropriate designs which are developed as far as possible using high quality annotated sketching. The expectation here is that a specific improvement to the original product is developed, not a complete redesign. Being innovative and creative is the key to getting high marks.

When making sufficient appropriate models, the key thing is to produce a range of both 2D and 3D models and that means more than one of each. For example, if you were improving the design of the Stanley 99E knife, you might want to produce several cross-section 2D card models showing the position of the internal components to demonstrate that your design can accommodate them with the blade fully out and fully retracted. These 2D card models could be designed on 2D Design and then laser-cut. ProDesktop or Sketchup drawings are classed as 2D models (even though they show a 3D shape) and are vital if you are going to show a range in this section.

Using the same product as an example, you could produce a range of 3D styrofoam models, Polymorph or even clay, to allow you to see how comfortable your idea is to use and to evaluate its aesthetic qualities. The quality of the models doesn't have to be high; simple card models will be sufficient and you can concentrate on one particular part of your design to model if that is appropriate. It is hoped that the act of producing the model will help you to understand potential problems were your idea to go into full-scale production. The model may show potential weaknesses with the idea but that is fine because you will have an opportunity to explain these later

Decent quality photographs are crucial. A mobile phone camera will probably be sufficient but make sure that the image is not blurred or indistinct.

From this wealth of ideas you need to justify the choice of one idea worthy of being taken forward. You need to state why this idea is most likely to meet the criteria of the specification and justify your decision. As you are sketching, modelling and developing your ideas you should be commenting on how well they meet the specification that you produced earlier in the study. Use this as the basis for selecting one idea that you will now test.

6. Testing of Final Developed Idea [12]

Candidates should be able to:

• use an appropriate method or system to test formally and evaluate their final developed idea, or
the suitability of the proposed materials, components or ingredients;
• present results in real time, clearly and concisely

The requirement here is to make a make a device that allows you to test the function or materials of your final idea in a repeatable way. You don't have to make a test rig although it would seem appropriate in most cases.

The model that you made will help you to see whether you have made improvements to the function, ergonomics or aesthetics but you need to devise a test that will allow you to see whether you have made improvements to the physical properties. For example, if you have redesigned a paint pot lid to make it easier to seal and pour, you need to come up with a test that shows that the new lid requires less force to open/close and is better able to pour a dollop of paint. The test rig will therefore need to be able to compare the original design with your new, improved one. This test rig will be something that you lash together in a workshop using resistant materials and workshop tools. It does not have to e beautiful but it should allow you to repeat the test and your results must be measurable in some way. This will allow you to say in the next section something like "My design requires 34% less force to open the paint pot lid and incorporating a pouring spout within the lid has reduced wastage by 18%." You cannot test your new, improved design by handing out questionnaires. That will result in subjective opinion rather than objective data.

If you think it will be near impossible to test a physical requirement, you can always test samples of a ange of different materials that your product might be constructed from, providing that the test is relevant. Using the Stanley 99E knife as an example, one of the properties would be that it should be able to withstand impact as tools tend to get knocked around a fair bit. You could construct a test rig that repeatedly swings a large mass into specimens of the materials that might be used to see which is best a withstanding impacts.

7. Summary of Results [8]

Candidates should be able to:

• produce a summary of the results of the development and prototype modelling, which includes
analysis of information gained from the prototypes and details and analysis of the results gained
from the testing;
• provide suggestions for further improvement to the proposed idea.

This is fairly obvious. You are being asked for an evaluation of both the model and the test rig results in order for you to evaluate your chosen idea. You will also need to suggest further improvements to your design and this is best presented graphically with annotation.

8. Communication [8]

Candidates should be able to:

• use a combination of text, graphical techniques, digital technology and interactive dialogue as
appropriate to present information.

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