This video segment produced for Teachers' Domain features Chi-An Wang, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As part of her undergraduate degree ...
Produced for Teachers' Domain
©2006 WGBH Educational Foundation. All rights reserved. Stock footage provided courtesy of New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc. and Ironman/World Triathlon Corporation. Sketches courtesy of Chi-An Wang.
Triathletes compete in three different activities in the course of a single race. To meet the needs of higher-level competitors, sporting goods manufacturers offer specialized equipment designed to enhance performance in each of the three segments: swimming, biking, and running. Every second counts, so racers value time saved in any of these segments, as well as in the transitions between them.
All design projects — from bridges to cars to sneakers — benefit when engineers follow the same basic steps. The first step in the engineering design process is to identify a problem that needs to be solved. For Chi-An Wang, the mechanical engineering graduate featured in this video segment, the time lost by triathletes when making the transition between the biking and running portions of a race was a problem worth solving as part of her student thesis.
With the problem clearly defined, Wang proceeded to the next major step: research. To better understand how this problem affected triathletes and how a specialized shoe design might address it, Wang designed a survey and distributed it to the athletes online. She asked questions pertaining to the athletes' age, training habits, and race frequency, as well the products they currently used and how much they spent on equipment. She also wanted to determine which performance criteria — including shoe weight, cushioning, breathability, and ease of entry — were most important to them.
Because a product can be designed to perform in many different ways, data collection from product users can be extremely important. Without a strong sense of what the market wants, a product design team may miss the mark entirely by overemphasizing one design component — say, aesthetics — when it's something else entirely, such as durability, that users crave most.
Armed with the information from her survey, Wang met with Kim Blair — her thesis advisor and founding director of MIT's Center for Sports Innovation — and with engineers and a marketing representative from New Balance to discuss possible approaches. Wang and Blair then agreed on a solution, and Wang created a prototype, or model, for further testing. Soliciting feedback on prototypes provides product designers with valuable information on which to base further modifications. This integration of the deliberate practices of research and development into the engineering design process is what distinguishes it from methodologies based simply on trial and error.
- What was the real-world problem that Chi-An Wang wanted to solve?
- How did Chi-An Wang establish the criteria for a good triathlon shoe?
- What role did making a prototype and testing it play in determining the final version of the shoe?
- Why is it important for a designer to understand the needs and wants of the people who will be using a new product?
- What special design features are on your sneakers or other shoes? Why do you think they were incorporated?