Log in ....Tribune

Monday, August 11, 2003
Guest Speak

Multimedia makes products user-friendly
Sudhir Mathur

Sudhir Mathur,
Sudhir Mathur, 
Senior Vice-President, 
Arena Multimedia

Who among us hasnít wrestled with a ponderous instructions manual, which looks at best unwieldy and geeky, to fix an unnamed problem in our state-of-the-art audio equipment or DVD? How many times have we found ourselves on the wrong side of technology, battling incomprehensible gizmos that appear immune to man-machine interface issues.

The digital age is exposing us to products that we scarcely imagined in the past. To be able to relate to them, and possibly use them effectively, it is important that these devices be "user" friendly, with formats that are not entirely alien to us. The proliferation of smart, digital products in the markets such as personal digital assistants, mobile phones, and other intelligent systems are creating the requirement for product designers and product designs that create "human" technologies.

In order to ensure that the use of digital equipment relates to everyday experiences, product design is becoming more intuitive, innovative and imaginative. And hereís where multimedia fits it.

Manufacturers of consumer electronic products, for instance, are turning to multimedia technologies to go beyond the realms of traditional product making. Age-old skills and methodologies such as model making and sketching are being abandoned for techniques that are delivering complex human/machine interaction. Multimedia, coupled with advanced interactive prototyping tools, is helping conceptualise and create products that are truly cutting edge.

Multimedia products usually contain at least one dynamic media type such as audio, video, or animation. They now also include information kiosks, media rich and interactive Web pages, media rich linear presentations and non-linear hypermedia structures. Multimedia skills could easily include digital graphics/animation (development of graphic elements), desktop publishing (static layout of text and graphics), or video production (production of video sequences.)
Multimedia authoring tools glue component media elements into an interactive information structure that communicates some form of knowledge. They take product development from the beginning to end, from identification of the product need, defining requirement specifications, selection of the most appropriate distribution medium, creating or locating component media, design of the product interface, construction of the product, and evaluating its effectiveness.

Meanwhile what exactly is product design and how does it use multimedia technologies to move from the drawing board to the factory shop floor.

Product design moves along side product development and together they take an idea from conception to fruition. Design refers to those activities involved in creating the styling, look and feel of the product, deciding on the productís mechanical architecture, selecting materials and processes, and engineering various components necessary to make it work.

The product meanwhile can range from an engineered device such as a computer, pager or washing machine, to a book, a piece of art, a musical composition or anything that gets the creative juices going. Clearly, apart from discrete engineered products, multimedia also touches a rather vast sea of otherworldly fabrications. While the traditional process of product design was a time consuming one, involving countless hours of research, analysis, design studies, engineering and prototyping efforts, and finally, testing, modifying, and re-testing until the design was perfected, multimedia technologies have virtually redefined this activity, making it quick and manageable.

As product manufacturers and platform vendors across the world strive to make better products with shorter development cycles smaller time to market windows and reduced total cost of ownership, they are turning to product design automation to stay ahead of competitors.

System-level design, or the task of designing the architecture of the product, follows product conceptualisation. During this stage, designers and engineers use multimedia tools to develop the product architecture in detail, with manufacturing determining which components should be made and which should be purchased, and identifying the necessary suppliers.

The next stage where multimedia plays a role is detail design, or design-for-manufacture, where the necessary engineering is done for every component of the product. During this phase, each part is identified and engineered. Tolerances, materials, and finishes are defined, and the design is documented with computer files.

Three-dimensional computer models form the core of todayís rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing technologies. Once the database has been developed, prototype components can be rapidly built on computerised machines such as CNC mills, fused deposition modelling devices, or stereo lithography systems.

During the testing and refinement stage, a number of prototypes, both real and virtual are built and tested. Multimedia techniques allow for the creation of virtual prototypes that emulate production products as closely as possible.

India, which is gradually emerging as a hub for outsourced engineering design services, is waking to the need for manpower skilled in multimedia technologies, which can participate actively in this market. A large number of global players have already set up design centres within the country and are on the constant lookout for relevant manpower.

For people with "designs" on the product development industry, multimedia could well be the answer!