When you read this, I will be standing on the beaches of Normandy peering through the sea mists visualising the landing craft approaching in 1944 as the beginning of the end started for World War II. Probably driven by a desperate shortage of materials and labour, everything then was designed to be absolutely functional – over-engineering wasn’t exactly encouraged. Today, it is dramatically different.
Today we have Moore’s Law
You are probably familiar with Moore’s Law. It was coined by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of the world’s largest chipmaker, Intel, and is a comment on the remarkably fast development of microprocessors. Simply put, it says: The cost of a given amount of computing power falls by half every 18 months - the amount of computing power available at a specific price doubles every 18 months. Constant improvements mean more and more features are added to devices without an increase in price. No matter, whether it is a desktop computer, cell phone, digital TV or lap top or perhaps even an industrial computer or programmable logic controller (PLC), you see a constant drive for more features and more power at the same or lower prices. Quite a remarkable procession of new features and superb prices.
Now because industry is perhaps maturing and there is considerably more competition, there is more impact from the corollary of Moore’s Law. Instead of demanding more and more features at a particular price; why not provide the same level of performance but at an ever lower price. One can see this most dramatically illustrated by the massive growth of mobile computing and tablets, where you can buy them with your groceries (and with the increasing price of food; seemingly at a similar price). These have limited storage capacity and processing power (video can be a bit challenging).
For checking email and browsing the web, they are perfect. Another example, where incredible value is being extracted is in the rapid growth of virtualisation: using software to break your computer up into smaller submachines for your software programs from different users. Cheaper to run and replacing numerous computers.
And this “good enough” principle (as the Economist terms it); is also starting to apply to software. People are becoming bemused by the complex number of features provided which they will never use. Google Docs, for example, lacks a large number of the myriad of features provided by Microsoft Word, but is free and is enjoying enormous success. Use of software as a service for many applications (providing your programs) via the web or cloud is growing fast.
One can clearly see this applying to the engineering world, where the KISS (keep it simply stupid) principle, has always been an excellent principle in designing products. Engineering clients are simply not interested in a product’s fuzzy new features which don’t add value. They are interested in real value enhancements.
So when you engage in your next engineering project; don’t go for more glitzy feature riddled product or service. You might find your clients are quite happy (and in fact prefer) something simpler, lower cost with fewer features.
I reckon the following quotation from Al Franken applies to products/services as well as people: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like me”.
Yours in engineering learning,