Sep 28, 2009
Product Design, MIT style
Posted in: Academics & Research
I know, I know, I graduated like 4 months ago, why am I still here?
Well, I have this folder on my desktop full of pictures and half written blog entries that I completely lost the motivation to finish as soon as I graduated and went home to spend a wonderful summer outside in the sunshine. (To answer the questions from my previous entry: no, really, I graduated from MIT and immediately went back to my old summer job from high school as a lifeguard. I'm not kidding.) But then today I was struck with motivation, and I thought I should go ahead and post it, even if I should really just move on with my life already. I hope no one minds. =)
Okay, so ONE WHOLE YEAR AGO (man I am bad at this timeliness thing) I began the adventure known as 2.009. This is the famous capstone class for seniors in mechanical engineering, and the department spends 2 years grooming you to dread it. It's infamous for the inordinate amount of time that it requires of students, but the little known secret is that this class actually rocks.
The class is called The Product Development Process (or something like that, but who really cares? just call it 2.009 like a normal person) and all of the seniors in Mechanincal Engineering are split into teams, which are identified by color. (So there's Blue, Orange, Silver, Red, and of course, the best team ever, Yellow.) The teams are pretty big (something like 16-20 students each) and they are tasked with some pretty big assignments.
The class as a whole is given a theme (last year the theme was "The Home") and all of the students brainstorm potential products that fit within that theme. Early on in the process, the course staff gives each team an area to focus on within the larger theme (to assure that multiple teams don't start designing very similar products). Each team then chooses a few promising ideas and starts working frantically to get a model of the idea finished. Then there's a big, stressful, majorly important presentation day when the team's ideas thus far are presented, followed by feedback from classmates, professors, and outside observers invited by the course staff. The team then discusses their ideas, throws away the less promising ones, delves deeper into the ideas that are left, and then repeats this whole process two more times. Finally, they decide on their final product, and proceed to spend every waking hour of their lives (it seems) working on it, hoping to have the full, finished, working (!) prototype done by the end of this semester. This feverish work is interrupted several more times by big, stressful, majorly important presentations.
In case you didn't notice yet, the theme here is PRESENTATION. 2.009 is a CI-M (Communications Intensive course within your major), and it takes these presentations seriously. You know how in most classes you might have one or two big presentations per year? They're usually at the end of a unit or marking period or maybe even the end of the whole year. You do tons of work for it, you spend lots of time preparing, and it's like this super important culmination of the entire class, and it's a Big Deal. 2.009 has one of those about every 3 weeks.
The secondary theme is, oh yeah, you have to build a full working prototype of your product in the span of a couple of weeks.
My team, the Yellow Team, was assigned the topic of "constrained space." We kicked around different ideas for improved storage methods, but when we got down to our 2 final ideas they were a Lazy Susan refrigerator and a Moveable Wall. As a result, about 90% of the 2.009 junkpile came from our scraps
and ironically, the team working on "constrained space" had the biggest, bulkiest materials spilling out all over the place
In the end we developed the "ModuWall," a Do-It-Yourself portable wall that apartment dwellers can use to split a bedroom in two to save on rent.
My teammates Jeremy and Fiona are shown here, hard at work developing the "extension cap," a device which allows the structural posts of our wall to change in size.
I was my team's Information Officer, which meant I spent lots of my time taking meeting minutes (and sprinkling them with jokes when I got frustrated that no one read them), keeping our wiki up to date, and organizing the subteams:
Seriously, the irony of the "constrained space" team building a WALL was not lost on us when we had to start cutting 3' by 4' panels on this tiny bandsaw.
The course professor, affectionately referred to as "Doc Wallace," tried to inspire us in the last days before our final presentation with a countdown showing an egg developing into a beautiful chick, or to fried chicken, depending on how hard you worked.
There was one final milestone before our final presentation- the Tech Review, where professors and members of industry were invited into the lab to inspect our work and give us last-minute feedback.
In the frantic days before the Tech Review, we pulled together some awesome engineering on this store-bought bifold door. I know it doesn't look like it, but trust me, a lot of work went into that doorframe. Caitrin is justifiably proud.
We stuck labels on everything to describe some of our design features.
And when we finally got the whole thing set up in the lab, it looked pretty darn cool, if I may say so.
After another couple days of working frantically, it was finally the night of our final presentation. I could tell you about it, or you could just watch it yourself. (For those who are more interested than they should be, you can also check out our powerpoint, but I warn you, this is a pretty big file: Yellow Team Powerpoint)
It was a crazy, stressful class, required tons of work, and sometimes made me HTFP, but in the end, I absolutely loved it. I built this crazy thing from nothing, learned a ton, and had an awesome time with my teammates. See, Yellow Team...well, we might have been a little less restrained than the other teams. We had a great group dyanmic and were not afraid to start cheering in lab when we got something to work. Obviously it wasn't always smooth sailing: there was one particularly tense lab meeting where a simple disagreement between the best way to proceed snowballed into a lot of repressed anger and frustration being released at each other. Inspired by my new favorite TV show, 30 rock, I suggested a "one minute dance party" to break up the tension. (During this one scene in 30 Rock, Tina Fey's character congratulates her staff on finishing half of their work, and suggests a one minute dance party as a reward. Of course they're so engrossed in their awkward dancing to rap music that they don't immediately notice when their big corporate boss walks into the room. Unfortunately I can't find a clip of it, but if you search YouTube you'll find a whole slew of people hilariously spoofing the scene.) After that, dance parties became a regular part of our team meetings, and we reguarly cranked the volume and had a dance party in the middle of lab if the situation warranted it. For example, when we finally got that door frame built.
This fun attitude is perhaps best exemplified by our dance party team photo, taken at the Technical Review. This is why I love the Yellow Team, and am glad that if I had to spend 40 hours a week in lab, at least I got to spend it with cool people.