When bringing the concept of generative design to his team at Crown Equipment, Paul Magee wasn’t concerned whether the partnership with Autodesk would work from the technology side.
As Crown’s director of industrial design for the Americas, Magee already knew the software and artificial intelligence would work as presented. The hurdle to its successful implementation for the design team’s work on the next generation of lift trucks would rest with the design team itself.
“The people are most often the challenge. They are the key,” Magee told a gathering of industry leaders at Autodesk’s Accelerate event in Grand Rapids, Mich. on Sept. 4. “They can see [technology] as a threat to the intellectual value they bring.”
Generative design allows dozens of potential design solutions to be presented from a single set of constraints. In the end, it allows designers to weed through more options than they might be able to create on their own. In the beginning, though, Magee said his leadership team was wary about designers seeing the process in a different light.
It starts with educating workers about how this new tool might enhance their work rather than eliminate it. “Education is not the same thing as showing benefits,” Magee explained. “People often fear what they don’t understand.
“If they don’t understand what the product is and what it does, you have to try to demystify it,” he continued. “We leaned on Autodesk to help us. We used online videos and existing information to explain what generative design is.”
He then added, “If you try to go too far too fast, you run the risk of not letting them get up to speed.”
Magee cited three keys to overcoming doubt:
- Show benefits, both to the designers and to the design process.
- Mitigate risks that lead to improving the design.
- Make it real by showing how the generative design will improve the process.
Another key was to build internal champions for the project. Rather than a top-down approach, Magee found an inside-out approach worked better, particularly when the right people are involved from the outset.
“We were very judicious about what the sequence of people we talked to and what level of influence they had,” he said. “I don’t think we we’re going to remove doubt. There was reluctance, but we also got critical mass. It was about mitigating the risk to the people involved.”
To make that point, Magee showed a clip from the movie “Ghostbusters” where the meeting in the mayor’s office presented a wide variety of problems created by the ghosts. Bill Murray’s character presented the mayor with a practical outcome: “You will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters.”
“Everybody in the room is bringing problems the table,” Magee noted after the clip. “What they’re not doing is helping the mayor solve his problem. Bill Murray appealed to him in a language he could understand. In that moment, he was speaking the language of the customer.”
That empathy is a little-appreciated design tool, Magee said, but it’s an important one for his team. “It’s not to make what I want, but to make what the people who use it want,” he said. “A reach truck is a narrow aisle truck and the workers stand inside the truck all day. It has no suspension and it’s driving over a concrete floor. So one of the things you’re thinking of is giving the workers posture relief or an ergonomic floor to stand on.”