Smash Lab (a designer’s perspective)

My fiance and I are huge fans of the Mythbusters TV show on the Discovery Channel.  If you’re not familiar with it, the premise is a team of special effects experts put myths and urban legends to the test to see if they could be real.  But, basically, it’s an excuse for them to just blow a bunch of stuff up on TV.  Good, clean fun!  🙂

For about a month or so, during Mythbusters, Discovery has been advertising a new show called Smash Lab that will air immediately after Mythbusters.  Smash Lab is supposed to be about “a team of maverick engineers as they take on everyday technology and apply it in revolutionary new ways.”  Of course, since it promised crashes and explosions, we decided to check out the premiere this week.

As I was watching it, I was struck by one thought:  This is just another design challenge show!  It ended up being two teams that each competed with each other to design something while under some sort of constraint. Last semester, in my HCI Design I class, we watched an episode of Project Runway, where individual fashion designers were given constraints and had compete to design the best dress.  While Smash Lab didn’t have near the drama that Project Runway did (Thank God!!), the premise was strikingly similar.

This week’s show started off with them talking about aerated concrete (concrete mixed with air), which is used at the end of runways at airports to help slow and stop planes that may overshoot the runway. Then, they presented the challenge/constraints to the 4 members of the “team of maverick engineers” (One of the team members is a designer, btw): Use the aerated concrete to prevent a car or bus from crossing a median and smashing into oncoming traffic.

The first thing they did was set up a test crash so they could measure the forces involved and see how cars react to the crashes (and of course show some gratuitous smashing up on camera).  I equated this with the Research phase of the design process.  If we follow the PRInCiPleS framework set forth by Drs Blevis and Siegel, I would go so far to say that this research helped them develop their Insights, though they never really talked about Predispositions.  Afterwards, they developed two Concepts.  Two team members ended up following one idea and the other two followed another, so it ended up as sort of a competition as they developed and tested their Prototypes.

The Srategies were never discussed, but I kept telling my fiance that their cconcepts had serious problems with sustainability and weren’t very practical, so I doubt they could come up with a strategy.

Maybe the most interesting thing about the whole show is that both concepts failed!  It was slightly refreshing to me to see these people put all their hard work into creating and testing concepts only to have them fail in the end.  It happens even to people who are on TV! LOL

I think I’ll watch this show again.  It was actually pretty fun to analyze it from the designer’s perspective.  But, there was one thing that really annoyed both me and my fiance about the show.  They did not admit that one of the concepts had failed.  They played it up as if it had worked a little bit.  The aerated concrete did not stop or slow the bus down.  The bus only slowed when the brakes were applied! They seemed to gloss over that fact.

Anyway, the last thing I want to say about it is evaluating the show from a designer’s perspective was not my intention at all when I sat down to watch it last night!  I just wanted to be wowed by crashes and smashes and explosions.  But, I guess you can’t really control your designerly ways of thinking when you’re fully engrossed in learning the subject matter!

Hence, that is why we blog about!  😉

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