Further Thoughts on Functional Design

Sept. 12, 2017

In my last post, I brought up the concept of functional design - that functional design is what products must do to fit the needs of the customer. By extension then, functional companies must address the needs of their customers. Considering we are a computer company, it occurred to me that this fact relates directly to what computers must do; efficiently produce a product (information) that meets the needs of a larger system or a person.

In meeting customer needs, we can draw an analogy with information theory, which was first proposed by Claude Shannon, the American engineer and mathematician, in 1948. He posited that information is defined not by the content of data, but the amount of that data that is unknown to the receiver. When we talk about transmitting data, this is important, because sending data that is not information is a waste of bandwidth and time. Only information matters, and information degrades with time.


Just as with data though, not all information is useful either. It may be news to us, but if we cannot use it, it is also a waste of bandwidth and time. This is the idea behind perceptual coding, which was proposed in the early 1970s by the German acoustical physicist Manfred Schroeder.

Perceptual coding is the basis for all forms of sound and image data compression. Your MP3 files, JPG photos and MPEG4 videos all use some form of perceptual coding. What is it? It is quite simply a means of parsing information into the smallest humanly useful subset of information.

Herein lies the analogy; the efficient delivery of information and the efficient delivery of things is bounded by bandwidth (effort) and time. The delivery of non-useful data or material is a waste. Our basic design philosophy starts with the use of the latest processor technology (the data), transforming this into computing elements (the information) but just as in information theory there is another step; the transformation to something useful – in our case, making a functional product - delivering the power of processing technology to meet the customer need.

At Abaco, we apply the lesson underlying the delivery of useful information to the delivery of useful things. Our product design focuses on understanding the need and requirement – and we eliminate those elements that do not contribute to fulfilling the need and requirement. That approach can truly be described not only as functional – but as entirely customer-centric.

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