AV Police Squad

Last Minute Design Changes

I was recently involved with a design project at a college. During the programming phase, we had the typical user meetings. The professors and students wanted the classrooms to be Lamborghinis and Ferraris with all the bells and whistles. The procurement officer wanted the classrooms to be Kias for their low cost. The AV Support Staff wanted the classrooms to be Toyotas for their dependability. After putting my cat herding skills to good use, and a few follow-up meetings later, we settled on a programming report that made all the players satisfied, if not happy. The design followed with subsequent submittals, and it was a fairly straightforward project after that.

Fast forward about a year, and the bid specification is about ready to be released. I expected the normal equipment list tweaks here and there to account for out of date model numbers and the like. However, the architect forwarded a list of client questions and changes that went well beyond small tweaks. Apparently, my cat herding skills were rusty because the questions asked prompted an entire re-design of the systems. Further, it appeared that both the architect and client were nonchalantly asking for these changes, unaware of all the previous work and planning it took to arrive at the current design, as well as the ramifications of their requested changes.

Example #1

Typical classrooms had a dedicated computer, laptop input and wireless collaboration solution, as well as a simple control system to select sources and control volume. The requested change asked to remove the dedicated computer and wireless collaboration solution.

I could easily remove those other sources, but if there is only going to be a laptop input to a display, do you still want a switcher and control system? Do you just want an auto-sensing laptop input? Do you still want to be able to remotely control and monitor that system? That could be a drastic change.

Example #2

Typical classrooms had a small, dedicated touch panel as the user interface. The requested change asked for iPad controls.

This is fine, and a lot of people love their iPad controllers, but in previous meetings, you balked at the idea. “iPads walk all the time,” if you need their wireless capability. If you don’t, why go through the WiFi connectivity hassle when a small, wired, dedicated touch panel is roughly the same price, has no WiFi requirements, and is frankly more reliable. What is the reasoning behind the request for iPad controllers?

Example #3:

Typical classrooms used projectors as their main displays due to their large, inexpensive image sizes, as well as their ability to share whiteboard space on the wall with dual-purpose coatings. Since there is a real cost to projector lamp hours, the idea was wholeheartedly authorized to include occupancy sensors in the classrooms to sense occupancy and shut down the classroom after a certain time, if there was no one in the room. This not only saves energy, but also money in replacement lamps, and this small system feature would pay for itself in three months. The requested change was to remove the occupancy sensors.

I could see this if there were redundant sensors that could be used instead from the lighting system (there wasn’t), or if it were due to budget limitation (again, it wasn’t). I just think they didn’t understand the value that these sensors provide (even though it was spelled out for them in the specification). We live in an age of green thinking, tightening budgets and room-usage metrics. Why would you want to nix the occupancy sensors FOR THE LOVE OF ODIN’S RAVEN?!?!

I didn’t feel slighted that they wanted to change the design at such a late stage in the process, but I was concerned that they were flippantly making changes without understanding the consequence of those changes. I also dreaded the idea of getting all the users together again and opening that can of worms. And that’s when it hit me:

I don’t think these changes are coming from the users. They are too technical in nature to come from professors. Maybe I need to find the person responsible for this mess these questions. Just like all good sales people strive to find the real decision makers to make their pitch, we, as designers, need to find the trouble decision makers to get the design approved.

The end of this saga is very uneventful, I’m afraid. I found out the comments were mostly made by the new CTO who was hired after the initial programming meetings. She had simply asked the questions from experiences at her previous college. Once I explained to her the reasoning behind the decisions, she was completely satisfied. Hours of re-work and providing sub-par systems to the users were both avoided with a 35-minute meeting. Instead of opening Pandora’s Box at a subsequent users meeting, and discussing the requested changes with the entire committee, we simply reviewed the highlights from our one-on-one discussion. Pandora’s Box was only “ajar.”

A jar…get it? The box…it was just…ajar.

Previous ArticleNext Article

Send this to friend