Inside the Acer design lab

YOU GOT TECH - Abe Olandres - The Philippine Star

Last week, we were invited by Acer for the global launch of their new Windows 10 devices in Taipei, Taiwan. We also managed to sneak in a short visit to their Design Lab where they gave us a tour of the facility and the process on how they develop a device from concept to prototype.

The design team is composed of around a dozen people from various disciplines and backgrounds. With decades of combined experience in design, everyone is encouraged to think out of the box and innovate. Whether it is a regular laptop, tablet or a Predator gaming PC, every design goes through the team to evaluate and improve upon.

Tons of Post-It notes line the walls, all color-coded based on processes, ideas, issues and more feedback from the team. The long meeting tables are full of bits and pieces of drawings, early-stage design and advanced prototypes. On one table is a huge device covered in woven sheets with a handwritten note for anyone not to touch due to its confidential nature. We reckon it is one of those gaming PCs in the Predator series. On another smaller table sits an older design of the Predator gaming rig and laptop.

A designer would start a concept with several sketches and rough drawings. Instead of creating computerized 3D models, the drawings are translated into crude mock-ups using cardboards built with the usual office materials. This gives the team a better perspective of the design to get an initial visual sense of the device. It looks simple but allows them to make the repetitive process faster and more efficient.

Once the mock-up is approved, a prototype of the design is further developed. This is done at the machine shop where they can shape pieces of metal (mostly aluminum) to form part of the body. For more complex designs, they use 3D printing. Two engineers operate the 3D printing machines and recreate those cardboard mock-ups into a more solid design prototype.

3D printing makes the whole process much faster and easier. Any revisions to the design can be immediately revised and reprinted. It’s being used in many industries and we’ve also seen it at work at the Ford Research Lab in Detroit when they create parts for new vehicles being developed. Compared to Ford, Acer’s Design Lab seems to be a much smaller and simpler but the process are basically the same.

With the advanced prototype, consultations with the engineering team are done as to the feasibility of the design, available technology and compatibility with the parts that are sourced from third party suppliers.

Of course, the entire process gets the nod of the top executives before it goes into production and even before that, there are a lot of dynamics and coordination with the marketing team and engineering team before the final product gets the go-signal.

Acer also organizes a number of focus group discussions in different regions to get feedback from users and the information is shared back to the design team for consideration in future iterations of the products.

With the Predator series, Acer went a step further as the design team immersed themselves with regular and hard-core gamers, observing how they behave at home, what they play and who they play with. This gives Acer a clearer picture on what products fit into the lives of customers.

The quick tour gave us a better appreciation of the amount of time, effort and research that is invested in each product before it gets out of the door. We can only wish we had more time to dig deeper into the entire process and really see the technology behind the product development. In future trips, perhaps.


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