Meet Vincent Valderrama: Engineering Director
Smart Design is a strategic design consultancy that helps people live better and work smarter.
Sometimes it’s about reinventing a new product category. Or re-imagining an entire system. To the end user, the design is seamless; for Smart, it’s an in-depth process of refining the key components that make good experiences great. Our engineers and designers work behind the scenes on prototyping and rapid iteration to make sure the product or service is the best it can be, meets consumer needs, and can stand the test of time in the real world.
We sat down with Vincent Valderrama, Engineering Director, to learn about the challenges of designing everything from a spray mop to glass storage containers, why inexpensive 3D printers are making product development faster and more flexible, and how he became the star of a YouTube series with several million views and counting.
Tell us about a time you solved an intimidating design challenge
One of the first projects I worked on at Smart was a spray mop for OXO. Based on user insights and research, we had already designed two innovative features for the product: a slim profile to clean hard-to-reach spaces under furniture, and a removable scrubber head for different surfaces (most people have two flooring materials, such as wood and tile). The challenge was to make the scrubber head—which included a large and complex mechanism in early iterations—just the right size while also more intuitive to use. It was a classic design problem, with two conflicting user requirements to resolve. In the end, we were able to refine and simplify the mechanism to a simplified foot pedal and spring-loaded locking feature that allowed for the slim profile we knew was important. The client was able to launch what became a very popular product.
What are the new frontiers of your discipline?
Rapid additive prototyping has changed dramatically since I was in engineering school. Back then we shared one very expensive 3D printer between hundreds of students. Now, prices have gotten low enough that most engineers can afford to have one, even at home. With several large format printers at Smart Design, we don’t have to rely on external vendors—and that makes rapid prototyping and model making much faster and our timetable more flexible.
The latest printers can also handle different materials such as silicone-like and thermal plastic elastomers—not just hard plastic, as before—and that opens up new opportunities for high-temperature products. In the future, we’ll likely see more and more bespoke products made for individual consumers from 3D printers rather than mass production. You’ll have customization and on-demand consumption on a scale we’re not used to seeing.
“With several large format printers at Smart Design, we don’t have to rely on external vendors—and that makes rapid prototyping and model making much faster and our timetable more flexible.”
So what is engineering anyway?
What types of problems do you find exciting?
The most exciting problems are those that bring me into an industry or product category or let me engage with new materials. This often happens at Smart Design, because of the variety of projects: one day it’s a medical device, the next it’s advanced engineering for something like the Gatorade Smart Gx Bottle.
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Explore careers at Smart Design
Describe the qualities of a designer at Smart Design
Talk about the leadership at Smart Design
What influences your design work?
That’s easy: good design! It can be as simple as a mug with just the right handle or a well-weighted kitchen spoon with steel inside that gives it the right center of mass. And then there are more complex systems, such as the Samsung bespoke refrigerator I recently purchased. A refrigerator is very functional, of course, but this one has some really thoughtful usability and design features: for example, you can change the panels to add colored glass instead of the typical stainless steel. They managed to make a fridge more human and versatile. I often refer to Bernd Polster’s book Braun: Fifty Years of Design and Innovation about the German product design company and how it consistently uses simple forms to create visual impact. Their iconic coffee maker and stereo speakers have influenced how I think about design.
On a personal note, tell us about what you’re reading, learning, and creating
About Vincent Valderrama, Engineering Director