Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Why Designers Should Spend Time in the Field

We see design oversights in our industry all the time: flat panel TVs with inputs that open perpendicular to the wall; architectural speakers that demand a third arm to install; or just downright bizarre mounting patterns. This is what happens when designers never get out to install the product themselves. So it's refreshing to find products that seem like they've been designed by someone who "gets it" and has been listening to feedback the front lines.

Last month I wrote a post titled, “Understanding the Strengths of Industry Specialists,” where I discussed how a pipe breaking under my master bath shower led me down a rabbit hole of researching bathroom tiles and ultimately working with different vendors: the internet, big-box stores, and specialty retailers.

The remodel has progressed, and we recently got to the point where it was time to install our new whirlpool bathtub. The tub I was replacing offered no way to service the whirlpool after installation. In fact, the tub’s on/off button had been broken for years, and we solved the issue by simply turning it on/off at the breaker box instead of smashing out the tile, cutting out the plywood to access, replacing the bad switch, and then reinstalling everything. Long story short, I knew when installing the new tub that I didn’t want to make that same mistake. So, I selected a tub that had a removable integrated access hatch on the front skirt, letting you quickly and easily access the guts of the tub if need be.

While my contractor, James, was installing the tub, he had quite a bit of difficulty getting the tub to set into the floor drain because of my cabinetry location. Looking at the front of the tub, there were two identical access doors, so I asked, “Why don’t you just open the other access door and get to the drain that way?”

“Well, that would be a real smart idea,” James said, “but that second panel isn’t functional. It’s just for aesthetics.”

Image: Thinkstock
And, sure enough, he was right. Some designer had put in two identical panels on the front of the tub, but only deemed it necessary to give access via the left-hand side where the motor and pump are, instead of the right side where all the plumbing and drain is.

“That’s a really big oversight,” James continued, “since you’re just as likely to need access to the plumbing and drain, after the fact, as you are the motor. Would have sure made the install a lot easier, too.”

To me, this was just another perfect example of what happens when the designer is detached from the finished product and has likely never had to do an installation.

Unfortunately, we see these kinds of oversights in our industry all the time, whether it is a flat panel TV with inputs that connect straight into the rear of the set, making it impossible to wall mount; architectural speakers that practically require a third arm to install while balancing atop a ladder; or speaker brackets that won’t space a 24-inch truss unless the speaker is perfectly centered, or TVs with bizarre mounting patterns. This, plus any number of other little idiosyncrasies, is what happens when the guy designing the product has never actually been put in the field to install it.

That’s why it is so refreshing to find products that seem like they have been designed by someone who really gets it, or who has been listening to feedback from the guys on the front lines. Sometimes it could be something as simple as integrating a bubble level into a flat panel TV mount; or outdoor speakers with weather-protected speaker connections on the front that are easier to access; or rear-panel connections on an AV receiver that are thoughtfully arranged.

One company that seems to continually be on the forefront of understanding the needs of installers is Origin Acoustics. If you’ve been around this industry for any time at all, you know of Jeremy Burkhardt and his SpeakerCraft legacy, and it’s pretty obvious that Burkhardt’s a guy who is more at home on top of a ladder with a drywall saw and screw gun than he is wearing a suit in a boardroom.

One perfect example of this installer-think mindset is the Origin’s tool-less Zip-Clip speaker mounting system. This is a feature that doesn’t improve speaker sonics one iota, nor make any improvement to the end user’s experience, but it is a technician’s dream. No more straining with your arms over your head while balancing a drill and trying not to fall off a ladder; simply use one hand to clip the bracket into place and then screw the speaker in with a half-turn. Brilliant.

I don’t get out into the field as much as I used to, but I recently joined my crew for an install where I took on the task of building a Salamander audio rack. Even though it was a fairly complex rack build—including four slide-out media shelves and doors—I figured this was something that would only take a couple of hours to complete. It was a real eye opener when it actually took me nearly four hours to assemble the rack, giving me a much better idea—and appreciation—how long things take in the real world, hopefully making me better at estimating and scheduling going forward.

If your company has a team of designers or sales people that don’t spend much time in the field, periodically having them strap on a tool belt and spend a day with the installers to fully understand the process can be transformative, and result in a variety of benefits.