written by:
June 21, 2013
Dwell on Design speaker Dan Formosa is accustomed to swimming against the current. When he co-founded the consulting firm Smart Design nearly 35 years ago, design was typically an afterthought, and the idea of “usability” more or less unheard of.
SmartGauge design by Formosa for Ford

Formosa’s SmartGauge design for Ford. Photo courtesy of The Ford Motor Company.

SmartGauge design by Formosa for Ford

Formosa’s SmartGauge design for Ford. Photo courtesy of The Ford Motor Company.

“We started with a point of view on design that was quite different from how most design was being practiced,” recalls Formosa, a specialist in ergonomics and biomechanics. “In the late 1970s and early ’80s, design was something that was applied at the end. It was totally superficial, like a surface treatment to add perceived value to products.”

Today the firm—which has offices in New York, San Francisco and Barcelona—works with a variety of clients to create “human-centered design solutions” in the healthcare, automotive, digital, and consumer industries. For OXO International, Smart Design has created more than 750 products, like the easy-to-use kitchen tools in the Good Grips line. For Ford, Formosa and his colleagues came up with the SmartGauge, an innovative instrument cluster that provides real-time coaching to drivers to help them save fuel.

He welcomes the “bottom-up” messaging he sees today. Whether through user feedback or Internet searches, consumers now get their information from one another, rather than through “top-down” advertising from the companies themselves. “Because of that, companies are realizing that products need to work,” he says. “You need to get five stars on Amazon. It’s about the experience and usability.”

Formosa laments that many companies still don’t put a premium on what he calls the “full spectrum” of design research. “A lot of product research is based on discussions and opinion-taking as opposed to understanding things like perception and biomechanics. But most people can’t tell you how their hand works or how their eyes work, and why should they?” he says.

Trying to form a composite “average consumer,” he says, doesn’t work. “It’s much more difficult to design for six or eight people that you know, because you’re not generalizing or averaging them into one perfect person. It’s super challenging, but it’s really rich in terms of information, of understanding the advantages and disadvantages of certain designs.”

The innovative instrument cluster he helped pioneer for the 2010 Ford hybrid sedan is a case in point. By understanding physiology and the way the eye works, the team developed an LCD screen that effectively communicates valuable information to the driver about fuel efficiency, namely via a vine on the far right of the screen—depending on driver style, the leaves on the vine will either grow or wither.

Says Formosa, “When you’re driving, your glance time on the instrument cluster can be .2 seconds, because you need to get your eyes back on the road. We designed the instrument cluster to work in your peripheral vision, so all you have to do is glance at it. People are now getting better gas mileage than they were promised.”

Don’t miss Dan Formosa at Dwell on Design Saturday, June 22 on the panel Designing for Real People: The Nuts and Bolts of Social Sustainability.

This article was originally published on June 17, 2013 on our sister site, Dwell on Design.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016