Robert Q. Riley Enterprises: Product Design & Development
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Robert Q. Riley
Quotes from various speeches, publications, and papers.


  • "Design" is the spiritual dimension of our practical need for tools.
  • We are not merely practical beings to whom raw functionality is the highest order of values.  There is little practical value in having children, in the love of spouse or friends, or in the appreciation of beauty.   But without these intangible values, our lives would have little meaning.  Indeed, most of our pursuits are oriented toward fulfilling our human, rather than our practical side.  So in our designs, if we are to be true designers, we will give at least equal attention to the most meaningful aspect  -   the part of the design that moves us from within. 
  • It's easy to make a product work.  But to make it work with grace and beauty is everything.
  • A product's design tells us how to experience it.  An automobile's design tells us whether to expect an exciting driving experience, or just another an uneventful trip to work.  Riding and caring for a fine bicycle gives us the pleasure of experiencing a work of art, as well as a bicycle ride.  But a poorly designed or shoddily built bicycle is something to be "consumed" then tossed away.  It gives us nothing but temporary utility.
  • A beautiful work of art just sits there and does nothing.  Yet it continually gives to us in ways that are difficult to define.
  • Superior design comes from a place other than the physical or the rational... a place that can't be approached entirely by intellectual processes.   Often I can "feel" a design before I can "see" it, and the work lies in coaxing it out into the physical world.  But the design already exists before it emerges as a tangible item.  And in the end, I'm at a loss to explain where it actually came from.
  • I believe the one-box automobile design will ultimately prevail.   Power systems are shrinking, which translates into smaller engine rooms.  And the idea of dedicating the rear third of a car to luggage space, which isn't even used most of the time, makes little sense.   So it seems logical that the front box will disappear due to lack of need, and the rear box will be integrated into the central passenger compartment so it can carry either people or luggage.  It's a more space-efficient layout.  And what works best has a way of becoming beautiful over time.
  • Every design team needs a few youngsters for fresh ideas, and it needs a few oldsters to keep the youngsters from being eaten alive by the "gotchas."   The gotchas are those big problems that grow up from the germs of what appear in the beginning to be inconsequential assumptions and simplifications.  They can infect a design unless they are continually purged by large infusions of negative thinking. And if just one or two gets by, they'll come up at the last minute, grab you right where it hurts most, and shout: "I gotcha."   I guarantee you, once a gotcha gets ya, you'll never be the same again. 


  Personal Excellence
  • Our flaws and our excellence often flow from the same reservoir.    Consider the deficits and greatness of men like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.  And one of the most profound examples of excellence flowing from a pool of enormous  human adversity is the mere being of the great contemporary physicist, Steven Hawking.


  Environmental Problems
  • With all our technical understanding it seems odd that we can't see the obvious   - that world is limited in its ability to withstand human insults.  But at least we're consistent..... we're no more disrespectful to the planet than we are to each other. 
  • It doesn't make much sense to blame the industry for environmental problems, then go out shopping for a sports utility vehicle.  The headlines might read: "Consumers Continue to Degrade Environment by Buying Gas-Guzzler Vehicles.   Carmakers Spending Billions to Find Technical Solutions."  In reality, the auto industry is investing huge sums to make cleaner vehicles.  And so far, the average guy in the street knows very little about it, and the investment hasn't turned a dime of profit.  True, they wouldn't be doing it if they hadn't been pressured.   But if we as individuals were just half as pro-active in our buying and commuting decisions, great progress would happen almost overnight.
  • By 2020 there will be well over 1.1 billion motor vehicles in the world.  If they all lined up and drove past you at the rate of one vehicle per second, it would take 35 years for 1.1 billion motor vehicles to drive by.  And if they lined up bumper-to-bumper for the drive-by, the line would extend 130 times around the world. That’s how many motor vehicles we'll have to keep supplied with motor fuel in year 2020.
  • When you take your 3500-pound car to the market for a loaf of bread, think about what's going on.  That's 3500 pounds worth of hardware being hauled to the store and back, consuming lots of energy and spewing lots of pollutants into the air, just to get a 1-pound loaf of bread from the market to your kitchen table.  I think there's a better way to do it.  In fact, I'll bet my 9-year-old granddaughter could think of a better way to do it. 


  Vehicle Safety
  • People often comment that lighter cars are not as safe.  But if weight is envisioned as a safety feature, then the logical extension would be the rather silly idea of doubling or tripling the weight of cars to make them safer.  Improved safety properly comes from better engineering.  Indy cars are half the weight of today's passenger cars, and drivers often walk away from 200-mph crashes.   But even crash survival itself is a poor approach to automobile safety.  The truth is that we already have the technology to nearly eliminate automobile crashes altogether, but the main roadblock is product liability.  Today, legal issues are standing in the way of preventing most highway injuries and deaths. 


  Transportation Solutions
  • If I had to guess, I'd say that the automobile will become more of a transportation "commodity" than it is today.  In other words, small electric runabouts would be integrated as subsystems of mass transit systems.   Commuters would then have transportation from home to the station, and from the station to the final destination.  This concept is being explored by the National Station Car Association, and with good results.    Not only does it improve energy intensity over that of conventional automobiles, but it also makes the transit system itself more usable.  Expenses would then show up on your monthly "transportation" statement, just like your phone and utility bills today.  This doesn't mean that the family sedan will disappear.   But we probably wouldn't need a second or third private car. 
  • Dull vehicle design and clean, energy-efficient cars are not necessarily synonymous.   It's possible to dramatically lower vehicle mass and triple or quadruple fuel economy, and still create designs having the same level of excitement that we enjoy in our machines today.
  • If you want to achieve equal results at half the cost, you can either do the same amount of work, but do it more efficiently, or you can reduce the amount of work that has to be done.   Today's focus on improving automobile efficiency is almost totally oriented toward high-tech power systems that do the same amount of work, but do it more efficiently.   When you consider that the purpose of an automobile is to get a 150-pound person to a destination, then the idea that it takes 3,000 pounds of hardware to do it becomes rather ludicrous.  Most of an automobile's energy goes to getting itself to the destination, and the energy that goes to the occupant is almost insignificant by comparison.   A large reduction in vehicle mass - slashing the amount of work that has to be done - is fundamental to any long-term solution to automobile energy demands. 



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