Interview with Charles, a Prototype Designer
Charles is a Prototype Designer at Safran Analytics; he works closely with user-experience specialists. Together, they design data-elated solutions (data visualisation*, IoT**, digital tools, etc.) and implement methods of collaboration that are still not widespread at Safran (collective intelligence, Design Thinking***, Lean Start-up****etc.).
What is your role at Safran Analytics?
As my job titles suggests, my mission is to make prototypes of solutions to ensure they are viable, before the company invests too many resources in their development. So, I work at the very early stage of the concept and remain focused on the user experience.
I work with other people at Safran Analytics who are specialized in user experience (User eXperience (UX) Designer, UX Researcher). Our skills complement each other; by working together, we are capable of designing a product, adapting it to users' needs and practices and then developing it using the most appropriate solution. This is where I come in as a prototype designer.
Safran Analytics works on the “data chain”, i.e. all the various stages from the acquisition of data from a source - whether in a factory or an aircraft - and its analysis right up to the consumption of the data, which can be a long and complex process.
To avoid committing ourselves to a project with no guarantee of results, my team needs to be able to test the points that represent a high risk of failure. So, we develop technical solutions to verify several hypotheses such as: “Is the data acquisition possible?”, “Is the technical solution chosen acceptable”, and “Does the solution actually meet the need”, even if it means redefining the need more precisely.
The prototype produced makes it possible to validate these hypotheses in a simple manner. To do this, we use the Lean Start-up**** approach, which allows us to work efficiently and to have quick results and feedback. This means we don’t spend long months on the deployment of a project without actually knowing if it will meet the requirement in question.
We also use the Design Thinking*** approach, which facilitates the decision-making, co-creation and adoption processes, while remaining focused on meeting the user's need.
Finally, I also test various innovative technologies that could be used inside the Group in the Garage (Safran Analytics' prototyping and collaboration area) and in the Aerogarage (the Safran Fab Lab in Paris-Saclay).
What studies did you do to become Prototype Designer?
After high school, I did the “preparatory classes” for the Grandes Ecoles (Top French Engineering Schools) and earned a place at the École des Mines de Saint-Étienne. I did an engineering degree in computer science, microelectronics and new technologies. It was a really comprehensive curriculum combining computing and electronics which enabled me to understand every aspect of today's technologies and acquire technical skills, which I went on to perfect at Seoul National University in South Korea.
After graduating, I created a start-up with three school friends. We developed a holographic projection system without goggles, i.e. a system where the hologram projected could be moved with the hands. After spending three years on this project and making several functional prototypes, I felt I needed a change and I came across this vacancy for a prototype designer, which I thought sounded interesting. Although I was a bit reluctant to join a large group after three years in my start-up, I was won over by Safran's vision, and the entrepreneurial aspect of the job, and particularly the team I was joining.
What qualities do you need for your job?
First of all, you have to have technical skills and a broad, up-to-date knowledge of current technologies. This knowledge is crucial for ensuring the proposals and new ideas are coherent, and for determining which technology is best suited to the users’ needs. You also have to be inquisitive by nature.
Then, you need good soft skills to really understand the users of the services and products we develop. You have to be able to put yourself in their shoes and have the empathy to understand every aspect of the user's job, not just the technical side.
You also need to have good communication skills. An idea is only great when you can explain it and share it. In my job I have to be able to explain highly technological information in a simple way, so that everyone can understand.
What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy working with my team; working with people who have different yet complementary skills to mine is particularly rewarding. The communication between the team is easy and effective. I really appreciate the great atmosphere in the team, which is something we share with all the people involved in our projects.
I also deal with exciting technological subjects. We are asked to work on a wide range of different projects, meaning we constantly need to innovate.
The hands-on, manual aspect of my job allows me to give a clear meaning to what I do, while retaining a DIY***** (Do It Yourself) spirit.
Finally, I feel great pride when a project succeeds, particularly as regards the team who always give their utmost; that is what makes me want to get up in the morning and come to work.
Where do you see yourself in a few years from now?
I don't really know at the moment. Uncertainty is an inherent part of my job, and the jobs of my team-mates. We depend on each other but also on technology developments and the related methodologies, which we must keep up to date with. My goal is to stay in the field of innovation, to be able to test and provide new solutions for the Group. The position changes as technology moves forward, so I’ll see where it leads me!
* Data visualisation is the study, science or art of representing data in a visual format. This may be through graphs, diagrams, maps, time charts, computer graphics or even animations.
** IoT meaning the “ Internet of Things” or simply connected objects, refers to the extension of the Internet to things and places in the physical world.
*** Design Thinking is an approach to innovation and innovation management, developed in the 1980s, combining analytical thinking and intuitive thinking in order to address and facilitate creative processes.
**** A Lean start-up is a specific approach for starting a business activity or launching a product. It is based on validated learning, (i.e. checking the validity of concepts), scientific experimentation and iterative design. It shortens the time needed to get a product to market, makes it possible to regularly measure progress, and have regular feedback from users. With this in mind, companies (especially start-ups) seek to design products and services that best meet the needs of their consumers, with minimal initial investment.
***** DIY (for Do It Yourself) culture refers to the philosophy of individuals taking the opportunity to do odd jobs and repairs. They are no longer simply consumers or spectators but actively involved in things. In companies, this translates into promoting creativity and links into the Make or Buy approach, i.e. choosing whether to make something yourself or have it made.
- © Cyril Abad / CAPA Pictures / Safran