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Sponsored blog: Why shouldn’t electronics be fun?

Author : Mike Maynard | Managing Director | Napier

30 October 2019

Mike Maynard, Managing Director, Napier
Mike Maynard, Managing Director, Napier

In this regular series of columns for EPDT, Mike Maynard, Managing Director of B2B tech communications agency, Napier, discusses how marketers can help put the fun back into how we talk about engineering and electronics.

Engineering is sometimes seen as a rather dull profession, which in my view is utter rubbish! I often wonder whether I would be having more fun as an engineer, than I do in my current marketing role.

To make things worse, I think that it’s marketers like me that are often responsible for the perception that engineering is dull. Just look at the way we write press releases, which almost all follow the same predictable format:

Company X, a leading supplier of product category Y, today announced a new widget, the most advanced one we’ve ever created. The new widget does something better, making it ideal for [a long list of applications].

The release will go on to detail the specification of the product, and sometimes include some quotes from a senior VP about how excited they are that the product is available. Unfortunately, the reality is that that the VP almost certainly didn’t write the quote, and in many cases hasn’t even read it!

This is so far from Bob Pease, who I consider to be the best semiconductor marketer. I remember fighting to get the copy of Electronics Design when it arrived each month to read Bob’s “Pease Porridge” columns (this was pre-internet). If you’re too young to remember him, you’ve missed out and should check out some of Bob’s writing.

Bob was different. He talked about real engineering problems and how he solved them. They were often small problems, and might just be one element of a project, but he made everything, even mistakes, fun. A little bit of this fun would do no harm, and a change of perception might encourage more youngsters into this important profession.

Today, designing systems is a complex and time-consuming process. Modern components mean that you can’t just create systems on a breadboard or using wire-wrap, you need to design and wait for a PCB. The process takes time, and this can make engineering seem like a hard grind.

The reality is that we all like instant gratification: long projects just feel less exciting. I had the most fun as an engineer when I was creating lighting and sound systems at university. Creating something, even if the design was simple, and then seeing it used that evening at an event was extremely rewarding.

In recent years, the electronics marketers started chasing the “maker” market, and you only have to visit communities like element14, Hackster or DesignSpark to find light-hearted campaigns. Although companies are still keen to engage makers and hobbyists, primarily because many of them have engineering day jobs, the excitement has cooled a little. This market emerged because of the availability of boards such as the Raspberry Pi and Arduino, which allowed individuals to create projects without the time and cost of designing and manufacturing PCBs.

The reality is that these boards, which were initially designed for education and hobbyists, have changed the way that professional engineers work. A recent survey conducted by Farnell found that only one third of the users of Raspberry Pi were creating personal projects: the majority were using them for proof-of-concept, test rigs or even in production systems. Semiconductor manufacturers now understand this and are creating boards that enable fast prototyping.

So how can we bring the fun back into engineering? I’d like to see products launched with more information about how they solve a specific problem, rather than with a list of features. Let’s see an example of how the product improves a design, rather than a stock photo of an application with a marketing message overlaid.

I’d love to hear what you think: how can marketers like myself bring out the enjoyment and sense of achievement engineers get when solving problems? Please let me know your ideas by emailing me at mike@napierb2b.com or contacting me on LinkedIn.

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