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Design a [Thing]: Don't Get Left Behind! (Competition Advice)


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The year is [year]. You are a [thing] designer working in/for [country/nation state/corporation]. The [things] of the rival [country/nation state/corporation] have recently *gotten meaningfully better in some specific way* and/or *the geopolitical and/or industry circumstances have significantly changed*. You have been tasked with designing a [thing] to meet the needs of this new and changing world!

 

If that made you laugh, maybe you've participated in a design competition before, here or on another forum. I've been a contestant or judge five or six design competitions by this point, and I'd like to highlight a mistake I've seen people make often that I think could hurt your chances. And that is, designing something for the wrong time period, specifically designing something that is too early for the period in which the competition takes place.

 

Quick: When you think about US rifles in World War II, what comes to mind? A lot if you would answer with the M1 Garand, I'd bet. If I went on another forum and started a "Design a Rifle: USA 1944" thread, I bet I'd get a lot of entries that took their cues from the M1 Garand - but the M1 wasn't designed in 1944, it was designed in the late 1920s. In attempting to "fit in" to the time period of the competition, they would have in fact submitted a design that is 15 years too late! The an appropriately dated entry would be something like a T25 Lightweight Rifle, which is associated mostly with the late Forties and early Fifties, but whose design began in the mid 1940s. Using the M1 Garand as a model for your 1944 design would result in something like a slightly refined Garand with a box magazine slapped on, putting you well behind the curve!

 

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The T25 was what 1940s designers thought the rifle of the future would look like. Keen SHitters will notice the joke about the M14 in the above paragraph.

 

Tanks and other vehicles are the same way. The M48 is associated with the Vietnam era, but its development began in 1953. The Space Shuttle is associated closely with the 1980s, but design work on it began in the late 1960s, before the first man ever set foot on the Moon. The MiG-15 is associated with the Korean War, but Soviet jet fighter designers at that time were already putting pencils to paper on what would become the MiG-21.

 

It's tempting to create a design that looks like it would fit right in to the battles we know and associate with whatever time period a competition covers. Yet, the real-world designers fighting those battles from their drafting tables were already imagining the next thing, and even what would come after that, in turn. Design competitions are just for fun, but in some ways they are also practice for the real thing, so don't get stuck in the past!

 

 

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Well, the question is what point in the design process are you simulating? An improved M1 achieving IOC in 1944 isn't bad, but starting development at that point is very much behind the times. The competition captures a single moment in time, whereas a development process is drawn out. Is what we wresent supposed to be the end result of handwaved development, or the PDR to a theoretical development process which hasn't even begun?

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1 hour ago, N-L-M said:

Well, the question is what point in the design process are you simulating? An improved M1 achieving IOC in 1944 isn't bad, but starting development at that point is very much behind the times. The competition captures a single moment in time, whereas a development process is drawn out. Is what we wresent supposed to be the end result of handwaved development, or the PDR to a theoretical development process which hasn't even begun?

 

That's kind of the fun with these things, though, as your entrants all have different ideas about the process.

 

So some of your entries (not many, though) end up being conservative updates/developments of then-existing models. Others end up sticking together then-existing concepts they like while slapping in a few pet ideas that the author has a boner for. This is where your bullpup Garands come from. Then you get the folk who want to try to retroactively shove modern concepts (eg: smoothbore guns firing APDSFS) into previous technological contexts using a period-plausible justification. Finally, you get the folk who try to 'update' a design they have a fondness for in order to justify its awesomeness. 99% of the time this involves a Tiger or Panther with a turbine engine and modern fire control gubbins.

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1 hour ago, N-L-M said:

Well, the question is what point in the design process are you simulating? An improved M1 achieving IOC in 1944 isn't bad, but starting development at that point is very much behind the times. The competition captures a single moment in time, whereas a development process is drawn out. Is what we wresent supposed to be the end result of handwaved development, or the PDR to a theoretical development process which hasn't even begun?

 

Yeah, like Tox intimated, I'm not saying people can't or shouldn't design things that are based on or leverage existing tech from the time period, it's rather that I mistake I consistently see is people designing something that they think should fit in with the other things in the same category that were in use at the time. So, for analogy, a T20E2 for the USA 1944 rifle comp would be fine, but designing a Pedersen rifle would be committing the error I am talking about.

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Just to make sure I follow- the mistake is to design a competitor/replacement to [a system currently in service] based on tech which competed with [the design in service] back when they were both concepts, so the (flawed) competitor has no actual advantage over the [design in service] yes? 

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12 minutes ago, N-L-M said:

Just to make sure I follow- the mistake is to design a competitor/replacement to [a system currently in service] based on tech which competed with [the design in service] back when they were both concepts, so the (flawed) competitor has no actual advantage over the [design in service] yes? 

 

Correct. In other words, don't design a Panzer IV for "Design a German Tank: 1942", because the Panzer IV is a mid-1930s design.

 

Obviously, use your judgement.

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