Meet the Team

7 Questions: Jon Carver

We thought it was time you all got to know a little about the people who work here at Highway1, the staff without whom this program would literally not be possible.

This week: senior mechanical engineer Jon Carver.

Tell us a little about yourself: who are you and what are you doing here?
I’m Highway1’s senior mechanical engineer. I spent a lot of time during my career in the design/engineering consultancy space at design firms, serving a variety of different clients; I’d normally work with one to three at a time.

Here, I get a chance to work with up to a dozen different groups at a time, so it certainly keeps me on my toes.

I see myself as a bit of a generalist within the context of mechanical engineering, and each day I have a chance to apply the full spectrum of what I’ve learned through my approximately 20 years in the field.

What excites you about what you do here?
The variety’s a big part of it; the opportunity to witness the impact of my work firsthand. I also get a lot of satisfaction from the client/service professional relationship, from working directly with our clients here, helping them solve engineering challenges; I really enjoy the opportunity to teach a bit: process and creative problem solving, mostly.

What do you tend to get asked about the most?
“Jon, how would you do this?” A lot of the questions I receive fall within the technical bucket: mechanism design, materials and processes, the development process, planning and design.

I also get asked about strategy: when is it most effective to perform different steps? I’m really big on optimizing resources throughout the design process; perhaps there are a lot of engineers out there who take an extremely thorough approach to every problem, while I believe that the approach to each problem depends on the expected outcome, and that the approach that’s taken should be in alignment with the outcome or goals of that exercise.

I was helping Ayda noodle on a test fixture for some of their printed circuitboards. A couple minutes in, I asked “What’s the purpose of these test fixtures? How many printed circuitboards will you be testing? What are the lifecycle expectations?” And the answer to that question led me to take an entirely different approach to the design problem.

Many engineers would see a problem like that and think “I’m gonna design a robust fixture that’ll survive a nuclear holocaust,” but in this case they were only testing 20 boards. I was able to help them brainstorm a solution that allowed them to use existing tools with very little design time spent, because that’s what’s appropriate when you’re only testing 20 boards; if the fixture dies on board #21, then that’s fine — they’ll have achieved their goal.

Do you have a favorite kind of design problem?
Certainly anything with moving parts; mechanical complexity gets me excited. I also enjoy early-phase brainstorming work; I think I’ve made some contributions there.

What’s something you wish people would ask you?
Well, they don’t know what they don’t know, so they’re unable to ask. That said, some of the typical unknowns about the product development process are:

Carefully considering input to your resources directly impacts the output. There’s a number of different aspects to product development, and if you’re not providing quality input to those different parts of the process, you’re not gonna get quality output: garbage in/garbage out. So the design partners that we coordinate through the program are professionals; they’re very skilled at what they do, but they become much more efficient if the input they’re receiving has been distilled and carefully crafted.

User research. Put it this way: any time I’ve engaged in a user insight study, I’ve been surprised by the results, and I’ve been involved in industrial design, engineering, and product design for twenty years. I think the common misconception is that the user research process won’t reveal anything you don’t know already; a lot of the people involved in developing products believe that they faithfully represent their users, when in fact that oftentimes isn’t true.

We see a lot of focus on self-solving, but they don’t appreciate the variety of users and user expectations about products. It’s an extremely competitive market when it comes to hardware, and any competitive advantage you can get is helpful. We like to think we help teams develop products that get five-star ratings on Amazon, and that’s only achieved through diligent user insights and research.

How products might fail physically. We can help the teams perform structural analysis on their designs and make some predicitons about how the parts or design might fail, but that actually represnts a pretty narrow scope of use cases. Only when you get the thing represented with actual parts and test it rigorously will you be able to determine the variety of failure modes.

Name one thing you wish all hardware teams knew right off the bat.
It’s not easy and it takes a lot of creativity, and also designing products that customers love takes diligence in all areas: user research, engineering, industrial design, marketing — it really requires a comprehensive approach.

What’s the most interesting team that’s passed through these doors and why?
My typical answer is everyone; I find all the teams fascinating and very diverse in their needs. Each team is at a different point in the design process. Of course, they’re all designing different products, and as a result have vastly different needs. Part of what’s interesting to me about all the teams is really intimately understanding what those needs are, so we on the Highway1 staff can strategize about how to best help them.

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Highway1, a division of PCH, is the premier hardware startup accelerator, located in San Francisco. We look for great hardware startups, with an exciting business idea and a compelling prototype. We help you design products that deliver real value to customers, that are delightful to use and that can be manufactured at scale.
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