How to: Choose your Electronic Designer
Fundamental to any piece of electronics hardware is the design process. This can have substantial influence over the product you end up with and as such there are several important assets your designer should hold ranging from part procurement knowledge to internal software development through to prototype management and robust quality assurance testing. Sounds substantial? It isn’t, and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, but researching your design company before commencing work can save immeasurable time during the design and manufacturing process.
Key questions to ask
There are several key questions to ask yourself before finalising your selection for electronics designer. They can relate to how the project will be handled, the turn-around needed, the quality expected or the relationship desired with the designer in question. Assuming that most people want their product to be exceptional and bespoke, and produced with a fair price that reflects industry expertise and knowledge it is worth considering the long term implications of your designer choice. It is also worth exploring if your prospective designer has capacity to explore your design if they have not encountered the product before – are they willing to explore the unknown for their own technical progression?
Multi-disciplined Electronic Product Design Team?
A multi-disciplined team is a must, in almost every scenario. Considerations to market research and placement, user perspective, UI design, proof of concept, prototyping and more require a multifaceted knowledge base. Affirming your design or idea to an electronics company that competently exercise a variety of professional practices enhance the long term prospects of any potential product. This in itself can be broken down into desirable business traits:
- Project Expectations and Initial Concept Design: It is vital for project success to accurately communicate the expectations of a project from the outset. Your designer holds the key for your concept becoming reality. Accurately portraying needs and wants will enable your designer to work closely with you throughout all design processes. Both parties should remain open to design modification to engage a clear, systematic process to enable the project to move forward. Remember: a concept is just this – a concept. Your designer may have seen a particular aspect of the design that just won’t work, and they have seen it hundreds of times. The initial concept may need to be modified for the success of the entire project where the designer will take into account cost, time, manufacturing and parts. Designers want the project to succeed – they just don’t want to bankrupt anyone in the process.
- Market Research and Visualisations: As important as creating the initial concept design is, so is understanding what already exists. An honest design will not continuously redesign the wheel. In many cases you may find a similar design to your concept exists already but may not meet yours, or the designers’ standards – but it still provides excellent impetus for what you don’t want. Market research is an exacting part of the process providing important product knowledge facilitating a streamlined, knowledge based product development process.
Electronic Design and Prototype
The internal electronics, mechanical and industrial designs should then take precedence. If you are attempting to manufacture a particularly unique product, understanding how an electronic design company has operated in past commissions should be a must. It is not always a question of rushing forward and pushing out a prototype to test the water. Engaging in design processes insulates against bad choices. Select a designer based upon what they offer: circuit simulations, parts sourcing, component cost, vendor relationships, eco awareness – these are all important aspects to consider. An exceptional designer will not only be able to source the right product for your needs – but will consider that it may need replacing at some point, offering alternate sources for your production line. Again, depending on the scope of your product and previous experience with electronics manufacturing, your designer may be able to tailor the product to include materials already in use in other products in your assembly roster – but this all comes down to maintaining an open line of communication. In the second phase you can expect to see:
- Electronic Design: As an essential aspect of the entire product understanding the electronics workings of your product should be a must. Take it upon yourself to understand exactly what is being undertaken on your behalf in your product. It may be the case you are not au fait with electronics terminology, but your designer should make it their business to help you understand, to better understand the product, to better understand the process and ultimately to better the entire project.
- Prototype/Proof of Concept: A potentially make or break moment in the process. If both parties have communicated accurately the unveiling of a prototype should be cause for momentary celebration – and then back to continued development and design. It is worth noting that prototypes cost money for the designers and for yourself to commission, so be absolutely sure you are prepared to sanction what could be a one off run. Consider materials sourced and prepared, manufacturer sourced, design concepts completed up to working and technical knowledge combine to make this work – so multiple attempts could quickly spiral in cost. A good prototype should be able to be used as an early demonstration unit – but this is not to be relied upon and should be considered a bonus.
Once the electronic design and prototype are officially signed off by both parties, the development progresses into mechanical, hardware and software design. Whilst the prototype should be as exacting to the final design as possible it is not too late to consider making changes. Electronics designers operate to comprehensively ensure that your product is working to your specification and integrating any mechanical or hardware modifications keep with providing an absolute service, from start to finish. Any new product demands due care be taken in user interface development. This is another process that involves multiple inputs through multiple communication channels to ensure a fully functioning product before the designer officially hands over the product. When choosing your designer, consider their history of development: have they overseen hundreds of projects involving specialised software? Is there experience in scaling software for tens of users to thousands?
Communication is key
In any case, the key to a successful product development is communication. Where communication between designer and client exists no party can be left unsure. Electronics designers desire to complete the project to their own exacting standards, just as much as you deign to hold your product in your own hands.
Electronic Product Design Terminology
Some additional ‘Choosing your Designer’ related terms you may wish to consider:
- Intellectual Property Rights (IPR): Intellectual Property Rights remain the property of the electronics designer until the moment of handover. Underhand electronics designers use IPR management to ‘tie you in’ – meaning they hold the rights of the product, so when a small manufacturing change is made they must be contacted and fees must be paid before changes can commence.
- Pre-Production: Before committing to a full run of your product, attempt a small pre-production run. Any issues with assembly, testing or manufacturing itself will be established here.
- Manual Writing: Usually contained outside of the design contract but most electronics designers will be happy to assist an author, or write on your behalf.
- Onward Support: An absolute must. Before you begin your entire design process, ensure your designer offers post-production support to assist with any unforeseen issues in the months following production.
- Patent: Your designer will be able to inform you if your design has any potentially patentable aspects. Ensure that they patent only in your name, or your business name.