How to: Specify Your Project
Specifying an electronics design project shouldn’t be a terrifying experience. Relax – most electronics designers are used assisting clients that aren’t entirely sure about the hardware they need, or in some cases how the finalised product will look, handle or feel. It isn’t a problem. As the project progresses establishing a clear line of communication between yourself and your designer will help both parties no end – but how do you get moving to begin with?
It can at first appear daunting, entering the domain of an official electronics designer. They have the know-how to green light your project and it is perhaps them – and only them – that is bridging the gap between concept and reality. There are a few things to consider before we begin. Assuming that you have already decided that you are in the market for an electronics designer, and you are relatively sure about what it is you want, how do you begin to translate your vision into something comprehensible?
Keeping it simple
The blend between accuracy and the unknown is normal. If you are unsure of any detail of your initial design, head back to basics. You will always engage your designer by using relatively simplified terms and dimensions that each party can understand and build upon. Entering the design office with an amazing design with hundreds of incomplete, incorrect or inaccurate specifications can be as much as a hindrance as anything else. The knowledge gap you may have is not a problem: your designer is on hand to assist where possible, to guide you through performance and hardware specifications as they arise. However, arming yourself with some precursory knowledge is no bad thing; empower yourself to understand market placement, electronics terminology and measurements and your development conversation will flow freely. Offering your insight into your potential audience, the potential uses of the product and any additional industry specific titbits of information to your designer will often assist; remember, you are the expert in your field.
Part of your specification should entail contextualisation for the design team to comprehend how the product will be used, how it will affect the market and where you see the product over time: one, three, five, ten years – where will the product be in that time. Assisting your electronics design team to understand your requirements for the project: provide information concerning the bigger picture, allowing time to consider appropriate materials, durability and hardware, as well as the practicalities of product procurement and supply chain on project completion. Early stage communications between you and your designer enable both parties to understand not only the design, but the financial, technical and practical risk associated with the design at hand. Developing the project specification with your designer will ensure that aspects you may not have considered are unturned. Likewise, approaching the designer with industry specific design aspect will be welcomed – especially if it means you have dodged a major design flaw in the early stages, saving time and money.
Keeping it real
It is not always possible for your design to come to fruition exactly how you imagined it. As mentioned, it is important to maintain clear lines of communication between all interested parties as to engage fully with the design process. An electronics designer shouldn’t make any drastic changes to your design but for good design practice, cost maintenance or simply that the product will not work this way, you may be required to work closely with the designer to evolve the finalised product. Maintaining a reasonable expectation of your design and equally, designer, will move mountains in developing your specification.
Electronics design is a mutual partnership. Both parties are mutually seeking a beneficial outcome. In short, both parties want to depart each other. Approaching your designer with a balance of product design, potential application, market scope, industry insight and hardware expectations will produce a relationship that breeds success, whether developing one, ten or one hundred articles. Consider asking yourself, before you even approach the designer ‘is it going to work well this way?’ A seemingly simple question can unravel a deluge of answers – whilst your designer can answer most, understanding your own specifications and project will serve you well.
Some additional ‘How to Specify your Project’ related terms you may wish to consider:
- Non-Disclosure Agreement: Protects your ideas from being pilfered by the design company and then used as their own intellectual property.
- Fixed Price Quotations: So long as you don’t alter any aspect of the design of the design wholly – e.g. turn your amplifier into a go-kart, many design companies work by providing an initial quote that they will work to, offering support up to the manufacturing stage. This is established on a design by design basis, and not all designers will offer this service.
- Technical Support: What it says. But ensure that your designer will offer you dedicated support for a specified length of time – 6, 12, 18 and 24 month technical support packages are not uncommon. Be sure to investigate what support you will actually receive if needs be.
- 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.
- Economic Life Cycle: Your design team should be able to discuss the financial viability of your project from day 1, offering you a clear figure of what you’ll be expected to pay and how manufacturing costs will affect the final product price. Understandably, if the design is massively altered, or there are extenuating circumstances in the design process this figure may change – but your designer should still engage you in this process too.