Talk about preference. I asked a question this month that could have gotten just as many responses as people responding. The question was "When you sit down to start a brand new design, what's the first thing you do?"
Of course, the answer has a lot to do with what you are designing and what's been done before. For example, if it's a portable device, I may start to think about the power requirements. If it's a medical device, I'd probably start by making a list of all the standards bodies I need to be in touch with and all the regulations I need to comply with. There's also the question of the geography in which the design will be deployed. Hence, there are likely even more answers than people answering the question.
Regardless, I thought the question would bring some intriguing responses from our readers, and I was right. For example, Eduardo Viramontes said:
I talk to colleagues and team members about the project to get their input and ideas. Some people will focus on very fine details like, "remember to put a pull-down resistor in such and such pin." Others will likely have more high-level ideas like, "you should put a bunch of LEDs here to display a smiley face." These types of unedited ideas, unburdened by the development of the project, will generally only come up in the beginning, when there's no bias about the specifics of the project. And they can save a lot of time down the road.
Emilijan Iljoski said, "I first review my previous designs and analyze the existing designs of others that may be related to the subject matter. De facto, to design something innovative, you must know what has been already done."
That makes sense to me. Basically, that's saying that you don't want to repeat the mistakes of others. Rather, you want to learn from them.
Soumanou Eusebio said:
I like to start with a literature review of existing design, then hold a brainstorming session with my group. We put down all the ideas; regardless of whether we think they are good ideas or bad ideas at this point. Finally, I will narrow the ideas down to three concepts that I will study, test, and compare. From there, I get my final concept for prototyping.
Edna Elizabeth Ramos Cienfuegos said:
To begin my design, I have to know the "voice" of the customer, which I translate into specifications. At the beginning of the design project, it's important to have targets regarding cost, time, quality, and the segment of the market that your product (or service) will be deployed. For example, in France they have "cahier des charges." This is similar to the idea of customer-to-customer, or C2C in the US. It's also related to Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) or Concurrent Product and Process Design (CPPD), or any process that requires the understanding of the inputs to trace the boundaries of the design.
And finally, from our own Jon Titus: "I make sure that I have clear objectives and requirements written and agreed upon by all concerned parties. You can't start a project without a clear 'map.'"
Readers, where do you start? Tell us in the comment section below.
Great question to pose and it will be interesting to hear the community's response. I'm also curious how much of that brainstorming and feedback is being transferred over to some of the newer collaboration technologies and Web-based platforms as opposed to happening in face-to-face meetings with pen and paper in hand. My guess is that since engineering teams no longer sit side by side in the same building, there needs to be some sort of forum for early ideation, and technology is certainly evolving to support that objective.
One of the issues in design is the question of when a "project" is started. Most of the responses you mention assume that the "customer" has a solid list of requirements. In projects involving mostly hardware that seems to be the case. The "customer" takes the time to figure out what they want. In the software world that is often not the case. There are various methods used to deal with this situation. I hear tell of them making their way into the engineering world. I am not sure that is a good thing.
As a small company, and the chief technologist (old engineer) I like to gather all the known specifications from the client, make a few suggestions, have them consider some limitations or restrictions, and then push him/her to nail the specifications/requirements down a solidly as possible. Then I have something to work with that isn't a moving target.
Then I take out a blank sheet of paper (my favorite part) and start putting subassemblies together to see how it might just come together.
Great point, naperlou. Before I read your comment, I was about to offer kudos to those who voiced the needs of the customer. But your comment reminds me of all the times I've interviewed engineers who said that their customers often didn't know what they wanted. Sometimes, it not as simple as it first appears.
It might not be simple, but incorporating the voice of the customer in critical and should be the responsibility, in part, of the development team to address in some fashion. Maybe they're not asking the right questions or even the right people. But developing in a vaccuum has been the death knell for many a good product.
When the project starts is different for each of us. Some of us may have a written specification...... OK, a startling few of us will be afforded that luxury, but if we are designing for an OEM they probably have a written specification. If I have a written specification the first process is to determine if the specification makes sense, and do I understand what the customer wants. I have found that the User Interface is often confusing in customer specifications, and what seems like a good idea on paper becomes very confusing when people really start pressing buttons.
Most of my projects today are new technology and the specification is conveyed over a phone call, "Hey, is there any way we could do this?" For those projects I search for any prior work that can be helpful and also signal any patent problems before the development goes any further.
Somewhere in between are the projects that turn into real products. There is no written specification, but it's an appliance that is familiar enough to design into a prototype that can be handled by everyone involved in the development so that the minute details of the design can be completed. Yes, a written specification is better, but getting a prototype into the hands of people really brings the project to life.
I wholeheartedly agree, assuming the ultimate goal is to sell a product and get $$$ from customers for doing this. To understand the problem to solve you have to understand customer needs. And what's the first step in problem solving? Making sure you understand the problem. A good marketing organization will be in touch with this (sorry Battar, I disagree with your first point). And on a larger scale the "customer" could be in fact a "market" (a market is a group of customers with a particular set of needs). Needs become requirements, then research for solutions, which becomes a block diagram, a design proposal, then finally a design, all while verifying with the customer (or market) it will satisfy the need. Engineers often find the customer knows they need something but can't put their finger on it so they need a little help (again, a good marketing organization...). And yes I do agree with Battar, at some point you really do need to stop designing.
In a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
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