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 Design Flow Chart 

Educate the Customer to What CAN be Done
Let the customer know what you can do for him. Sometimes the client needs to be "educated" to where the "state of the art" is today. Often they express their needs and their desired solutions from their level of understanding, which can vary greatly. Bringing the customer "up-to-speed" on the state of the art, has the potential for great benefit, both in the design decision making and in the quality of the final product design; which can improve revenues--for the product, and you! 

A word of Warning! 
This educating of the customer must be undertaken with tact and discretion. As soon as the person you are relying on for direction and definition of his needs, is made to feel demeaned, you have "poisoned the well," and your task has just become much harder.

He may be the Customer, and you the Engineer, but remember, you are both people. We as engineers often get a bad rap for not being "sensitive guys," not having people-skills. 

Relating successfully, in an interpersonal way, is never easy, but when you combine that with the imperative of completing a successful design, on schedule, with finite resources it's doubly difficult. 
You have several dynamics going on simultaneously: first you as an engineer want to do the very best design you can do; at the same time you are dealing with the customer who is paying you for that expertise. He has a need or problem to be solved in the fastest, least costly fashion--while solving his need. 

It is a safe bet that each of you see the need and the solution differently. It is a fine line between giving the customer what he thinks he wants, and what you, the designer, think is required. 


Determine the NEED
Determining the NEED is a "toughie." Inevitably, there will be more than one NEED to be satisfied. It is a matter of perception, that is, what the customer thinks they need and what, you, the engineer believes is the need. 

Be very careful that you don't ignore what the customer tells you. He has been with this a lot longer than you have and more than likely has not spelled it out or articulated it to you so that you, "know where he's coming from." Until you truly understand his view, you should listen and ask questions--and don't argue with him--yet! If you believe that "all this is obvious," and that I'm over stating this: be careful, you are about to make an assumption-that is the mother of all assumptions! To underestimate the importance of "Determine the NEED" can cost your company, and you, a bunch! 

On paper, it may seem like a fine line between giving the customer what he thinks he wants, and what you, the designer, thinks is required. The subtleties and vagaries of the marketplace can be as complex to a designer as the design process is to the marketer. 

You may have noticed that the "Determine the NEED" box has feedback paths from all throughout the "Process." This at least gives you the opportunity of "mid-course" correction. 


NEED to PROBLEM Conversion
I have a NEED: I don't have enough Clean Drinking Water, I Need Water to Drink!

There are several ways to fulfill that NEED for Enough Clean Drinking Water. Some of the Solutions are to, Dig a Well; build a Cistern to catch rain Water; if there is a river, build a Water Purification Plant; Desalinization in the case of salt water... You get the idea.

Now to implement any of the above Solutions, we first have to have a Definition of the Problem; e.g., digging a well will require a drilling rig, pipe, skilled well diggers... Again, you get the idea.

NEED to PROBLEM Conversion, is exactly that: you, and the customer, take your consensus view and start putting numbers, colors, feathers, descriptions, i.e., Specifications to the NEED. 

This process gives "Flesh and Blood" to the NEED, and the resulting "spec" is the quantitative target that you will be shooting for and measuring your progress against. Henceforth known as the "PROBLEM," to which you find and fit the appropriate Solution. 

And--you guessed it--this is as important as "Determine the NEED", in fact it may be the most hazardous to you as an engineer. This is a little like "carving it in stone," or a better way of thinking about it is writing it in fresh--slow drying cement. The older this spec gets and the more committed to it you become, the harder and more costly it is to go back and change it! So, stay attentive to the need to revisit the PROBLEM, as described by the spec, OFTEN! 


PROBLEM Definition
"Determine the NEED," "NEED to PROBLEM Conversion," "PROBLEM Definition," "Understand the PROBLEM," all this may seem like the same thing, so why spread it out like this? Well, it is, and it's not: it is important to delineate the steps because when you are re-thinking any part of the project, it will have a ripple effect on all parts of the project with varying degrees of impact. And, without some separation and delineation it can quickly become confusing; and it's down-hill from there!. 

Remember the WIN/LOSE balance sheet: ask yourself, what do I have to lose if I do or don't do something, and what's to be gained... It is seldom, that the best answer is to do nothing. Yes yes, I can hear the exceptions as I write this, but I have found more often than not, if the decision is hard and requires work--it's probably the right course of action--Bummer! This is a lesson I learn repeatedly! 


Understand the PROBLEM
If this block seems redundant, it is. There needs to be a formal step that reminds us to Understand the PROBLEM, because, as with so many steps in the design process, it is a continuous and ongoing process. The implication in all this is that no one ever totally Understands the Problem! However, for all intents and purposes, there is a utilitarian level of understanding that allows one to progress, to "get-on-with-the-job." 

I know about now you're starting to feel that I'm playing with semantics. I'm not! My telling someone who has never done this sort of thing, all of this is confusing gibberish with no seeming logical thread. Ah ha, now you know why I have developed, and you are studying the "Design Flow Chart.

There is a school of thought that anybody can design--that it can be taught. The opposing school of thought is that it is an inherent gift--and cannot be taught. I have no Idea. I hope that maybe with some order brought to the subject that it can be Learned--there is a difference. 


ASK the Customer
You need to talk with your CLIENT to try and understand their wants and needs. Not what you imagine they want or need: but truly what the CLIENT wants.
It is All Things to All... 
Behind DOOR # 2, is the trap of designing your "widget" to do or be everything to everybody. Or you make eighteen different models for all those customers--you know who I mean, those customers that live mostly between your ears. The point is, know your market, and one model, aimed at the largest demographic first. Don't just imagine who's out there, know who's out there and what they want, and will buy. Don't give them what you want them to have: give them what they want. 



Sit Under an Apple Tree
The design process is whatever you make it: you can make the crowning mistake of researching how others solved similar problems--the "cookbook solution," or you can find a tree under which to sit (don't sit under an apple tree, that's already been tried) and "Blue Sky It." Using only the knowledge you have at this particular time in your life, ask yourself: how would I do this? If you were on the proverbial desert island, and had no sources of information but what was between your ears, how would you solve the problem? 


Bluesky It
The more innovative designers in this world have a secret. Their secret Is they don't mind looking foolish! When they ask, "What If," and follow that with Free Flow/stream of consciousness, not bothering with trying to make sense of it, or its logic. 

If you are working within a group, it is rare--if ever-- to find a group coming up with new ideas. At best groups stimulate and help define the problem, and get innovative people thinking; and at it's worst, it strong-arms thinking and the chosen approach is--what groups do--a compromise. Compromise, is not a bad word, that is, in fact, what Engineering is; but it has no place in the Innovative Process


No Cookbooks
The non cookbook approach is very powerful. It may not end up as the final design, but it will allow you to really understand the problem (no easy feat!), which after all, is the only way to a good solution--dumb luck aside.
"If You Don't Think Too Good, You Shouldn't Think Too Much" --Ted Williams 
When you have a design problem: The first thing you don't do is read how others did it. The first thing you should do is several preliminary designs, using only yourself as a resource. This approach--while seeming counter intuitive--will pay off big time! You will get insights into the problem that using "cookbook" solutions prevent. Einstein said, to him, reading stifled original thought. Though most of us are below Mr. Einstein's level of competence--in his field, or pasture--he did have a point. Once you have an idea you like, it is very difficult to think of other ways to do the same thing. But the trick is to think of all the ways of accomplishing the task, before you pick a favorite. 



Data Sheets OK
Data sheets in and of themselves, are a necessity: after all, you do need to know the limitations and caveats of any part or parts you envision using in your solution. 

Of course, avoid looking at the application notes that accompany the data sheets, or are part of the data sheet's "suggested circuits." That doesn't mean you will never use this resource, it means if you want to get a clearer understanding of the problem, the last thing you need is somebody else's "solution" to a problem you don't yet fully understand. 


Use Only What You now Know
The worst thing in the world--early on--is to be prejudiced by knowledge of how others have done it. All original thought is out the window, or your head. Also, it's important to think of several ways of doing the same "thing." Beware of "falling-in-love" with any approach to early: it is the kiss-of-death; it's like a tune you can't get out of your head: you cannot think of another way of doing... 


Try Several Approaches
It's important to think of several ways of doing the same "thing." Beware of "falling-in-love" with any single  approach to early: it is the kiss-of-death; it's like a tune you can't get out of your head: you cannot think of another way of doing...
To Use or Not to Use a Microprocessor
Use the technology or scheme that is appropriate for the problem at hand. Be careful that you're not guilty of having an idea looking for a home. 

Now having said that: if you do find real justification for using a computer in your design, and if there is spare computing power left over: there is a phenomenon of force multiplication--a step function of efficiency, if you will--whereby all new functions to be added to the "system" are virtually free. This is a very powerful concept! 



 .  . ...
Do a Paper Design On Each
A paper design can be anything from pastels on a brown paper bag to an annotated CAD layout/formal flowchart and commented code. However you do it, Do It! The quicker you can get several different views spread out in front of you, the better.


   Form is not a substitute for Function! 



Research Other's Designs
NOW! You can start to use "Cook Books."  Now that you have some handle on what it is you are "About," the way others have attacked the same kind of problems will be less apt to prejudice you. 


Evaluate YOUR Designs
Evaluating your approach(s) against others, is a kind of CHECK on your powers of observation, analysis and synthesis--Design.

It can be a source of the "Warm & Fuzzies." Who knows, you may have come up with an even better way...

Or, it can be a rude awakening: "Good grief, I forgot about the speed of light." Or: "Oh... yea, that's right, gravity does pull things down, not up!" 

And, this is/can be a blessing in disguise. The Challenger disaster might have been avoided if there had been more "mistakes," not less.
Hardwired: Softheaded 
Look at your design from several view points: think of the design in terms of its expected lifetime; future costs of production; revisions of present and future functions, etc. Ask yourself: "Self, am I designing a million dollar dead end?" Often I can "do a job" faster, using hardwired "stuff," and avoid the time consuming design of a microprocessor based system with its necessary lines of code; and, it may be absolutely the right approach. However, I may pay a fatal penalty for that "speed to market." I can--and have--ended up with a "house-of-cards," that will come tumbling down around my neck--and other body parts. Dedicated or hardwired is not flexible, if it were, one would call it softwired. Ten pounds of shit in a one pound bag is sometimes possible, but where do you put that eleventh pound that invariably shows up?



  .Modify Designs
In comparing the several ways of doing something, several things happen, the problem may become clearer to you and you have reached the point of fine tuning your design. Or, yes the old Or, word: you need to go back to square one, and do it again. Believe me, Square One is a very popular place, lots of engineers go there, repeatedly!

NOBODY is PERFECT! Whatever the Hell that means. Part of sharpening your skills or for that matter, "becoming one with your art" is making mistakes. 

The best Servos make mistakes, they always overshoot in response to a stimulus input, thus giving the error signal that allows diminishing error and near equilibrium. Notice I said near, equilibrium, true equilibrium is never ever reached. 

Design is the same way. The only perfect design was chronicled in Oliver Wendell Holmes poem "one-hoss shay," about the Deacon's indestructible one horse shay. This is about something so near perfection in design and implementation, that nothing ever broke or wore out. Until on its 100th birthday it all fell to dust. No single part or material was weaker or stronger than any other: thus when any part failed they all failed. Try topping that!
That's Too Hard
Sometimes we don't change or improve a design for some pretty dumb reasons: something as simple as not having the part, and being too Damn lazy to order it; or "Gee, that's too much trouble, I'll have to re-draw that whole thing..." 

I'm not suggesting that These are conscious articulated decisions, they are more like underlying motives. You must guard against listening to that still small voice coming from your left shoulder (Satan), but must instead, listen to the little guy on the right shoulder (Angel)



 . Rank Each Design
Rank each approach on their: 
  •   Client's Requirements
  •   Marketplace
  •   Technical Merits
  •   "Do-ability" 
  •   Costs of Manufacture
  •   Availability of Materials, and Labor, etc.
  •   Expected Product Lifetime
  •   Other ________

You might use a matrix or chart to quantitatively compare each.

Don't rank them, looking for the least effort on your part. Or, if you do, at least weight those easiest to do as the least desirable to pursue--which is usually the case!


Pick the Best Design
From the Rankings, GO with the Design that appears to have the most going for it. 


Keep Remaining Designs Active
Don't throw away the remaining designs!
Often , after pursuing the chosen approach, flaws are revealed and the designer must go back to "square one."

Good designers have other approaches waiting in the wings, and they carry on with little lost time.

So periodically revisit and rethink all of your initial designs, using your recently gained insights on the problem at hand..

A word or two of Caution: 
If you do decide to abandon an approach, don't do it until you have tried 'everything' and are convinced--on the evidence--that this way will not fly. Don't abandon it because you feel  it wont work.  --Know!

If it turns out that you gave up on, what later proves to be the BEST approach, that can be very damaging to one's self-image and reputation as an Engineer.


Initial Design Review
 "Boy, am I Satisfied with That Design!"
At the design stage: when you have a design that you are satisfied with, you stop thinking about it in a critical or adversarial way. In fact, you become blind to its faults, and defensive if anyone scrutinizes it with a critical eye. Hence: Design Reviews. You have to have them, to find the land mines that the designer invariably overlooks--before he steps on them!


  --Don't Just Stand There: GO FOR IT! 
    K I S S  (Keep It Simple Stupid) 
Any "Yo Yo" can make it complicated. More than likely, the simpler the solution: the smarter the designer.  --Simple is Beautiful 

Those Can't be Real 
Some sophisticated aircraft simulators use a $10 million dollar Cray computer to generate real-time graphic images for the pilots. However, there are some simulators that use a remote controlled TV camera that dollies on X & Y overhead rails in a diorama. These images are as realistic (sometimes, more so) than the $10 million system--at a fraction of the cost. 

No Sweat
What looks easy, may be easy, ... or Not! 
Underestimating a project or design can be disastrous, not only to the project, but to you, your reputation as a designer, and the horse you road in on. I keep on learning the same lesson: if it looks like "Duck Soup," its more often NOT! 

My Way is Best or Bust! 
Most problems can be solved in more than one way. And, every way has some advantages and some disadvantages. Optical solution is great, except it may have a problem with ambient light; magnetics are also great, except unexpected stray magnetic fields can cause you grief. Use thermistors, "yea, that's the ticket," except ambient temperature is a problem, and on it goes...

Off the Shelf is GOOD!
Why Invent/Re-Invent the Wheel?
If you need a "wheel" go buy a wheel.

Invent Only what hasn't yet been Invented!



Design Review
Yes, another Design Review!

There are those who believe that after the Initial Design Review, little can be gained by more of the same.
If you are one who simply, does not make mistakes, then Design Reviews are not for you.
However, if you are like most of us, the Design Review is relatively cheap Insurance against doing something really DUMB!

If looking at it on a purely "Win/Loss basis," you have only a little Time to loose, and possibly Everything to gain--like keeping your Job. 

A Note:
You should give all of your Design Reviews in a formal and professional manner; don't get lazy. 

The reason for this is, in order to convey to others what you  have done, and are doing, you will have to revisit your completed work and your project's remaining goals. This is an opportunity for YOU to take a 'fresh look' at your work, detailing every aspect. Who knows, it may help you catch a mistake or two before presenting them to all the World--and your Mom--to See!




Simulation is one of the most powerful tools a designer can have. It can be a great asset or a greater liability.

Simulation in its purest form is your breadboarded circuit. Of course with very large and complex circuits, Computer Simulation has the potential of speeding up design time enormously. 

A word of Caution: At this stage of the game, not everything can be faithfully Simulated. Take care that you don't blindly believe everything your Simulator tells you! It's a little like using a calculator correctly, do the problem in your head first to at least know where the decimal point should go!

As a wise friend of mine once observed:
 --Simulation is often, "Garbage in, Gospel Out."


Keep an Engineering Notebook!!
 Document! Document! Document!
Keep a Contemporaneous Engineering Notebook. 
That means, Write EVERYTHING Down, even include a dentist appointment; that's what helps make it a believable Legal Document

So keep the notebook up to date and have it Witnessed often by those whom you trust, and understand your work.

This can mean the difference between Owning the Patent Rights to your Work, or NOT! 

Also, it can jog the old memory and reduce the number of times you do the same tests. "...gee, have I already done that..."

Of course, It Don't Hurt when Final Reports are Due!

The Emperor has No Cloths
Good, understandable writing, is more important to personal advancement, than knowledge in your field... What a Bummer! But it's true. No matter how big a "Bull Shit Artist" you are--or think you are--you will be judged first by your writing. Perception is everything: if you sound intelligent; therefore, it follows: you must be intelligent. Somewhere your fifth-grade english teacher is laughing out loud! 

"All you require to succeed in life is your sheep-skin, a word processor/speller, and a laser printer."  --gaw 


Document! Document! Document!


Build Prototype(s)
When it's time to build/prototype this thing, you should have already learned how to solder; wire wrap; layout; routing; bypassing, decoupling & shielding. You will learn the real difference between a "Voltage Source," and a "Current Source."


Buy Parts
When it's time to order parts for this thing; you will learn the toughest part of designing & developing a thing: getting the right parts when you need them; you will also learn not to trust the the vendor, the distributor, or the horse they rode in on!!


Debug & Test Prototype
You will test and debug this thing. If you are lucky, you will learn humility: good designs--almost bug free-- come from about four percent of all designers; however about 90 percent of all designers believe they are in that four percent.


"Take it On the Road"  ....Vroommm! ....Vroommm

Taking your project "Out-of-the-LAB," this truly separates the Men from the Boys! 

Almost anybody can get "it" to work on the LAB bench, but having it work in the Outside/Real World, now that is a feat of 'Real Engineering.' 


Ask the Customer
As you are are revising and modifying your design--based on your Test & Debug experience--it is a good Idea to, once again, TALK with your CLIENT.

Remind me about Dealing with the Customer


Design Review
Yes, still another Design Review!

Why more Design Reviews?  I forgot, Remind Me!


Design Review
It's that Time Again!

Why more Design Reviews?  I forgot again,  Remind Me!


Debug & Test


"...oh, I like it"  Design Review
Being Best Isn't Always Good Enough 
It is not always the best technical idea that is chosen: either by management or the buying public. Once I believed that if you built the better mouse trap, the world would beat a path to your door.  In this life the ideas chosen from the several out there, are usually chosen based more on political considerations than on technology--or common sense for that matter. 


As a Designer, you are caught on the horns of a dilemma: Holding out for the BEST DESIGN, and giving the Market Place what it Wants. It's a little like the "AA" prayer: "God Grant me the Serenity to Accept the things I Cannot Change, the Courage to Change the things I Can, and the Wisdom to Know the Difference."





Ask the Customer
Have you talked with your Client lately?

Remind me about Dealing with the Customer


Design Review
You Know the Drill!

Why more Design Reviews?  I can't seem to remember, Remind Me!


Design Review
Your LAST Design Review!  --Big Boy!

What were those Rules again?   Remind Me!


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