How We Think About Design

Our “Secret Sauce” Design Flow

There have been a lot of design paradigms over the years. As you search for a design partner you will be peppered with terms like Agile development, SCRUM, Lean manufacturing philosophy, Six Sigma quality management, human-centered design, design thinking, kanban, chaos engineering, and perhaps even a dash of the good old traditional systems engineering mindset. Some design firms treat these like religions while others dismiss them as nothing more than buzzwords. We believe there are valuable insights in each of these concepts and employ the best of each in a homebrewed design and engineering workflow. Our goal is to build products for our clients that are built tough, easy to use, user maintainable, and cost-effective. Our struggle with existing paradigms was many, such as:

  1. Agile and SCRUM are very software-centric. What about hardware products?
  2. Traditional systems engineering added a lot of non-value added work. Great for large systems that will be maintained for 25-100 years. What about products that have to get to market fast?
  3. Six Sigma was great for large companies where the benefits outweighed the overhead incurred. What about small and nimble start-ups?
  4. Our team is geographically dispersed, so paper-driven processes won’t work. Can we be completely digital for engineering, project management, and customer support?
  5. Security always seems like an afterthought. How can we bake security into the product design process?
  6. We respect that we only have this one planet. What are the impacts of the product when it reaches the end of its design life? Can this be recycled or disposed of safely and with minimal environmental impact?

Our brainstorming sessions led to this piece of “art”:

While it made a lot of sense to us, it doesn’t elegantly answer the question, “What is your design workflow?” So we attempted to condense the workflow diagram into these 9 steps we employ on most of our projects include:

  1. Figuring Out What You Want:   Functional analysis, requirements development, “ideation,” rapid prototyping.
  2. Exploring Potential Solutions: Conceptual analysis and design; feasibility studies, prototypes/mockups. top-level system architecture.
  3. Refining the Big Picture: Proofs-of-concept, iterative design/test loop, short-duration builds. This is where most of the time and resources will be spent.
  4. Design the Solution: Detailed design and engineering; build your Bill of Materials (BOM), and refine the design to be manufacturable and sustainable.
  5. Build the Solution: Leverage our in-house fab lab to manufacture as much as possible in-house. We also work with our global partners to fabricate assemblies and components that require more complex industrial tooling. We then do the final assembly of the looks-like/works-like prototype. Prepare final Design for Manufacturing (DfM) documentation; BOM, CAD packages.
  6. Test the Tech: Unit testing and integration testing; verification of technology, design, and engineering; validate failure modes analysis.
  7. Test the Product: Validate the solution, user acceptance testing, and livetesting in real-world environments. and system optimization based on feedback.
  8. Hack and Harden: Assess any cyber and physical vulnerabilities that can be potentially exploited and design/implement solutions.
  9. Prepare for Manufacturing: Low-volume manufacturing to help refine the BOM, Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), M/ECAD packages, and source code. Lastly, we can put you in contact with industry-leading manufacturing partners to guide you on the next steps.

Our Design Ethos

To achieve our goals of fast, efficient design, we also employ other design and engineering strategies such as:

  • Modular design strategy, reconfigurable products.
  • Maximize re-use of already available open-source hardware and software. Even when we use proprietary components, we ensure that anything built atop a closed platform is kept open-sourced. We also use only software tools that are FOSS or have maker-friendly versions.
  • Minimize the Bill of Materials to as few components as possible, and focus on a library of widely available, inexpensive yet robust components.
  • We are committed to the agile development process: code/build a little and then test a little.  Keep iterating fast, and learn from failures. Trying to define 100% of the requirement upfront is impossible and actually tends to result in late, overpriced products that rarely meet customer expectations.
  • Heavy client engagement and communication throughout the process.  Our clients are team members, not customers.
  • Data-Driven. Analytic Hierarchy Process-based trade studies and decision-making support. Customer requirements drive the solution. Period.
  • Document early, document often.

Success Means Thinking Beyond Design

Building a prototype is one thing. Building a product that can be sold requires more than just a good idea; it requires solid planning for all the other actions that turn a prototype into a product. We help you prepare for that monumental leap for your business by thinking about manufacturing and assembly from the very beginning. Some of these considerations include:

  • Design for Manufacturing
  • Design for Cost/Procurement
  • Design for End User: Aesethics, UI/UX, ergonomics
  • Design for Testing and Inspection
  • Design for Assembly
  • Design for Safety
  • Design for Sustainability and the Environment
  • Design for Logistics / Postponement
  • Design for Disposal
  • Design for Security

There are also considerations that customers will highly value that, again, needs to be considered the moment conceptual design begins. These are:

  • Design for Maintainability and Repairability
  • Design for Upgradeability
  • Design for Hackability

Empowering Our Clients

We take pride in our belief in the validity of the open-source movement, and as such, we realize their importance through what we provide our clients.  All designs give you access to the following:

  • Feasibility studies, specifications, and evaluation reports
  • Schematic / PCB / Gerber files
  • CAD design and fabrication files of all mechanical components
  • Bill of Materials (BOM)
  • Software/firmware source code
  • Working prototypes
  • Project documentation and final assembly instructions
  • Video tutorial and professional product photography
  • Technical and artistic illustrations
  • License to use for commercial purposes included

Vitruvius’ Principles for Good Architecture

  • Firmatis (Durability): Must stand up robustly and remain in good condition.
  • Utilitas (Utility): It should be useful and function well for the people using it.
  • Venustatis (Beauty): It should delight people and raise their spirits.