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Metamorphosis – Project Engineer to Product Designer

9 Apr

“You need a very product-oriented culture… Lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …..there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.” – Steve Jobs

titleAs an engineer, you are mostly required to work in product development teams. Your team often consists of system architects, programmers, hardware designers and so on. Being a team member, you are assigned a certain part or area of development with timelines. You complete your part and are satisfied on accomplishing your mission.

This kind of “I have done my job” performance will of course help you develop your career and climb up the ladder of success. You would get your increments and incentives, well, in the right time. However, when you look back after a certain number of years, most of these assignments would appear incomplete. Overall product understanding would have been almost non-existent.

Would you really love to use your phone as a simple talking instrument or a fully functional social networked communication engine, for example? The latter, isn’t it? Then, what stops you from becoming a complete product designer rather than just being a project engineer?

Product Designer, in spite of being capable of executing only a part of the design process, would be involved in the overall system design and interacts with other team members to achieve intended product functionality. What happens if every team member has this kind of attitude? You guessed it right; your product comes out well. You may find below some simple tips to upgrade yourself from where you are to a complete product designer.

Get global

Talk to your peers and the boss. Get an idea of what would be the end product, its functionality, performance criteria,etc. Try to acquire an overall knowledge about the system as a whole. Of course, you would encounter some grey areas marked ‘confidential’ or ‘proprietary’ which may be way above your pay grade level to have access to. Leave them as black boxes and learn everything else. You can always fill in the blanks, later.

Make an assessment

Make a list of concepts/technologies involved. Identify those about which you do not have enough understanding. Categorize these based on your level of understanding.

My categorization would go like

Poor Understanding – ‘I am zero’

Low Average – ‘Hey wait a minute’

Medium Average – ‘I heard about it somewhere’

Average – ’Oh, Yes. May be a little’

Good – ‘Wow. This, I am aware of’

and so on…

It’s time to learn

  • Google extensively and read related articles, blogs and papers. You may also want to read general product design related blogs on how to go about overall product design.
  • You must read Mike Shipulski’s blogs. They deal with various subjects which include product design and innovation.
  • If you would like to read some tips on robust product design, you would find my blog useful.
  • Attend webinars. Most of these are free and easily accessible. All you need to do is register and login to the sites that host them.

Even if these give you a limited understanding, it is worth a try.

It is a long journey of continuous learning. But rest assured you will be finding out more along the way.

As Steve Jobs said, the final product would be the binding force. Make your approach product-centric

Image ref: By Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


All – aware Engineer – Should Embedded Engineer be Multi-purpose?

1 Apr


Following on from my previous blog, another important question has arised....

A Swiss Army Knife's primary function is a Knife, but in fact its a multipurpose tool.... An Embedded Engineers primary function often just focuses on the heart of the system, but in order for the entire design to be successful, do they need to understand and appreciate other aspects of the products design?

All-aware Engineer

Should this person be aware of...

Software? Definitely, yes.

Hardware? Hmmm. My answer would be, yes.

Interfaces? Surely, as these days are ruled by inter-device and intra device interfaces.

Sensors? How else one would know how to scale his measurement ranges. Yes.

PCB Design? You bet. Our modern day chips heavily depend on proper layouting techniques to perform better.

Enclosures? Why not? It doesn't hurt to have an informative knowledge on how we package our products. So, the answer is , maybe.

Front panel design? User interface design can't be imagined without it.

EMC techniques?  Should this be the  first question? Basic precautions from decoupling capacitors, earthing, etc, are important pre-requisites for the design to work outside the lab. So, to a certain extent this knowledge is necessary.

Regulatory compliance? Basic knowledge on this has become mandatory as the regulations are becoming more stringent.

So, can the embedded engineer be called "All-aware engineer" meaning he/she needs to have knowledge on the above and more?

Would there be something left out in the above list?

Or do you think, some of them do not come under the purview of the embedded engineer?

It would be great to hear your views on this!.

DesignSpark - 22/03/12

ALL – WARE ENGINEER – Embedded Design -Software, Hardware or All Ware?

29 Mar



The blog “”Battle of the engineers” was quite interesting.  While I could notice diverse views in reader’s comments, I was also curious to know that most of them were united in saying – there are fundamentally two types of engineers – hardware and software.

Day by day, the density of components integrated into chips is increasing as the performance whereas power consumption levels are nose-diving. When large scale integration is yesterday’s buzz word, very large scale integration is today’s mantra.

Chips have become general purpose and it depends on the designer and the end application to decide how they want it to perform. The designer programs the chip to suit the application requirements.  Does this therefore mean that the designer is a software engineer?

If so, how do they know that the chip will function as required? Will things like the power levels and the necessary PCB layout techniques be taken into account? How is the hardware designed to comply to EMC/EMI standards?  Does this therefore mean that our designer is in fact a hardware engineer?

I think the answer could be that the designer could actually be both?  So this asks the question, “What do we call somebody who knows both?”  Like in cricket, where we have bowler, batsman and all-rounder, can we call the designer an “All-ware” engineer?

Where do we draw the line? Or is the line really necessary?

Sooner or later, every engineer, willingly or unwillingly needs to know a bit of software and hardware – the percentage of knowledge could vary.

So, as more and more intelligent devices are produced, it perhaps seems inevitable that Hardware and Software engineers will need to understand each others worlds.

Can we call this “All-ware engineer” an “Embedded Engineer”?

What are your thoughts?…

DesignSpark 22/03/12

Handy Apps for Product Design

26 Mar


The critical thing about the design process is to identify your scarcest resource. Despite what you may think, that very often is not money. For example, in a NASAmoon shot, money is abundant but lightness is scarce; every ounce of weight requires tons of material below. On the design of a beach vacation home, the limitation may be your ocean-front footage. You have to make sure your whole team understands what scarce resource you’re optimizing.

— Fred Brooks, author of The Design of Design.


Product requirements are growing complex by the day. Organising the design process pays rich dividends at a later stage.

There are quite a number of interesting applications which can help a designer , particularly an electronics engineer in organising the design process.


Openproj  is a project management software which can help one schedule the timelines of a project.  Task oriented scheduling with individual timelines is possible while marking important tasks as milestones. Schedules are simultaneously converted into Gantt Charts, where the tasks and their timelines are pictorially represented. All we need to do is break the design process into smaller tasks and enter them in an organised manner.

Open Project

Flow Chart/UML/Block Diagram:

yEd Graph Editor is a fantastic tool for flowcharts. Hardware block diagrams as well as software flowcharts can be drawn. The user interface is very easy.

y Editor

Diagram Designer is another nice app for flowcharts. Apart from flowcharts, we can load various palettes which contain templates and symbols as necessary. A special mention must be made about Electronic Display Devices palette which contains nicely laid out Seven Segment Displays and even a dot matrix LED display.

Diagram Designer

Enclosure Modelling:

Sketchup from Google is a 3D mechanical drawing software which could be used for designing enclosures and mechanical items.

Sketchup is already popular amongst Design Spark users and needs no further introduction.

With Cetina, the front panel  cut-outs can be designed to exact dimensions.  Designing slots for SD Cards, LCD Displays, etc can be done with ease.


Rack Designer is an interesting tool which provides a VB like interface where we could physically drag down various user interface components such as Buttons, LEDs and LCD Displays. You could even add a scope display.

Rack Designer

With the help of above and similar tools, the design process can become less cumbersome while reducing the time-to-market.

Designspark – 26/01/2012

Six Tips To Make Your Design Robust

11 Mar
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