05 June 2009
The problem with being logical
Engineers are by nature, a logical bunch. In the science of electronics engineering we work with logical elements – zeros and ones at the core level, logic devices in the hardware domain and logic based instructions in the software arena.
But this foundation of logic extends beyond the building blocks of electronics into the concepts and approach we apply to the 'discipline' of electronics engineering. On the surface this is understandable and seemingly appropriate, especially in view of the rapidly growing complexity of the design process. Without structure and logic in the design process, risk and even chaos will quickly corrupt the end result. Design errors multiply, deadlines slip, tempers fray, questions are asked.
So, we carefully manage the design process. We set logical boundaries to work within. We focus on our assigned area of engineering, then hand the completed piece of the product design puzzle to the next part of the design process.
For all the order they seek to introduce, these restrictive boundaries inherently curtail your ability to explore creative ideas, experiment with options or contribute to the overall product design concept. This is not the fertile ground needed for developing the next generation of market leading products.
In a world where electronics design techniques and information are readily available, what makes your designs unique amongst competing engines is your creativity. Conversely, a purely logical approach to design can only ever produce a logical result, just like the designs produced by millions of other engineers around the globe.
Engineers are naturally curious and will instinctively explore concepts and technology when free to do so. In today's design systems we need to balance project management with engineering freedom in a way that promotes design inspiration and creativity.
This requires that many of the existing boundaries within electronics design are broken down and new flexible ways to design introduced. Engineering project teams are ultimately designing one product and should use a single, collaborative process that encompasses the entire design. Product design can then be tackled with high level processes as a single task, starting with the concepts and functionality that are defined in the soft domain, while hardware is 'plugged in' to suit when needed.
This is important and appropriate because tomorrow's products will be connected to a wider ecosystem, and you want to be able to 'engage' with your customers and the products you have designed for them, using these products as 'nodes' to tap into the ecosystem. This is difficult to do if you design starting with the hardware, and easy to do if you start with the software.
To survive and compete in today's global, technologically charged electronics industry, engineers and design managers need to change the approach and systems they use to design. Innovation driven by engineering creativity is the key. Removing the 'logical' constraints to that innovation unbolts the barrier to innovation.
Rob Evans, technical editor, Altium
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