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What Is Product Design?

Key Takeaways

  • An overview of product design and what it entails.

  • Methods to improve product design.

  • How the layout designer and toolset contribute to product design. 

Cyclical map showing product design process

Product design is an iterative model that builds on prior revisions to deliver the best possible design

What is product design, really? It can be difficult to describe; design alone is so nebulous and open to interpretation that it can be challenging to set the exact start and end points. Regardless, most of the PCB industry would agree on some common-held phases of design and how those play into the manufacturing and final production of a board. Although the reality of the matter is that design is extremely fluid, open to pressure and feedback from all stages, building a physical product is an engineering endeavor, and a rigorous one at that. What is less concerning in product design is the exact division between steps rather than the best methods to hone and improve these processes to deliver an exceptional product to end-users.

What Is Product Design: An Overview

So, what is product design? Product design is ultimately just as it sounds - the method by which individuals or companies build a product from the germinating design phase to market reality, alongside all of the trials that come with it. To paint broadly, a product can be viewed across three different stages: 

  1. A blueprint step that covers all of the information relevant to the product creation, including modeling of dimensions, characteristics, systems, goals, needs, and any other mixture of soft and hard information that will guide development.
  2. Manufacturing, which will have a tremendous influence on the prior step, but exists as a challenge all its own. Designers will have to ensure that the build they’ve devised is not only physically feasible with current machining operations, but the procurement of goods and services will also come into play. 
  3. Product revision, though potentially optional, deserves mention. While today’s simulations are exceedingly powerful, there is no replacement for testing and measuring a device as it exists physically. Manufacturing processes may also insert unforeseen and unaccounted effects in the operation of the device. Further, designs are rarely complete after their first design cycle. Whether that is an issue of oversight or mistakes made somewhere along the line of the development cycle, the time expectations for the evolution and correction of a product cannot be understated.

Improving Product Development Step-by-Step

As in most industries, the space around new designs – especially those looking to supplant existing products – can be rather fraught with competition. PCBs and related fields are no different. Designers or design teams will want to remain cognizant of the best methods to improve the speed of the entire process as well as the board’s performance. Some key aspects:

  • Research and development - Any product must aim to fill a need. Whether that is an increase in technical specifications or entirely new functionality, a design without intent is unmoored. Professionals and experts must collaborate to determine exactly how a new product or design dictated by industry demands is best-equipped to meet this task.

  • Pre-manufacture - After a design is settled upon, CAD designers and other similar operators will need to best determine how to translate the documents into drill data, artwork, x- and y-placement, and other machine data to build the board.

  • Manufacturing - Machines and their operators make the board a reality. Ideally, there is feedback between engineers, designers, and fabricators/assemblers before this point. The design may push back, depending on the complexity of the design and whether the shop in question has the capabilities to meet it with acceptable yield and turn times. For out-of-house manufacturing jobs, design teams may want to have a walk-through with the shop as part of their consultation, especially in the case of large production lot sizes.

  • Revision - As technology evolves, the company and end-users can benefit from redesigns to the board. This may include faster speeds, lower costs, or other general performance updates. Alternatively, new market demands or issues that were not caught during testing or quality assurance will need to be rectified. 

Product design arguably may include accounting for the entire lifecycle of a product, including physical maintenance and digital support. This naturally feeds into a new product design as boards are introduced while former designs transition to legacy hardware and software.

How Layout Designers and Their Tools Contribute to Product Design

The key to a smooth and comprehensive product design is CAD tools that have sophisticated features that provide users with a range of functionality. Engineers and layout designers can collaborate at different points in design to optimize the build:

  • Simulations - Extensively used by engineers to build circuitry to reach certain specifications or promote signal characteristics like integrity, high speed, etc. OrCAD allows easy cross-probing features for users to quickly reference circuits from the schematic level without having to import or connect a second time.
  • Schematic - Perhaps most importantly, the schematic needs to be clear and concise - as the culmination of the engineering team’s work, readability is the priority above all else to easily translate to the next stage of design. However, modern schematic CAD tools need to possess extra functionality such as in-application widgets for part lookup and other features that allow designers to work within a single, organized space. 
  • Board - The designer needs a powerful environment to accomplish the synthesis of design requirements while incorporating the realities of the material and machines involved in fabrication. A robust design rule system is necessary to keep track of the many intricacies of the product. This allows the user to fall back on best practices, except in the cases where they would violate these rules.

Ultimately, product design will not fail on the basis of the tools alone, but the more features users have at their disposal, the better streamlined the design process should be. Importantly, design systems should be able to conceivably handle the major distinctions among board design. This will also further endear users to fully enmesh themselves with the tools.

Learning what product design is begins by understanding the big picture of developing a board. The complexity and range of designs require a comprehensive toolset like Cadence’s PCB design and analysis software to ensure designers have access to industry-leading features along the way. For the layout designer and engineer, OrCAD PCB Designer offers extensive functionality to incorporate all of a project’s pertinent schematic and component information in a single workspace.

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