14 Key Considerations for the Winning Design

Douglas Alexander, Principal Consultant, Component Engineering Consultants, EBN

Generally speaking, the more thoroughly a manufacturing team develops a design concept, and the more qualified the thought process involved, the more likely the end product’s success in the marketplace. That’s why most of us who are involved in electronics manufacturing or R&D are familiar with the acronyms DFT, DFM, and DFA. These three stand for Design for Test, Design for Manufacturing, and Design for Assembly. Without delineating the three acronyms into their corresponding disciplines, I would like to add a few more essential design considerations by which most designers live and die.

A product’s life starts at conception. That is to say, someone has an idea that may or may not be shared with others. The idea usually blossoms into a stream of thought that includes product features, appearance, budgetary cost estimates, target markets, sales channels, and possibly some early advertising concepts. At any rate, before pen is even put to paper, the creative process has constructed enough information to assess the possible worth or lack thereof of the product under consideration.

I have a patent that started out as a conception based upon a need to perform the same tasks as done by multiple connectors, but only using one smart connector with a smaller footprint. This product came about as a challenge to find a way to use less space while providing simple utility, fewer wires, and, yes, at less cost than the existing connector systems. Fortunately, I had the deep pockets of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) funding my design and experimental efforts. During the development of the new connector system, I found myself having to make several design considerations, in addition to the aforementioned three. Let me list a few that came to my mind:

  1. Design for rapid market acceptance
  2. Design for legacy product compatibility
  3. Design for simplicity of utility
  4. Design for intuitive application
  5. Design within existing analog/digital technology capabilities
  6. Design for materials availability
  7. Design for longevity and reliability
  8. Design for worst-case operating environments
  9. Design for lowest industry cost
  10. Design for appearance
  11. Design for simultaneous mixed media signal transport
  12. Design for autosensing connect/disconnect
  13. Design for stacking or ganging while maintaining signal isolation
  14. Design for minimal footprint and mounting hardware

What I just described became the 3.5mm multi-contact mini-plug and receptacle now in common use on most of the hand-held MP3/4 players, tablets, and other media players where audio and video signals are being passed through to displays with speakers for viewing and listening at the same time. The IP is not mine. It belongs to Microsoft. I just have the bragging rights.

Now look at the list again and consider the current widespread deployment of this connector system, and you will see that most of the “design for” objectives have been met. The receptacle is virtually the same size as a 3.5mm earphone jack, and the 3.5mm plug end looks almost the same as any 3.5mm audio plug. This one connector pair replaces two Right/Red-Left/White RCA audio jacks and one Composite Video/Yellow RCA jack found on most audio and video products since the 1950s. Look a little closer and you will see more segmentation on the shaft of the plug end… and Eureka! You have the better mousetrap.

Every designer knows that in most cases, every design has some similarity to a previous product. On the list of 14 items, there are generalized design objectives. Each item’s emphasis may change, depending on the nature of the product or the market for which it is designed. But to ignore any of these extra “Design For” considerations could bode poorly for the success of the final product. I began by saying the more qualified the thought that goes into a design upfront, the more likely the product will succeed. Consider the list above as food for qualified thought.

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