Electronics Design Are system designers just meddling middlemen?

Redakteur: Holger Heller

Ask anyone connected with electronics design about their interpretation of ‘system design’ and you’re likely to get quite a broad range of answers. Universally, it’s about designing the electronic-based ‘system’ required for a given product or device, but the system concept itself tends to mean different things to different folks.

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It’s a matter of perspective of course. Engineering management for example will take high-level business-orientated view that encompasses broader system design aspects including purchasing, manufacture, lifecycle management and so on – the system being created encompasses all those elements.

Hardware engineers by contrast are likely to consider the system as the physical elements that make up the design, and are needed to support its software, in an understandably hardware-centric way. In this case it’s a tighter focused view that’s constrained to that engineering domain.

Perhaps the most popularized view of system design however, is in the embedded design space. Here, system design is considered as the application of high-level algorithmic modelling and software languages that describe the electronic system within programmable devices. Traditionally the design is implemented as a system on chip design (SoC) contained in an ASIC and increasingly, an FPGA. The methodology is targeted at software engineers as a way to avoid tackling arcane hardware description languages (HDLs) while managing complex SoC systems in a familiar way.

Increasing design complexity under control

The broad approaches here are from a hardware design, or embedded development point of view, but only encompass the other domain in limited ways. Neither of these are a universal panacea to the problem of increasing design complexity, and from a system design perspective, do not directly take into account the complete system under development.

That, conventionally, is the task of an of an overseeing design manger or team that translates the design specification into the broad, high-level elements of the hardware and embedded design space – use that FPGA, this processor and algorithm, these peripherals and so on. With a finger in all pies, the system designer in this context uses a high-level view of the design to keep development on track by applying a set of constraints on all domains.

Everyone sticks to their own part of the engineering puzzle, where the developed pieces are brought together at the end of the design process to make up the complete product design. It’s up to those taking the overall view of the product development, in many cases a system designer, to define and mesh the potentially incompatible parts of the design in a way that satisfy the product design brief. And this is ultimately to create a product design that will competitively succeed in the market.

Don't just buy a product - get experience

The advantage of taking a system-level view of the product development process is the opportunity to look for market differentiation answers outside the insular world of electronics design. This is not as easy at it might sound. As electronics engineering has become more tightly specialized to cope with complex new technology, the granular view of design is finer and the big picture more obscured.

Perhaps the most obvious path to the wider view of product design is to consider those who buy and use the products developed by electronics design. The changing influencer here is recognizing that customers don’t just buy products; they effectively buy an experience that extends beyond the electronics in the device itself.

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