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23rd August 2021

Electronics Design: 10 Ways to Fail

Electronics Design Mistakes to Avoid

What to get right at the start of the product development process to attract success not failure. Contact us to get our secret e-book on making product development a success as a start-up.

When diving into the world of electronic product design, there are different aspects that need to be taken into consideration. Failure to do so will likely result in product failure or very limited success. We’ve put together a list of all the things you need to think about during the beginning phases of your design process. Consideration of all of these will allow you to put your best foot forward during the launch of this new product

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Updated for 2021 by Richard Fletcher MD of Ignys

When diving into the world of electronic product design, there are different aspects that need to be taken into consideration. Failure to do so will likely result in product failure or very limited success. We’ve put together a list of all the things you need to think about during the beginning phases of your design process. Consideration of all of these will allow you to put your best foot forward during the launch of this new product

Related Service: Product Feasibility Studies

1. Product Necessity

The first step to any product design process is doing research to determine whether there is actually a need for your product in the market. It’s simple; if there is no need for a product, it won’t sell or succeed. 

Resist falling into the trap of designing a product with lots of features because they sound good.  Try to keep the need for the product in sharp focus without getting hung up on the final solution.  Ideally each item on the product specification has a purpose, and where possible a return on investment.  There will always be long tails of people who could or might use the product for a different purpose.  If these tails have enough volume then cater for them. However if there are only a handful of people being served by the addition of a feature then ask yourself, is it core to the product and something you are willing to invest in.

Related topic: How to choose an electronics design company

2. Underestimating Product Development Costs

One of the most common mistakes that is made during the design of an electronic product is failure to recognise all of the costs involved in the process. For example, the creation and manufacturing of prototypes can be expensive and the price will vary depending on the materials being used. 

There is almost always more than one prototype run needed.  The first run usually needs to be adjusted for a number of reasons.  The design may not fully work or needs optimising.  The form factor needs adjusting for connector locations, aesthetics, customer feedback, or to make the enclosure work properly.  Devices may have become obsolete or difficult to purchase in the time taken between design and prototype manufacture.  It is often the case there are three or more prototype iterations needed to get a product into production, for highly complex designs this can be even higher. You also need to take into accounts the global chip shortages which have significantly impacted both the cost of components and the cost of design.

Related: Why do electronics design costs vary so much?

3. Insufficient Testing

Testing is one of the most important steps in the design process of an electronic product. This is where all of the functionality is tested over the possible range of inputs and environments and where observed issues are  recognised and addressed. Failure to ensure adequate testing has been carried out will likely lead to problems down the line. If your product isn’t performing at a high level, it will be hard to drive sales.

There are a number of phases of testing.  First is bring-up.  This is when a newly designed product is first (carefully!) powered on and each of the circuit elements are tested for basic function and their corresponding low-level software device drivers are able to control them. Following bring-up it is wise to continue with hardware design proving or verification which ensures each part of the board is working within designed parameters and operates correctly over all supply voltage ranges, temperatures, humidity, tolerances and to check that alternate components on the Bill of Materials perform correctly to enable purchasing teams to have some supply chain options – especially important at the moment.

Product functionality is mostly defined by software.  This is typically broken down into features which are delivered, tested and debugged in sprints and which have regular releases for product testing.  The product functionality should then be tested and signed off before release unless you have decided your customers will be the final testers.  Every code change brings an element of risk and so as well as testing the software parts that have changed it is prudent to test the core functionality that shouldn’t have been affected.  It is especially important to test software roll-back or over the air (OTA) updates are working before release.

Related service: Electronic Product Testing

Electronics engineer testing a pcb

4. Quality Control

With the design frozen and thoroughly tested it is imperative to ensure that it can be produced repeatedly and consistently to the right level of quality.  Whether manufactured in house or outsourced a good deal of attention should be put on production processes and for test steps along the way to ensure product conforms. The aim here is to catch production or material issues early. The earlier they are caught the lower the cost to resolve the issue.

Many companies insist that their products are subjected to automated testing at the printed circuit board and product level to ensure customers never receive faulty product.  This can include ensuring LEDs are the correct colour and brightness, that buttons work, radio transmit power and receiver sensitivities are within tolerance, power consumption is low enough to achieve battery life expectations and more. The testing here is not a duplicate of design proving testing, it is ensuring that production issues never reach the customer.

Learn more about test points and test jig options.

 5. Over-promising customers 

This happens a lot as it’s easy to do and is usually done with good intentions. It is important to be realistic with your customers. That way they will not be disappointed when they receive their product. For example, you bought a pair of headphones that were detailed to have bluetooth technology, 10 hour battery life and wireless charging. If the battery life of the product you received only lasts 3 hours, you’re likely to be annoyed with the supplier and feel as though you were misled.

6. Features Creep

Similar to over promising customers, it is easy to cram too many different features and capabilities into the first versions of the product. It’s much better to start off with a few features that you can put a higher focus on. Rather than giving insufficient attention to wider variety.

Related service: Electronics Design Services.

7. Running Out of Money

Cashflow is one of the biggest killers of businesses. This ties back to one of the first topics of this article, underestimating costs. When entering the product design process, it is crucial that you set a realistic budget and stick to it. The last thing you want is to get halfway through and realise you don’t have enough funding to get your product to market. To avoid this, make sure you are tracking exactly how much money you’re spending. It’s also important to know where that money is going and how much you have left to play around with.

Related: Why price range quotes are secretly better than fixed prices for electronic product development.

Coins stacked high illustrating cost reduction

8. Incorrect Pricing 

Another major issue that companies run into is incorrect pricing of their products. This often stems from underestimated research and development costs. It is also important to price your products correctly and inline with industry standards. If your product is triple all the other competitors on the market, you’re not likely to see a great deal of success.  

9. Insufficient Profit Margin 

Profit margin refers to the amount of profit a company makes after all of the product development, manufacturing and all other costs are deducted. It is important to factor in a reasonable and realistic profit margin. If you do not make enough money off of the first round of products, your company may not have enough to continue operations or do any re-engineering and testing of new versions.

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10. Insufficient Marketing 

Developing and bringing a product to market is just the first half of the battle. Once you’ve done this, you need to market your product. Efficient and effective marketing consists of targeting the right people at the right time. You need to continuously advertise your product to make sure it stays fresh in the minds of the consumer. 

product development magnifying glass

All in all there are many different things you need to take into account when embarking on the design process of an electronic product. Hopefully this article has identified some areas and possible hindrances to look out for.

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