Design Process for Consumer Electronics


I am new to the forums and am hoping to better understand how designers and engineers work together.

Here is what I think I understand so far:


  • a problem and possible solution are identified
  • Designer begins by sketching to generate concepts quickly
  • Favorite sketches are selected and fleshed out in greater detail
  • Detailed sketches are used to create 3D surface models using programs like Rhino, Solidworks, Pro E, or Alias
  • 3d design file is handed off to a mechanical engineer

Mechanical Engineering

  • Engineer uses programs such as Solidworks or Pro E to create solids from the surface modeling
  • the housing is divided to into manufacturable pieces and snaps, screws, structural support, etc are added.
  • Engineer models the shape of the PCB and put large components, such as joysticks or batteries into place
  • Mechanical engineer works with an electrical engineer to determine there is enough room for the PCB layout

Is this a fairly accurate understanding? If not, where does the designer’s work end and the engineers’ work being?

Also, how does the designer typically support the engineers through the engineering process? What kind of collaboration takes place? Any examples or typical scenarios would be great. I am interested in hearing as much detail as you can give me :slight_smile:


Holy Cow, what a big question. Yes, what you’ve written are the general outlines. You left out prototyping. Also there’s always (in good places) a back and forth, vs a throw-it-over-the-wall relationship between engineers and designers.

Thanks for your response! My main area of confusion is how the exchange of the 3d files work between the designer and engineer during the back and forth that you mentioned.

If the designers and engineers are using different 3d programs, how does this work? Or maybe a better question is what is the best workflow for this?

Everything is fluid and will depend on the product, company, and process needed, but those are the basic steps.

The incomplete part of the story is once you get to your last step “ME works with EE…” that isn’t where the development ends. If the answer is “no there isn’t enough room” the cycle starts again. Sometimes it goes cyclical, sometimes it’s back and forth, sometimes it’s just a “Throw it over the wall” and never touch it again model.

If your area of concern is CAD - then that’s again a huge varying between companies. In an ideal world, the engineer and designer work in the same package. Pro E, Solidworks, Catia, etc so that the ID model and Final product are as closely related as possible. There are also workflows where you can hand surface data (Alias/Rhino) to a parametric CAD package (this is common in the auto industry where surfacing standards are the highest). In that case the import/export procedures will depend on the software used.

Then sometimes the designer will just build a model in whatever and the engineers will rebuild the design in their tool themselves. This way they own all the production geometry and don’t have to go back and ask for updated surfaces.

There really is no “best” workflow. Everything will depend on what you are designing and what your budget is. Solidworks is great, but can struggle with massive product assemblies. Pro E can handle massive assemblies, but is not intuitive for Class A surfacing. Alias is great at surfacing, but useless for solid modelling. I guess you get my point.

Awesome. Thanks for the detailed response!

Sometimes the tech pack will be given, then you have to design taking into consideration this tech pack. In other projects, they will give you the dimensions of the internal components and you might have freedom to arrange them in the way that best fits the design. It all depends on what is fixed and what’s not before starting designing. When it comes to evaluation, many times you send the files over to the engineers so they can check your design (not only the concept, but also construction and internal arrangement of components) and give an answer about whether what you developed is possible or not. I’d say the best situation is when the kick off meeting includes engineers and marketing or sales people, so you have proper information from both sides. It also very convenient when you work in an company where the engineers are easily reachable, the feedback is flawless and the problems are solved efficiently at an early stage.

Creating solids out of surfaces could be a work for IDers, as well as determining the number of components for the housing, strength, if it could manufactured this or the other way, etc. You wouldn’t go into designing the components themselves, but how they are set within the product. Industrial designers don’t only take care of front end but also of the back end (including accurate prototyping, 3D printing, functional prototypes, etc) For sure there would be a point where engineers need to step in an evaluate the product from a technical point of view.

Oh, okay. That goes a little bit further than I realized. Thanks for the great response!