Copy cats: don't let dumb errors morph into de facto standards.

Author:Bigelow, Peter

WHEN DOES AN individual design become, in effect, a standard?

I am continually amazed by the creativity and ability of designers. For those of us who understand an object only by seeing or touching it, the ability to mentally imagine a function, and then design a circuit - or series of circuits - that enable that conception to come to life, seems nothing short of amazing!

For printed circuit board fabricators, it is easy to believe we are the only ones with "real" problems - technical as well as logistic - providing product, on time, to customers. But those who design that product have the real challenge. Under the same time-to-market pressure, a designer must understand the desired end-goal, conceptualize what it will take to get there, create the individual design(s), sweat the details of materials, components and physical space criteria, and then make it happen through their suppliers of choice. If all goes well when they power up, all will work as intended. If not, then they have to reverse-engineer to where the design failed and rethink (if not restart) the entire process - and do it quickly; designers fight the time restrictions their company, department or "boss" imposes. Unlike most of us, creativity is not a flat process, but instead is a multifaceted mosaic of thought, understanding, conviction, skill and just a little bit of luck!


Designers can be tripped up by the same categories that befall anyone: communication, fatigue, a lack of focus on details--the small stuff that can become really big if not attended to diligently and managed consistently. Those details are not as rote for a designer as for a manufacturer. Our details revolve around stationary plating lines or drilling machines. Communication takes place through process sheets or pre-set controls on some of those stationary lines. For a designer, "details" mean remembering a minute fact that could make all the difference, or making sure the design was saved after all edits were made. The small stuff is more personal and less repetitive.

Which brings me back to my question: If so much effort--and pride--is invested in a design, when does that design transition from being just a design to being the template for all designs or, for all intents and purposes, become a standard?

This morphing happens all the time. I think all companies regardless of size or location have had a brilliant designer who "cuts and pastes" from one design to another. But...

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