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Systems Design Simplified: The 5 Essential Steps to Know

Systems design is both an art and a science, requiring a blend of creativity, precision, and collaboration. For those advancing their careers in systems engineering, understanding the core steps of fleshing out a design is crucial. While discipline-specific engineers focus on their areas, systems engineers provide a holistic view, bridging the gap between diverse perspectives to foster collaboration and ensure seamless integration of all system components.


This blog post demystifies the systems design process, breaking down the essential stages of developing a system from an abstract idea to a functional entity.


The 5 Essential Steps of Systems Design

  1. Defining design characteristics

  2. Utilising design enablers and constraints

  3. Making major design decisions

  4. Exploring solutions

  5. Iterating and reviewing


Step 1: Defining Design Characteristics

The first step in systems design involves setting clear and measurable characteristics that dictate the form and function of the final product. These characteristics, which include parameters like shape, volume, usability, and performance, serve as the foundation for all subsequent engineering efforts. By clearly defining these attributes early in the systems design process, teams ensure that the system aligns with the intended architectural vision and user requirements.


Step 2: Utilising Design Enablers and Constraints

With foundational characteristics in place, the next step leverages design enablers and constraints to refine the systems development process. Design enablers facilitate precise engineering outcomes, such as specific tools and metrics (e.g., CAD for spatial dimensions and MATLAB for force distribution). Conversely, design constraints act as necessary boundaries that maintain the system’s integrity and compliance with external standards and requirements.


Step 3: Making Major Design Decisions

This critical phase involves evaluating and deciding among various design options, weighing factors like cost, complexity, and technological feasibility. Decisions made during this stage determine whether the system will incorporate bespoke components or opt for Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) solutions. This step also addresses considerations such as system safety, maintainability, and manufacturability, ensuring that the system is effective, practical, and sustainable.


Step 4: Exploring Solutions

Once the major decisions are set, the fourth step explores potential solutions. This involves rigorous testing and simulation to identify the best possible configurations that meet the defined design criteria. During this phase, different designs are prototyped and assessed for their effectiveness, allowing systems engineers to iterate on their ideas and refine the system according to real-world data and feedback.


Step 5: Iterating and Reviewing

The final step in the systems design process is continuous iteration and review. This stage is vital for integrating the system components seamlessly and ensuring they function as a cohesive unit. It involves revisiting the design repeatedly, making adjustments based on testing outcomes, stakeholder feedback, and changing requirements. The goal is to refine the system to perfection, ensuring it meets all operational goals and adapts to new challenges.


Final Thoughts

Mastering the process of systems design is essential for anyone looking to excel in the field of systems engineering. These five steps provide a roadmap for transforming theoretical concepts into practical, efficient systems that can meet the demands of our growingly complex technological landscape.


Interested in mastering Systems Engineering from concept to completion? Discover our ‘Applied SE Nanodegree,’ carefully crafted to help you transform into a seasoned systems engineer. 




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