The important roles behind the tech devices that ‘design our lives’

the tech devices that ‘design our lives’

Our tech devices now play quite a central role in all our lives, whether it be your TV and the games console that is connected to it, your phone (which pretty much seems to run your life these days), and even your laptop, tablet, or whatever it is you happen to be reading this on.

These devices have shaped the way we live our lives and have somehow made them both easier and yet more complicated. The ability to do almost anything you need to do using the device in the palm of your hand is offset by the sheer amount of information arriving on it that demands your attention.

Managing these two factors has far-reaching consequences and is an interesting balance for the designers of these devices to think about.


Important design roles

As vital as these devices have become, the reliability of those devices, their functionality, and their ease of use are mostly down to the work of just a few design roles.

Firstly, there are the electronics designers who design the electronics inside, which dictate the reliability and functionality of the device.

Next are the software and app designers who are behind the look of the software on those devices and how easy they are to use.

Lastly, there are the people who design the phone housing, and the actual physical look of the device (and possibly the reason why you chose to buy that particular model).

Of course, these roles are not the only ones that put that phone in your hand or that TV on your wall, and as you will see there is a certain amount of overlap in those roles. However, they do need to be highlighted because they are usually underestimated in their importance in the part they play in almost literally ‘designing our lives’.

To highlight the importance of these roles, you would have to delve into each more deeply to identify where they are key in the development process. It all begins with a design concept and brief, which is then delivered into the hands of one of the important roles.

Electronics designers

Electronic designers and electrical engineers are, as you would expect, responsible for designing everything electrical we use every day, from the power stations which generate and supply the electricity itself, right down to the phones we charge by our beds at night.

What is more, the scope of this design job goes way beyond working out what goes on the inside of a particular gadget. The role of an electrical engineer will often involve liaising with other departments, suppliers (more on that in a moment) and sitting in on meetings with customers.

They are involved with every stage of the process through to prototype testing and can even be involved with overseeing the initial production run of the end product. From the outside, this looks considerably more like a project manager's role than design or engineering as we would understand it. It does also come with other challenges.

Sourcing components

You might think that the advances in technology would make the job of an electrical designer much easier, however, the opposite is true. While it is true that the components themselves are getting smaller, (and you might think that this means you can get more into the product), the rising expectations about what a device should be capable of cancels this out and instead creates a situation where the designer is trying to hit a rapidly moving target in order to get their job done.

The tools the designers have on their side are superior design software and access to massive databases of components with dedicated search engines such as Octopart to source the exact parts they need. Often new technology will need cutting-edge components that are in short supply and several work-arounds will have to be made to move the project forward.

This will mean referring to the component datasheets which detail the capabilities, compatibilities, and limitations of each component.


Testing and manufacture

Throughout this process, the designer will need to feedback details to management and customers regarding progress and report any possible factors which mean that previously agreed timescales or budget expectations will not be met. This ability to communicate what can be very technical issues in layman's terms is an important skill for the designer to have.

The better job the designer can do (or is allowed to do) at this stage will usually lead to a more reliable end product that meets customer specifications and end-user (that’s us) satisfaction. However, time restraints can often lead to compromise and quality issues.

These factors govern the functionality and reliability of the device that ends up in our homes. While we all appreciate a device that can do many things and does not need to be repaired very often, if the software on that device makes it almost impossible to use, then all of the electronic designer's work was for nothing.

Software design

This is why the job of the software designer is so important, and also why their process consists of so many steps.

Initially, there is the research phase. Like the electronics designer, the software designer will begin by researching what the competition is doing, what else the software or app has to integrate with, and what new advances have been made since their last project. This part can be the longest, and just like the role of the electronics designer, can be like hitting a moving target.

The key part of this process, however, will be listening to user feedback from interacting with similar applications to see how they can improve on them and make the overall task easy to perform for the user. This process can be very involved and include mapping out how they will navigate through the application.

Understanding this will make the application easier to use and will define the makeup of prototypes and test software. These stages are designed to test more of the structure of the app rather than the appearance, to ensure it is sound before more in-depth user testing.

The user interface, or how it will look is much further down the design process than you might think. It is a mistake to believe that the user interface is the only part the software designer is involved in, but deciding which color it should be in, or which fonts are used is only a very small part of the design process which come way after research and designing the architecture.

Human-centered design

A much larger part is the human-centered design, which involves knowing more about the potential users of the software or app and tailoring its characteristics according to their needs. This is a key part of the process yet one the end-user often takes for granted.

Making all of this happen would appear to be difficult enough, but it all has to be coupled with the ability to change or upgrade aspects of the software if new advances are made while the design process is taking place.

However vital the design functions are of both the electronics and software designer, it is all rooted in the original concept design, which is how the phone will look physically.

Looks matter

This is the first thing you will see, even before you turn the device on or see what it can do. It will probably be the main governing factor on why you bought the device in the first place. Looks are important and even the strongest brand will have trouble selling a device that does not look good.

It is often true that a great looking device can have relatively poor functionality and reliability, but would still be a massive seller because of how it looks. So, it could be argued that the designer who is behind the appearance of the product has the most vital job of all.

For instance, it is believed that Apple products owe their success, at least in part to the design work of Jony Ive as much as the technology that runs them. In particular, the design of the iPhone has influenced the designs of competing brands for a decade and Apple sued what is now its biggest rival in 2011 for copying its products. Apple was successful and it cost Samsung over $500M. This illustrates the power (and the revenue) of good design.


The process that puts cutting edge technology in our hands can be a long one, but the fast-moving industries that provide us with technology are racing to create a product that will make it to market before it is surpassed, while at the same time hoping it will sell in enough volume to make the considerable investment made in its development worthwhile.

It is due to the expertise of the designers involved – both those whose work is directly appreciated and those whose work is more or less taken for granted - that the devices that we use in everyday life look good, are easy to use, and even work in the first place.

The important roles behind the tech devices that ‘design our lives’ The important roles behind the tech devices that ‘design our lives’ Reviewed by Opus Web Design on February 19, 2021 Rating: 5

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