Keep it simple Everyone benefits from a mechanism or overall design that is simplified. If you can combine parts or use features for multiple purposes, the parts can be cheaper, there are fewer features to inspect, less parts to warehouse, less parts to go wrong, and less parts to repair. Many times during a project I will sit back and look at the big picture….Can this be done any more simply? Can I eliminate any parts?
One of the most important skills I have learned is the ability to simplify a design challenge down to its most basic requirements, loads, and features. Even the most complicated mechanism or system is a compilation of simple interactions based on forces, friction, leverage, momentum, and energy. Simple tools like line drawings and force diagrams often hold the key insight to even the most challenging task.
I think Einstein said it best when he said “Everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler.”
Prototype, prototype, prototype The earlier you can prove that a concept will or will not work the better, so prototype early & often. I have used everything ranging from cut and folded paper, screwed together plywood, or Legos all the way up to 3d printing, cast plastic parts, or machined metal parts. The important thing is to only spend enough time on it to achieve the fidelity the task requires. Many design iterations can and should be done on the computer, but it doesn't provide the real world feedback of how something feels, pivots, fits with other parts, or flexes under load.
Ask lots of questions I find that asking the right questions is one of the most important and most overlooked skills of an engineer or designer. Being knowledgeable and confident, but humble and curious at the same time has allowed me to put myself in the shoes of whoever I am working with at the time. This prevents confusion and ensures that everyone involved is on the same page.
Asking thoughtful questions is especially important at the beginning of a project. The decisions that are made then will open or close design paths in the future. It is important to ask questions to get to the root of the design requirements. When requirements are laid out they often include an implied solution because of the personal history that person has or the previous design. This implied design may be the best solution but you will not know that until the essence of the task is uncovered. Significant innovations can only happen when you have a deep understanding of the task in front of you.