As both beginning hackers and Silicon Valley investors alike keep discovering, there are a lot of differences between hardware and software. One important difference is cost of iterating over a design. In software, you can comfortably rerun your build process and push updates out near instantly to tons of users. In hardware, all of that costs money, and I do mean, it costs way more money than you’d want to spend.
When I see people order boards that could never work because of some fundamental design assertions, with mistakes entirely preventable, it hurts. Not in an “embarrassment” way – it’s knowing that, if they asked someone to take a look at the design, they could’ve received crucial feedback, pulled the traces on the board differently or added some components, and avoided spending a significant chunk of money and time expecting and assembling a board that has a fundamental mishap.
Every thing like this might set a beginner back on their hacker journeys, or just have them spend some of their valuable time, and we can do a ton to prevent that by simply having someone experienced take a look.
We Don’t Do This Often Enough
When it comes to hacker communities, an underappreciated part of what we can do for fun is design review, and it helps if we offer it actively. If people don’t know they can ask others for design review, they might not ask at all, and knowing that they can is certainly a confidence boost for people going for their first PCB design.
It’s also yet another way we can pass knowledge down to newcomers – through demonstrating PCB design tactics, techniques and tricks, and also ways to spot and prevent mistakes before they appear, that so many of us had to develop the hard and painful way.
This isn’t just about individually reviewing boards – it’s about having a design review culture, where we have a set of practices showing how people can ask for advice, and how other people are supposed to give it. For instance, it can be tricky to remember to focus on what matters, and talk about what the board designer actually wants to achieve.
I’m no expert, and, I’ve been doing design review here and there online for over a year now, so I think it’d be fun to talk about how we can address beginners’ design mishaps quickly, while meeting what they expect. It’s also certain that, the more eyes we get on any given board, the more things we can all learn about how to make it better!
Send Them In!
So, here’s my proposal. You send in your PCB designs. They don’t have to be your first designs, but it’s nice if they are. Ideally, there will be a problem still to be solved. If there’s something that we can all learn from, we’ll feature it and ask the community for help. Ideally, we could, over time, form a small collection of common PCB mishaps, and a series of fun articles.
Here’s a few asks. First, it has to be open-source, and not just schematics-available, though I will also be taking a look at schematics. Also, I’d greatly prefer KiCad over anything else, purely because that’s what I’m personally laser focused on working with. GitHub / GitLab / any other repo is the best option, but I never turn my nose at a sketchy link with a zip archive!
Send your link or files to the tips line, and put
[design review] in the title!
As a side question – are you in a community that does design review for each other and newcomers? If so, what do you have to share? And, if not, what are your thoughts anyway?