The informal Hardware Handbook

I’ve been working as a product design engineer for over 10 years, and I’ve learned a lot in that time. Sure, in school, I was taught the raw skills of mechanical engineering and how to create 3D models, but there’s really no substitute for having experiences creating amazing hardware and bringing products to life. Not every scenario plays out exactly like it does in a textbook — there are budgets, timelines, chip shortages, preferences, and trends to consider and navigate in the ever-changing landscape of hardware design. I’ve had to learn entirely new skill sets as well as keep up to date on my old ones. 

Ever since co-founding informal in 2019 with Nate Padgett, we’ve been having the same conversations with clients every few months. To clear up some of these persistent questions, we put together the informal Hardware Handbook, which focuses on current trends, challenges, and the tools needed to bring a project from conception to completion. What I love about the handbook is that it’s driven by our freelancers’ collective experience, covering a massive range of hardware concerns at different stages. The handbook is made up of advice from experts in a variety of areas within the industry, giving critical direction that can make or break any project. We’re excited to have sourced this information within our informal community and to share the knowledge of our community.

The handbook is divided into 4 parts, each covering a major phase in your product development cycle: Foundations, Design, Manufacturing, and Go-to-Market Strategy.

By no means do you need to read this guide in any particular order. Feel free to pop around to the articles or sections that are most relevant to you at the moment. Some articles may reference each other, which is usually a good time to take a side tangent and learn more.

In the Foundations section, the handbook covers how to get yourself oriented in the hardware industry. These articles discuss how to build your team and set them to the task at hand. This includes orienting yourself as a founder and making some critical decisions, including what type of team you need to build to be successful, being sure you’re up to date on the lingo of the industry, and understanding how to properly scope your work. Before you even begin, it’s important to have a clear vision of not only your final product, but also how your team fits together. 

The Design section of the handbook is here to help make your product into reality by better understanding how to design, manufacture, and package it. Each project is a unique challenge that requires a custom-tailored approach to developing the best hardware possible. Knowing the basics of hardware design, terminology, typical timelines and the types of decisions that need to be made will better equip you and your team on this journey. 

When it comes time to produce your product, the Manufacturing section is here to help you better understand your options. The handbook provides a foundation for understanding the differences between manufacturing locally or overseas, what small-scale manufacturing might mean for you, and how manufacturing processes might inform your options for final products. While you’re still designing your product, understanding the basics of manufacturing will help set you on the right path to make your product on budget and on time. 

Finally, your Go-to-Market Strategy can be the point that makes or breaks your entire journey. The handbook features a three-part series that walks you through pre-launch, campaign, and post-launch for taking any hardware product to market. This section covers concerns like which platforms and funding sources are best, and what the pros and cons of each might be depending on your audience. 

This handbook serves as a guide for most hardware projects, but it’s not all-encompassing. If you ever need advice, direction, help, or support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! We love talking hardware, learning about the challenges teams are facing, and helping them make the most kick-ass products. 

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Hardware Handbook
Sam Holland

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