Top-Down and Bottom-Up Design
Kyle Maxey posted on November 29, 2012 |

One of the first steps in the Product Concept Design cycle is to decide how to organize your project. Two organizational paradigms have evolved in the design and engineering world - Top-Down and Bottom-Up Design.

So what are Top-Down and Bottom-Up Design?

Top-Down Design, is characterized by an extensive planning and research phase that leads into the development of a product.  Bottom-Up Design, takes the opposite approach.  While goals for a product are still outlined, the assembly of a product is done on a system by system basis.  While the Top-Down approach allows for structured control of a project, the Bottom-Up approach lends itself to more experimentalism. 

In the video below Vince Penman and Allison Toepperwein give an overview of Top-Down and Bottom Up Design.

Which Method Should I Use?

To decide which design method will work best for your project consider the following:

1. Will your Product Concept Design cycle be heavily experimental? Are you trying to make something completely new? If so, a Bottom-Up iterative approach might be best for your project.

2. Is your project constrained by a tight budget? If so, a Top-Down approach can help you maximize savings by thoroughly planning budgets at the beginning of your product concept design cycle.

3. Are you building a large, complex system? Complex systems and machines benefit from a Top-Down approach because it breaks down a project’s goals into smaller problems that are more easily solved.

4. For your project to be successful will you need everyone’s voice to be heard? If the problem you’re trying to solve is going to require a lot of creativity a Bottom-Up approach can help leverage all of the creativity in your group by letting them experiment and voice their opinions.

While some insist that one approach is better than the other, those who are invested in the Design Thinking methodology know that a blend of the two approaches often produces the best results. 

Recommended For You