What Is an Optimal Design?

Malcolm Tatum

Also sometimes know as optimum design, an optimal design is a type of design that is created during the development phase that exhibits a high level of compliance with the standards or criteria established by the developers. With this type of design, the product prototype represents the best results thus far, and is often seen as moving closer to achieving the ideal design for that product. Experimental designs of this type provide a wealth of information that aid in the creation of the final design that is released and supported by the company which ultimately approves the design and markets the product.

Optimal designs represent the best results of a prototype.
Optimal designs represent the best results of a prototype.

The idea of optimal design requires the establishment of standards or criteria that can be objectively measured, while managing to keep subjective review to a minimum. Doing so helps to limit the degree of bias that developers may come to hold for any one of the design models that develops during the process by establishing a specific set of qualities that must be present in order for the design to be considered optimal. This approach also makes it possible to avoid being sidetracked by interesting but irrelevant information that may arise during the developmental process of the design.

There are several key advantages associated with optimal design. One has to do with limiting the costs of the developmental process. Since there are specific criteria that must be met, this helps to narrow the focus of the effort and avoid expenses that are incurred with the research process wanders off course. Within the scope of the design process, this approach also provides some room to experiment with different factors in various combinations, ultimately discarding certain results as being inferior while continuing to pursue combinations that show more promise. Maintaining a defined criteria as part of the optimal design process also means that it is possible to build concerns about safety, governmental compliance, and other essentials into the design process, avoiding the waste of time and other resources on ideas that would ultimately not be practical or workable.

While there are a number of benefits to using the concept of optimal design in any type of development project, detractors also note that this approach does have a couple of potential drawbacks. One has to do with the level of creativity that can be applied to the task. Since the criteria effectively sets boundaries on the experimentation that takes place, this means some more progressive ideas may be excluded. In addition, the downplaying of subjective thought in the process may also decrease the potential for identifying factors that may seem irrelevant at first, but could ultimately make a difference in the success of that final design.

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