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‘Cycle’, makes is sound like we are going in circles!
Who uses the design cycle?  Why is it a cycle?  Are we really getting anywhere if we keep going in circles?  Anyone who engages in design uses the design cycle whether they know it or not.  This may be a business that wants a new product to sell; an entrepreneur with the next great idea or your seven-year-old daughter who has just learned how to make paper airplanes (a future aeronautical engineer).  Thing one is that we all use the design cycle.  How well we use it determines if we will be successful or not.
The cycle is a process that leads us from initial concept to final product. It has four large steps or phases: Ideas, designs, prototypes and products.  Ideas are the starting point.  This is when someone suggests the next great widget.  The second phase is when you start the design.  What parts will we use?  How will it look? What will power it?  The output is a concept.  Then things start to get fun (spoken like a true engineer).  Phase three is the prototype phase.  We go out and build something based on our initial design.  The final phase is the products.  We take our prototypes and make them into something that is manufacturable and voila, you have a new product. Thing two is that there are four steps in the design cycle.

1, 2, 3, 4 sounds like a straight line to me
Many first-time inventers think it is a straight line from idea to product.  They want to design the final product right away and start selling it.  While this sounds like a good idea it is a bit like finding the hidden city of Shangri-La.  One does not simply walk into Shangri-La.  There is a long and winding journey to get there.  At the end of each phase you have to evaluate if you are on track to your goal.  If not, you may need to go back and change some things.  In the design phase, you may decide this was a bad idea, but you now can see a better idea.  That is why it is a cycle.  You branch back and make changes as you learn in each phase.  The design phase is a great time to throw all sorts of ideas around.  When you start making the prototype reality steps in and helps you see what works and what does not.  Even if you don’t formally say we are going back to the design phase once you learn things from the prototype, that is exactly what you are doing.  You go forward, learn, cycle back and then make a new run at it.  Thing three is that the design cycle is not one big loop but many small ones.
Development boards, a necessary evil?
When I start a new project, I like to make at least one development board.  A dev board is usually a two-layer board, so it is relatively cheap and easy to make.  It allows you to try things out: test a circuit idea; write firmware and make measurements.  It is the iconic representation of the design cycle.  You think of things design them, try them, then re-evaluate your idea. Large projects will have many dev boards, and many chances to reevaluate your ideas.
Engineering is nonlinear.  There is nothing straight line about it.  It is called a process and not an event because it is an ongoing series of interactions. These interactions have a goal, they have a start and an end.  Engineering is what happens in between. Many people think the goal is just around the corner.  Others think the solution will never be found, just before the breakthrough. Thing four is that it is hard to judge how long it will take to go from idea to product, but by following good engineering practices you will get there. By using the engineering cycle well and not trying to jump from idea to product you actually reduce the overall time it takes to reach the goal of making a new product.

Final thoughts
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