Anyone Can Be an Electronics Designer

Curiosity is the only requirement

By Frances Reed

As with most hobbies, the best way to learn is by doing. In this article we'll outline the basic tools and components you might need and we'll talk about a simple project that can serve as a template for your electronics design.

The Essential Tools:

- Soldering iron
- Replacement soldering tips
- Solder
- Wire cutters
- Multimeter

Some essential electronic design tools and components
Jameco Tech Tips

Useful Components

- Capacitors - little towers of power that store electricity
- Resistors - reduce current and are used in almost every project
- Switches - good ones to have: SPST, SPDT, DPDT, and pushbutton
- LEDs - Light Emitting Diodes, let there be light
- Jumper or hookup wire - connects everything in electronics
- Batteries and battery clips to supply the power to your projects
- Protoboard, also known as perfboard, or breadboard is what you mount
  all that stuff on
- Integrated circuits, specifically digital to analog converters, and 555 timers are
  essential, as well as IC sockets for them, so that you can easily replace them
  in case one malfunctions.
Electronics Design Essentials
Electronics Design Essentials
- Motors are great to have on hand
- Potentiometers are variable resistors, used in loads of audio projects
- Voltage regulators are an essential. The 2 most used are the 7805 and 7812
- Other components you may also want to have on hand: USB ports, DIP switches, 7-segment displays, reed switches
  and relays
- Grab Bags are an inexpensive way to get a wide range of miscellaneous components

From the Breadboard Up

The breadboard is where it all starts. You can build an electronic circuit on a breadboard without any soldering and best of all it is reusable.

The purpose of the breadboard is to make quick electrical connections between components – like resistors, LEDs, and capacitors – so that you can test your circuit before permanently soldering it onto a PCB. Breadboards have many small sockets on them with some electrically connected to each other. On the underside of the board there are many small metal strips which physically connect certain groups of sockets together and allow electricity to flow freely between them.

Electronic Design on a breadboard
Electronic Design on a Breadboard
Showing connections underneath breadboardConnections Underneath Breadboard

As we said before, it's easier to learn while doing, so let's get building.

Build a Simple Circuit

Let's build an LED circuit.
LED circuit
LED Circuit
LED circuit schematicLED Circuit Schematic

What you will need:

1. LED
2. 300Ω resistor (orange-black-brown)
3. Jumper wire
4. 9V battery

What you do:

1. Place the LED leads into the breadboard (the longer LED lead is the positive side).
2. Put a one end of a jumper wire on the anode side and insert the other end on the positive power bus.
3. Insert one leg of the resistor on the cathode side of LED and other leg of the resistor on the negative power bus (see above picture)
4. Now you're ready to LIGHT UP YOUR LED!

Congratulations - you have just designed an electronic circuit!

Adding a Switch to the Circuit

Now that you're getting the hang of it – let's try something else.

Pushbutton Switch
Pushbutton switch (P/N 119011)
Pushbutton switch added to breadboard circuitPushbutton switch added to breadboard circuit


1. Install a pushbutton switch, so it spans the gap running down the middle of the breadboard.

2. Open up the circuit for the LED; break the circle, (shift the LED and resistor over to add-in the switch).

3. Connect the jumper wire from the power bus to one leg of the switch. Connect the anode of the LED to the other leg of the switch that is on the same side as the other connection. Connect the resistor from the cathode of the LED to the ground bus.

So before, the flow of electricity went from power, to LED, to resistor, to ground. Now the flow goes from power, to the switch, to the LED, then the resistor, to ground. Hopefully with these simple circuits you're beginning to understand how to get started at electronics design. This simple template was meant to provide you a sense of circuitry being a series of connections between electronics components. Where you go next with your design is up to you – have fun with it!

Getting Started in ElectronicsGetting Started in Electronics, Mims ISBN 9780945053286

There are many resources online to take off from here. For any one who has ever asked, "How does that work", electronics design is a skill that can be largely self-taught. Forrest Mims is the most widely read electronics author and he is completely self taught in electronics. You can learn all the basics in his comprehensive book, Getting Started in Electronics.

Additional Resources:
Basic Electronics (book by McWhorter)
Discover Circuits (website)
Red Circuits (website)
Forrest Mims (website)

We're always interested in what you are working on. If you have a project that you're proud of, send it to us and we'll share it with the Jameco community. Send contributions to