The design of hardware-software systems is a complex and difficult task exacerbated by the very different tools used by designers in each field. Even in small projects, tracking the impact, motivation and context of individual design decisions between designers and over time quickly becomes intractable. In an attempt to bridge this gap, we present a general, low-level model of the system design process. We formally define the concept of a design decision, and provide a hierarchical representation of both the design space and the context in which decisions are made. This model can serve as a foundation for software-hardware system design tools which will help designers cooperate more efficiently and effectively. We provide a high-level example of the use of such a system in a design problem provided through collaboration with NASA.

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