As a feature of the game, spending your time designing ships should be avoidable. My feeling is that there is a significant number of players who couldn't care less about making cool ship designs or poring over the list of non-gameplay enhancing modules. There should be a simple way to skip the purely aesthetic aspects of the design process without ending up with a ship that looks like pure ass.
Sometimes I am willing to spend the time, and sometimes I am not. Why should I be forced to spend the time in either case?
The AI designs its own ships, so there must be algorithms already in game for designing new ships from a grocery list of components. The player should be able to choose his list, hit "Auto-design", and have the game spit out 3 or so random designs incorporating all those components. If you don't like them, you can then:
A) edit one of those designs.
hit the button again and get 3 new designs.
C) decide you really wanted a nice looking ship this time and do your own.