The process of formulating a remote sensing instrument design from a set of observational requirements involves a series of trade studies during which judgments are made between available design options. The outcome of this process is a system architecture which drives the size, weight, power consumption, cost, and technological risk of the instrument. In this paper, a set of trade studies are described which guided the development of a baseline sensor design to provide vertical profiles (soundings) of atmospheric temperature and humidity from future Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) platforms. Detailed trade studies presented include the choice between an interferometric versus a dispersive spectrometer, the optical design of the IR interferometer and visible imaging channel, the optimization of the instrument spatial response, the selection of detector array materials, operating temperatures, and array size, the thermal design for detector and optics cooling, and the electronics required to process detected interferograms into spectral radiance. The trade study process was validated through simulations of the radiometric performance of the instrument, and through simulated retrievals of vertical profiles of atmospheric temperature and humidity. The flexibility of these system trades is emphasized, highlighting the differing outcomes that occur from this process as system requirements evolve. Observations are made with respect to the reliability and readiness of key technologies. The results of this study were disseminated to industry to assist their interpretation of, and responses to, system requirements provided by the U.S. Government.