A system and method for configuring an instrument to perform measurement functions, wherein the instrument includes a programmable hardware element. A graphical program is first created, wherein the graphical program implements a measurement function. The graphical program may include a front panel and a block diagram. The method then generates a hardware description based on at least a portion of the graphical program. The hardware description describes a hardware implementation of the at least a portion of the graphical program. The method then configures the programmable hardware element in the instrument utilizing the hardware description to produce a configured hardware element. The configured hardware element thus implements a hardware implementation of the at least a portion of the graphical program. The instrument then acquires a signal from an external source, and the programmable hardware element in the instrument executes to perform the measurement function on the signal. The front panel may be used by a user to control the instrument during the measurement.