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What Is a Design Specification? 2023’s Brief and Useful Guide

Written by, Andriana Moskovska

Updated April, 25, 2023

The key to any successful project is good planning and clear communication between all stakeholders about the project’s design objectives and requirements.

The best way to deliver that information is via a design specification document. But, what is a design specification exactly, and how does it help your projects?

Keep on reading to find out!

Product Design Specification & Brief

In essence, a design specification is the ‘blueprint’ of a project as it defines all the details and requirements for a given process or product. 

However, to write a detailed design specification, the client has to conduct thorough research that covers every aspect of developing and maintaining a product or process, including technical drawings, ergonomic factors, functionality, and more.

On the other hand, the design brief provides the project’s outline to present its requirements, client wishes and limitations in an understandable way.

In general, the brief contains rough sketches or a skeletal outline since most of the creative freedom is left to the designer. The primary purpose of the design brief is to serve as a basic guideline for the project, setting the goals and constraints but without imposing specific requirements and details.

What Does a Design Specification Include?

The design specification describes a product or process with precise and detailed information in several areas, and a standard product design specification checklist might include:

  • Project Overview—includes basic information such as data about the company, description of the product’s purpose, details on the competition, market strategy, a schedule with milestones, etc. These should be presented clearly through a platform of choice;
  • Objectives & Targets—depict precise objectives and their deadlines, since milestones are helpful to maintain the project development pace;
  • Target Audience—describes the target customer groups as the product or process needs to be adjusted to meet their needs;
  • Product Functionality—offers a clear explanation about how the product should work and how the user interacts with it;
  • Product Form & Dimensions—details the product’s physical shape and size since designers should consider the ergonomic factors along with the aesthetics.

Note: The design specification also contains essential details about the materials used, environmental impact, performance, security, quality, and more.

What Does a Design Brief Include?

The contents of the design brief and their level of detail can vary depending on the project. With that said, most design briefs cover the following areas:

  • Project Description—includes information about the client, the demands and scope of the project, and describes the design requirements;
  • Goals—clearly define the project deliverables to avoid any misunderstandings between the designer and the client;
  • Target Audience—considers the potential customer since the product requirements and aesthetic factors need to be adjusted correspondingly;
  • Look & Feel—outlines the clients’ visual preferences and aesthetic requirements so the creative team knows what to focus on;
  • Project Restrictions—delves into the project restrictions such as time, budget, workforce, and more.

Note: Certain designers differentiate between an open brief that allows for changes during the course of the project, and a closed brief with detailed and strict requirements.

Benefits of a Product Design Brief & Specification

Creating both a design brief and a design specification are important steps in the development process as they come with several valuable benefits:

  • Clear Goals & Objectives—the client goals are clearly outlined, so the design team gets a clear idea as to the scope of the project and the development direction;
  • Ensuring Everyone’s in Sync—well-written design specifications remove ambiguity from the project and the responsibilities of individual stakeholders;
  • Accountability—since the objectives and the strategy are clearly stated, the design brief and specification leave little room for excuses when goals aren’t met;
  • Accelerated Development—eliminates time-wasting, such as long email threads and corrections, as the scope and goals are clearly defined at the start.

Note: The above list includes some primary reasons for developing a design brief and specification. Depending on the specific project circumstances, additional benefits might also apply, such as minimising the legal risk, easier asset management, and more.

Bottom Line

Now that you reviewed the differences between a design brief and specification, check out several design specifications examples to learn how to create one for your business if needed. Ultimately, they are powerful tools that guide your project and ensure all objectives and requirements are met within a given timeframe.

Frequently Asked Questions And Their Answers

How to write a design brief?

Since every project is unique, you cannot rely on a universal design brief template. Instead, adapt the checklist we provided above to your project’s needs and check out a design brief example or two to see how to write yours and if you need to include anything else.

How to write a design specification?

First, you need to conduct exhaustive research about the product, so you are able to cover all of the items on the above checklist. You can also look for a design specification template that matches your needs to direct your research and writing.

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