The Importance of a Clear Project Brief

Product design specification meeting

Why having a Detailed Product Design Specification at the outset of a project can makes all the difference to the success or failure of your project.

Product design is a crucial aspect of a successful business. A well-designed product can attract customers, create brand loyalty, and differentiate itself from competitors. It is the first point of contact between the user and the product, and it determines whether the user will be interested in the product and its features. However, designing a product is a difficult and challenging task. It requires a team of professionals who understand the consumer’s needs, the market, and the technology. To ensure that everyone is on the same page, a product design brief or project specification document is needed. This document provides guidelines and sets expectations for the design team, ensuring that the final product aligns with the company’s goals and vision. In this article, we will explore the importance of product design and the significance of having a specification document.

When embarking on any product development project, it is crucial to clearly understand the scope and requirements of the task. This is where a product design specification document comes in handy. A clear, brief document provides a concise summary of the problem you are trying to solve, including the goals, objectives, and expectations. For example, is your new product trying to make a task quicker, easier, or safer? A good specification document outlines the technical details and functional requirements of the project whilst also clarifying what the intended outcome should be.

What is a product design specification:

A product design specification document is essential in setting the stage for a successful project. It should clearly articulate the project’s purpose, intended target market, and the desired outcome. If possible, it should also include a timeline for the project and list any specific constraints or limitations that may affect its progress. Although this isn’t often followed, a timeline is valuable to know if the project needs to be delivered quickly and understand what can be achieved in this timeframe.  A well-written brief can help all stakeholders understand the project’s objectives and expectations, and provide the necessary guidance to keep the project on track.

A product design specification document provides more detailed and specific information about the project’s requirements.  Generic information such as lightweight does not give a clear enough goal for the designers; it needs to be for example, “The product must be as light as possible, whilst achieving the other critical requirements in the specification, and must weigh under 3kg”. Other detailed information can include the following requirements: technical, user, environment, safety regulation and compliance, and functional. The more specific the information, the more focused the design process will be to ensure an efficient product development journey.

When detailing functional requirements, using the MoSCoW prioritisation categories can be helpful. This approach helps prioritise which requirements are critical for the project’s success and which ones can be de-prioritised or even removed altogether. The categories are: must have; should have; could have and won’t have. By categorising requirements in this way, it becomes easier to manage stakeholder expectations and ensure that the team is working on the most critical aspects of the project first. If there is a feature that you realise will be a good addition during the development process, but you don’t necessarily have the time or budget to incorporate it now, then this is a great opportunity to record the idea and then incorporate it into future versions. We talk about aiming for a minimal viable product. This ensures you do not overstretch the project, so the development cost is kept lower and the route to market is much quicker – therefore, hopefully, allowing you to bring in revenue from sales to invest in future development.

Product timelines and Budgets:

A clear and comprehensive brief and product design specification document is crucial in managing project timelines and budgets. It establishes clear guidelines and instructions that can help to avoid miscommunication. It helps identify potential risks and issues ahead of time, allowing project managers to plan and mitigate them effectively. It also ensures that project timelines and budgets are realistic, achievable, and not exceeded. This, in turn, helps prevent any misunderstandings or confusion that can lead to delays, budget overruns, or even project failure.

Investing the time to develop a detailed brief product design specification document can save time and resources in the long run. This document should be started at the beginning of any project, but there will likely be a lot of unanswered questions early on. At this stage, it’s not about having all the answers; it’s about planning for how these questions will be answered and being aware of the information required as the project progresses. And, it doesn’t have to all be a list of requirements; it may be helpful to use visual tools to clarify information depending on your project.  This document should help you plan your project more accurately so you can understand where you need to invest time and money in the development process to achieve your goals.

Case Studies:

The Importance of a Detailed Product Design Specification: A Case Study on Drone Development

A client approached D2M, a product design company, with an innovative idea: a drone to repair industrial equipment. Although the client was an exceptional engineer with many technical insights, the project began without a clearly defined design brief. The client’s initial focus was primarily on the drone’s functionality, and he provided a series of drawings and extensive technical details. However, these inputs needed a structured project brief.


The D2M design team faced the significant task of formulating a clear design brief in collaboration with the client. Given the client’s eagerness to concentrate on the drone’s operational capabilities and the existing time constraints, the team moved forward with CAD (Computer-Aided Design) development without a finalised design brief. While made under pressure, this decision would later prove to be a costly oversight.

Developments and Complications:

A few weeks into the CAD development process, the client realised that the drone required an additional mechanical system and a second drive motor to incorporate another function. This necessitated a complete overhaul of the CAD model to accommodate the new components, significantly increasing both the client’s costs and the project’s timeline.

This case study underscores the importance of having a detailed project brief from the outset of a new product development journey. The lack of a structured design brief led to significant redesigns, increased costs, and extended timelines. Additionally, it highlights the need to storyboard or visually map out how the product will be used, especially when the usage process is not immediately apparent. This step is crucial in ensuring that all aspects of the product’s design are practical and meet the intended user experience.

A comprehensive design brief is essential for aligning the design team’s efforts with the client’s vision and the product’s functional requirements. Investment in defining the project scope, including detailed specifications and user experience considerations, can ensure timely revisions later in development.

Storyboarding or visual mapping can be pivotal in understanding and refining the user experience, ensuring the product meets real-world needs and expectations.

How to create a brief and product design specification document:

D2M has extensive experience creating detailed briefs and specification documents to ensure project success. Creating a clear, brief and specification document can often require gathering information to define project objectives, outline project scope, and identify the target audience. It is usually helpful to conduct market research and gather customer feedback to ensure the product meets the needs of the target audience.

There are often assumptions that are made early on in a project, but these are not always communicated between the team. We recommend documenting assumptions and validating them early in the project to avoid costly mistakes. Businesses and organisations can ensure a successful final product by involving stakeholders, conducting research, and validating assumptions.

It could be tempting for the you to retain information from designers about the project to allow their creative juices to flow, however, we have learnt from experience that designers develop better, more realistic ideas when provided with detailed, specific information about the project.

Early-stage prototyping is crucial in determining critical product requirements such as maximum size, ergonomics, and user interface. It allows designers and product developers to test and evaluate various design options and identify potential design flaws, before investing significant time and resources into the final product.

Parts from existing products can be used to create functional prototypes that allow designers to evaluate the usability of a product. We do not shy away from of prototypes made from chopped up pieces of other products to prove an idea. Clay is an excellent material for creating quick, rough prototypes that allow designers to test and refine the shape and ergonomics of a product. Cardboard is another low-cost material that is easily manipulated to sample size and shape. For a prototype closer to the final product, rapid prototyping technologies like 3D printing and laser cutting can create more detailed and refined prototypes. By using rapid prototyping technologies, you can use materials that are closer to the final result. For textile products sometimes it is quicker and cheaper to buy a product made from the fabric you need and deconstruct this to use the fabric for your prototype. Ultimately, early-stage prototyping is to validate your idea and provide you with a functional and representative model of the final product that can be tested and evaluated to ensure that it meets the requirements of the end-user. By selecting the appropriate materials and methods for creating practical prototypes, it is possible to develop low-cost prototypes while detailing your product design brief and specification, before embarking on the full product design process.

Best practices for creating both documents include being clear and concise, using simple language, and avoiding technical jargon whenever possible. It is essential to be thorough and detailed and to include all of the technical requirements and specifications for the project. It is vital to ensure that all stakeholders are involved in the process and that the documents are reviewed and revised as necessary. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and give your project the best chance of commercial success, avoiding costly mistakes.  

Additionally, it is essential to be open to feedback and suggestions from stakeholders, as this can help improve the quality of the documents and the final product. It’s important to note that these documents will evolve as the project progresses, and questions unanswered at the start will have answers as the project progresses. This makes it crucial to keep the document up to date throughout the project and share updates with all stakeholders so that they know the impact on their responsibility. This will help ensure that everyone stays informed and can adjust their strategies or plans accordingly. By keeping the documents up-to-date, businesses and organisations can save time and money in the long run and achieve successful project outcomes. Creating a product design specification document is essential and critical for any project’s success.

Case Study 2: “Another bad product design specification example.”

I recently had a meeting with a potential client who wanted us to develop their new product. However, they came to the meeting without any details or even a notebook, despite the complexity of the project. They seemed to believe that providing any information would stifle our creativity. In fact, one of the business partners even stopped the other from sharing an initial idea for solving a key issue. They had researched existing patents from global companies but didn’t provide any details, leaving us flabbergasted.

On the other hand, we had another meeting shortly after with a different client who provided a detailed overview of their business and requirements and completed work for an innovative furniture fixing. This client got several new ideas from our experienced designers in this first meeting, to resolve various challenges and significantly reduce the unit and tooling costs for the product.

Constraints can paradoxically boost creativity by focusing problem-solving efforts within defined boundaries, encouraging innovative thinking. When specific limitations are set, such as resource, time, material, or specification constraints, individuals and teams are pushed to explore unconventional solutions, fostering innovation. These restrictions can also compel a prioritisation of essential elements, leading to simplified, more impactful solutions.

Working under constraints enhances resourcefulness, as limited resources necessitate inventive approaches and optimization of available materials and methods. Additionally, constraints often require collaboration, bringing diverse perspectives together to overcome challenges, which can spark new, creative ideas.

Historical and business examples, such as the innovative problem-solving demonstrated during the Apollo 13 mission and startups disrupting industries with limited budgets, illustrate how constraints can lead to breakthroughs. In essence, rather than hindering creativity, the proper constraints can stimulate it by requiring a more focused, efficient, and collaborative approach to innovation. Therefore (even though we’re not designing space rockets!), producing detailed, constrained briefs for your product design team to work within and towards is crucial.

By following the tips and best practices outlined above, stakeholders can create clear, concise, and compelling documents. Involving all stakeholders in the process, including specific details, and being open to feedback can significantly enhance the quality of these documents. When creating these documents, it’s essential to provide specific details, include technical requirements, functional specifications, and timelines. By reviewing and revising the documents as necessary, businesses and organisations can ensure the project is completed to budget and on time whilst meeting the intended audience’s needs. The specification documents can be a reference point throughout the project’s development, helping stakeholders stay on track and achieve the desired results. By investing time and effort upfront, businesses can save time and money in the long run and achieve successful project outcomes.

At D2M, we’re experts in turning concepts into reality. Whether you need a physical prototype for a new product, a high-fidelity model, or a functional prototype, we’ve got you covered. Once you’ve honed your project brief, our team is here to transform your vision into a tangible masterpiece.

Contact us today, and let’s start prototyping your future success!”

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