What is a product design brief?

What is a product design brief?

The term ‘design brief’ is somewhat odd. It attempts to avoid the rigid limits of a formal specification, which would be more common in engineering or electronics; but is just as important in establishing the scope of a design project. 

The critical difference is that an industrial design brief also needs to allow some flexibility to encourage innovation and creativity – some freedom in the design process that a rigid specification might prevent. 

So, what should a good design brief contain?

The primary headings of a design brief need to relate to client personnel; details about the function of and market for the new product; user requirements; marketing requirements; how the project will be managed; the timescale of the project; any information on the investment budgets available; manufacturing processes; and regulatory and testing issues that need to be addressed.

In practice, the best way to examine these issues for a particular project is to work through a checklist. The checklist is a simple method of examining each issue to see which is relevant to the project. However obvious the needs of a project may be, it is always good practice to work through such a list, just to make sure all the issues have been identified.

One way of doing this is to break the checklist down into categories. We have produced a list, which is not exhaustive, but encompasses many of the issues that need to be covered. It is divided into ‘project preparation’, ‘industrial design’ and ‘manufacture and assembly’.

Project preparation

1.Who are the main people in charge of:

  • Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Manufacture
  • Technical development
  • Overall project management

2. The anticipated launch date for the product

3. Any critical milestones (concepts to show board of directors, etc)

4. Important exhibition or customer events.

5. Time required for pre-launch testing/trials.

6. Time required to obtain necessary approvals (BS, UL, etc)

7. Lead time for likely critical components.

8. Lead time for possible production processes.

9. Will the product stand alone, or be part of existing, or anticipated product range?

10. Your company’s current and anticipated position in the marketplace.

11. The history of the market and anticipated trends.

12. Details of competitors products, and their perceived strength and weaknesses.

13. Which product(s) will it be in direct competition with?

14. Copies of any sales literature on competing products.

15. Expected life of product and pricing strategy.

16. The way in which the product will be promoted and sold.

17. The principle purchase decision makers (age, sex, social group, etc).

Industrial design

1. Description of the product

2. Key words which the product should convey, such as 'valuable, professional, rugged'.

3. User benefits the new product will have that will differentiate it in the marketplace.

4. Typical users (male, female, skilled, unskilled, etc).

5. The branding required for company, product and corporate identity issues, including colours.

6. A full explanation of how the product will be used:  

  • Storage 
  • Preparation for use  
  • Operation
  • Frequency of use  
  • Operating environment.

7. Components to be accommodated and their functional requirements.

8. Physical size and mounting requirements.

9. Operating temperature, vibration, shock, RFI, flame retardancy, etc.

10. Physical requirements - size, weight, etc.

11. Anticipated operating life of the product and any maintenance requirements.

12. Requirements for packaging design or the development of instructions, etc?

13.Safety & CE marking requirements:

  • Fire
  • Access
  • Electrical
  • British Standards
  • International standards
  • Technical markings required
  • EMC

14. Environmental issues

  • Material Choice
  • Markings on product
  • Factors during use
  • Disposal/recycling

Manufacture and assembly

1. Anticipated production volumes.

2. Target manufacturing costs.

3. The tooling budget and amortisation period anticipated.

4. Production and assembly facilities available. (if in house)

5. Preferred manufacturing processes (if any).

6. Likelihood of staged entry to market (low volume building to high).

7. Existing suppliers to be used (if any).

8. Made/assembled in UK or offshore?

As you will have seen from this list, establishing the issues that govern a design project go way beyond colour and shape. The skill set that industrial designers bring to a new product is the capability to balance all these requirements and then develop the visual form and production data for the resulting solution.


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