Home | Audio | DIY | Guitar | iPods | Music | Brain/Problem Solving | Links| Site Map

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Design Cycle: Creation of Design Specification


Design Specification

Production and Manufacturing

Design specifications are the measurements and characteristics of a structure or object which provide for a workable, sustainable, or pleasing creation or construct. This can apply to a wide variety of manufactured or fabricated objects, such as buildings, automobiles, and clothes and also utility, computing, and distribution systems. Any functional thing made by human beings has certain specific details.

Design specifications are the "meat and potatoes" of the project. This is where the major system goals will be established and will very likely sound similar a mission statement...if there is one. The design specification is what drives quality control. If the product meets all of the design specifications then it is an acceptable product. On the other hand, anything that falls outside of the design specification is not deemed an acceptable product and will either be sold as a 'factory second' or discarded.

A definition for design specification that requires the construction of an object would be:: a specification that establishes precise measurement, tolerances, materials, in processes and finished product tests, quality control, inspection requirements, and other specific details of the deliverable.

In manufacturing a design specification is defined as: A specification setting forth the required characteristics to be considered for award of contract, including sufficient detail to show how the product is to be manufactured.

When dealing with human behavior, such as the Department of Corrections, then a design specification is defined as: A description of the elements that direct how a program should operate. The design specification of a program is contained in the component specification, program description, program directives and any standards or protocols developed for the program. A process evaluation will attempt to determine if the program is being operated according to the design specification.

With some projects there may be several different ways of constructing the project. In this case you want to pick the design that is the most efficient. By efficient, I mean that give an equal end product what method of construction 1) cost the least, 2) took the least amount of time to construct, 3) required the least amount of materials, and 4) required the least amount of energy input to complete. In creating your design specification, you should address what materials will be used, how will you maintain quality while you are constructing your project, is there a 'minimum standard' or error that you will allow? Etc. In a sense you are putting the concept of your project down in words...just what is your project supposed to do? What should the finished product look like?

In the production of a product the design specification is the first step as illustrated by the image below.

design flow

Performing Arts

Seemingly the most difficult design specifications to construct will be those in the performing arts. But, in reality they are rather simple since all the performer needs to do is acquire some guidelines via the medium of audio (for musicians), and film and photos (for dancers) to have the templates from which the performer can compare his/her performances to. Using examples of the 'ideal technique' is the design specification for the performing artist. All that needs to be done is to assimilate all of the 'templates' that the artist will use into the 'design specification' of the 'modern dancer.' For example, a dancer needs to identify all of the steps/techniques that he/she thinks must be mastered in order to reach the desired level of performance. Once this is done, then outline the steps/methods needed to learn the specific step/technique identified in the previous step. Knowing what the perfect peroit is a simple for the dancer to define. Once the step is defined, then all that is left is for the dancer to emulate the step. This is quality control for the dancer.

Below are some methods taught to grade human performance in the workplace. Fortunately, many of these guidelines can be used to drive and grade the performance of a performing artist.:

The Performance Work Statement
The Performance Work Statement (PWS) provides:

Performance requirements define the results that must be produced in order to achieve the desired solution.
Performance standards define the quality levels that must be achieved, or the conditions that must be satisfied, to make the results acceptable.

Example I

Suppose the goal of my project is to build an electric guitar. In doing so, I want to gather all of the informational resources that I will need to successfully reach my goal.

Build Guitar

  1. Provide blue-print and instructions on how to build a guitar.
  2. List all materials needed and their costs, where procured, etc.
  3. Construct a heuristic on how the guitar will be built:
    1. Body
      1. sand body
      2. apply sealant
      3. stain
      4. nitrocellulose
    2. Neck (assume it only needs to be finished and tuners installed)
      1. prep wood
      2. create logo
      3. apply tung oil
      4. install tuners when dry
    3. Electronics
      1. install PUPs
      2. solder wires
      3. install pots
      4. install knobs
      5. test circuitry


      N-step. Finished guitar

Once my guitar has been constructed, then I need to go back and compare the guitar to my original specs. For efficiency, you should compare your project to your specs each step of the way. You should also follow the instructions to a tee...in this case I would have to do some research to see how to install pick-ups properly, set the string height to get the desired tone. You will not find certain desired characteristics in your factory provided instructions all of the time, and may have to do some research.

In the case of my guitar I would also do some electrical testing to insure that everything was done properly. This not only would requires some testing equipment, but the actual playing of my guitar through an amplifier. The final testing would be both subjective (tone) and objective (current measurements.) Some of the things I would address would be: are the strings a set distance? Does it stay in tune? Is the body finish smooth and without dimples? Now this last step should have been checked before I started to assemble the guitar so that I could do something about it. At this point of quality control it would have been stamped as a "second" in industry. I would also ask: Does it have good tone? Are all hardware components tightened properly.

Finally, you should now realize that the "quality" of your product is directly related to how precisely you have followed the 'design specification.

Example II

Below are some questions used by software engineers when developing new software applications. Read these and just prime your brain for constructing your design specification. You do not need to answer these questions.

New Software Application

How is the overall application to be organized?
Are all systems and sub-systems clearly noted and defined?
Have all functions been defined for component development?
Have all data definitions been converted into data structures and types?
Are there existing systems that can be leveraged for some of this application, or is it 100 percent original development?
What will be built and what will be bought? Cost analysis of components required versus available commercial components.

Limitations of internal resources.

Interfaces and systems outside of internal control, which impacts future change management and application updates.
Does the architecture meet the standards of the organization and industry standards?
Scale of the system to handle the level of use and growth of systems such as data storage, new interfaces, future improvements and modules.

Example III

Below is an example of an graphic design specification:

design specification

Example IV

When building a house, every room of the house needs a design specification. Without one, there is no way that the workers would know how to build the house. Add to the illustration of the bathroom, a list of supplies needed to complete it and the bathroom is ready to be built. In your assignment you will provide a diagram, and a list of need supplies ...assuming you are building something.

Bathroom design specification


Example V

Choreographer’s Sketchbook

Goal: Based on an analysis of the information requirements of contemporary choreography, create an interactive design tool that improves on the pencil and paper state of the art.

Description: In a recent research project called "Choreography and Cognition", we worked with leading London choreographer Wayne MacGregor and the Random Dance Company to create and rehearse a new work called Ataxia. In the course of this project, we discovered the limitations faced by choreographers who have no compositional notation software of the kind that is taken for granted by musicians, screenwriters and digital artists. This project would create a new design tool that could replace or augment the paper notebooks currently used by most choreographers. This would allow choreographers to explore possible arrangements in time and space, animating the results, and communicating their intentions to dancers. This is similar to the national prize-winning project done by Hanna Wallach in 2002 (although that project was a design tool for use by architects, rather than choreographers).

Work programme:

Skills required:


Further reading:

Example VI

Finally, here is a link to a very detailed design specification. The product is a 'pamphlet binding structure.' Read the conclusion of the paper to see what it is for. You do not need to read design specification, but notice how it is created, how they define new terms, endnotes, etc. Conservation Pamphlet Binding Structure This example would is a perfect guideline on how you should create your design specification, but you are not required to go into this much detail.


Below are some different types of specifications. I have included design (will be used by most) and performance (used by dancers, musicians, and the performing arts) specifications. Read these so that you gain an understanding of the specification process. The specifications below are for those in the business sector.


By definition, a specification sets limits and thereby eliminates, or potentially eliminates, items that are outside the boundaries drawn. However, a specification should be written to encourage, not discourage, competition consistent with seeking overall economy for the purpose intended. A good specification should do four things: (1) Identify minimum requirements, (2) allow for a competitive bid, (3) list reproducible test methods to be used in testing for compliance with specifications, and (4) provide for an equitable award at the lowest possible cost.

Specifications can be prepared in a number of ways. Speaking generally, one is the specification that requires something unique, to be custom made or custom built, as is characteristic of construction or personal services contracts. The other group call for ready-made, off-the-shelf commercial items regularly available in the market place, as is characteristic of equipment, materials and supplies. Within these broad groupings are more particular types, including: brand-name specifications; brand-name-or-equal specifications; design specifications; performance specifications; and the Qualified Product List (QPL).

Below is an example of the design specification measurements that were needed to construct a photon accelerator:

design specification measurements


DESIGN SPECIFICATIONS: Design specifications customarily employ dimensional and other physical requirements of the item being purchased. "Design" in this sense means that the specification concentrates on how the product is to be put together. It is the most traditional kind of specification, having been used historically in public contracting for buildings, highways, and other public works, and represents the kind of thinking in which architects and engineers have been trained. Its use is called for where a structure or product has to be specially made to meet the purchaser's unique need.

a. Departments using design specifications must submit complete specifications with all necessary drawings, dimensions, terms, and definitions of non-standard terms. Materials used must be described fully to include thickness, size, color, etc.

PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATIONS: The terms "functional" and "performance" are used interchangeably to designate an approach to specifications that is less interested in dimensions and materials and configurations and more interested in what a product does. The performance specification is less interested in how a product is made, and more interested in how it performs, how well it performs, and at what cost. Performance purchasing is results orientated in terms of function and cost. In contrast to the design approach, performance specifications afford the manufacturer or bidder sizable latitude in how to accomplish the end purpose. Performance requirements describe the characteristics and capabilities that are pertinent to the intended use of the article.

a. Departments using performance specifications must explain in detail the results required, testing methods, and characteristics that the goods or service must perform.


Create a design/performance specification.

This should include: A statement on what your product/project is supposed to do/look like. Complete specifications will include necessary drawings, plans, dimensions, terms, and definitions of non-standard terms. You also need to include materials used and described fully to include thickness, size, color, etc.

There is not set length for this 'project,' but you must include all of the above criteria.

Remember: here we are dealing with the investigative phase of the Design Cycle, and gathering our resources as eluded to in Polya's method.


Home | Audio | DIY | Guitar | iPods | Music | Links | Brain and Problem Solving | Site Map | Contact


Creative Commons License