What Is a Design Specification?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A design specification is a detailed document providing information about the characteristics of a project to set criteria the developers will need to meet. Design specifications are used for everything from laying out plans for a new space ship to addressing the design concerns of a pencil holder. This document provides guidance to the development team and also allows the client to have clear input into the design process. With expectations clearly established at the beginning, confusion on both sides can be eliminated.

A design specification is a detailed document that sets criteria for construction of a building, road or other project.
A design specification is a detailed document that sets criteria for construction of a building, road or other project.

One part of the design specification discusses the intended use and the nature of that use. Developers working on a new stretch of highway, for example, would discuss where the road will run, how many lanes it has, and how many cars it should see in a day, based on preliminary research. The purpose of the project should be clear from this section of the design specification to eliminate design problems like failure to prepare for an anticipated use.

The design specification will also include a detailed description of the specifications, including dimensions, weight, overall cost, and so forth. It should discuss laden and empty weights as well as any other topics that may be relevant. The more detail, the more easy it will be for the development team to deliver precisely what the client wants. Details can also be important in the event of a dispute; for instance, if a company orders bookshelves of a specific size and the finished product isn't right, it can point to the line in the design specification and ask to have the shelves made again.

This document creates a useful rubric for evaluating performance. At the time of delivery, the client and development team can go over the document as a checklist to make sure all the criteria were met. If the team can't address a particular specification, they need to provide information about why, and should contact the client during development to discuss the situation and talk about various options for addressing it. For example, if it is not possible to fit six seats in a car, moving the trunk might resolve the issue.

Both sides should read a design specification very carefully before authorizing the next step in development. Clients need to read it to see if the characteristics they want are represented. If something is missing or it does not meet the desired criteria, they should request revisions. Development teams read the paperwork over to plan out the development process, and if they identify something they know will not be feasible or that could create a conflict, they should discuss this before accepting the contract.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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