What Is a Product Design Specification?

Maggie Worth

A product design specification is a collection of statements detailing the required elements of a project to be designed. This can include physical details, such as size, weight, or color, but may also include functional details, such as the tasks a product must be able to accomplish or the needs it must meet. Such specifications are a critical preliminary step in the product development process.

Procurement engineers often play a key role in a product design specification.
Procurement engineers often play a key role in a product design specification.

Frequently, a number of people contribute to a product design specification. Common specification development team members include individuals from project management, procurement, engineering, graphic design, and production. Members of the information technology, operations, safety, and shipping departments also may be involved in some cases. If the product is being developed for a client, members of that client's team, possibly from the sales, marketing, and customer service departments, may participate as well.

Functionality and appearance are key issues when developing a product design specification.
Functionality and appearance are key issues when developing a product design specification.

When developing a product design specification, the team is usually concerned with two main issues: functionality and appearance. When considering functionality, the team must compile a detailed list of operations the product must perform. For example, if a client asks for a new showroom display to help sell kitchen cabinets, the team will need to know what decisions the consumer will need to make in order to choose cabinets. This might include selecting a door style, a hardware style, a finish, and other options such as full-drawer slides and trim pieces. The specifications should include a list of those decisions so that the designers can find a way to address each.

The functionality consideration also includes usability in a real-life situation. In the cabinet example, the product design specification team would need to know details about the environment in which the display will be placed. In particular, they will need to know the maximum allowable size of the unit. They must also consider the average height of the shopper, so that they do not design functional elements that the average shopper can not easily see or reach. They must also consider where the completed displays will be stored, how they will be shipped to individual showrooms, and who will be assembling them, as these factors determine how the display is engineered.

Appearance is the other main part of a product design specification. This can include graphic elements, such as any logos or lifestyle shots that should be incorporated. Product budget typically also is a factor, as it will determine what types of materials can be used. Appearance can also include the overall feel of the piece.

Continuing with the example of the kitchen cabinet display, the team will consider the price point of the product. If the cabinets themselves are at an entry-level price point, the display should not look too high-end, or customers will perceive that the product isn't for them. If the cabinets are high-end, the display must be as well, or customers will perceive that the product is not valuable.

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