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10 March 2013

Design Considerations & Constraints - Design Specifications - Ideation & Refinement

This post was first published on 15 February 2011. Edited 10 March 2013.

Whiteboard Demo (2011)

Class Demo (2011)

Pre-Design Considerations Must Knows

Before you start drafting your design considerations, you must know the outcomes of your design opportunitySome design opportunities are inclined to an improvement of certain functions or safety. Some is targeted at a specific target audience. Some aims to solve a bugging problem that seems to have no viable solutions at the present. Some are proposed to create fun while using. 

Knowing precisely what you want out of your design proposal helps a lot in drafting a good set of design considerations. Because that will mean you will be very spot on in identifying the areas of considerations. Otherwise yours will simplistically be stating the obvious universal areas like, products should be safe for users and must look good, must be colorful, etc.

Design Considerations

The design considerations phase is where you make a list of factors that need to be considered in broad terms. You do not need to go into the details (i.e. the specifics) at this stage.

The type and number of factors you have is unique for each project. That means everyone will have their own set of design considerations specific to their design briefA good set of design considerations accurately addresses the unique areas of concerns of your proposal as written in your design brief. 

The design considerations and constraints will sound like, "If I want to (insert your design brief here), what are the areas I must consider and what are the areas of constraints (or limitations)".

I suggest you include a healthy list of 

  1. functional requirements, and
  2. requirements relating to how you want your users to interact with the product. 

Those will come in VERY handy when you start your Idea Generation phase.

Design Constraints (or Limitations)

Design constraints (of limitations) are the extensions of design considerations

In every design attempt, there will be limitations or constraints or some form of hindrance. Some projects may be constrained by physical space or budget. Some limited by the choice of materials or colors. And most with a time constraint.

Drafting your Design Considerations & Constraints

To draft your Design Considerations and Constraints, you may begin with asking the following question out loud in your head:

'To (insert your design brief here), what must I consider? I must consider ....'

'To (insert your design brief here), what are are some of the constraints? The constraints are....'

! Research for Design Specifications !

Every factors that appeared in your design opportunities and constraints should prompt and lead you to an area of research. They must be researched to gather relevant data and/or information about them to be written as Design Specifications

It is also at this stage where various critical dimensions (product dimensions) and anthropometry data are gathered.

Some examples of researches:

Critical Dimension: If you are designing a ketchup bottle holder, then you will be researching on various brands of ketchup and take measurements off the bottle. You might also be interested in average diameter across all selling brands in Singapore. 

Areas: If you are designing a piece of furniture to be placed in a room, then a possible limitation data would be the maximum area the piece of furniture should take. That specified area will determine the maximum floor area that newly designed furniture should occupy.

Anthropometric Data: If you are designing a chair for a child, then you might need the average bodily dimensions of a child of a certain age group. Which specific dimensions you need depends on what you will be designing. Do not take measurements for the sake of taking them. 

Weights: If you are designing objects to be handled by the elderly who have weak arms, then the product should have a limit to its overall weight. Research might be in the form of experimentations on how comfortable in terms of weight the elderly can carry. Or from any reliable research medical data, etc.

Functionality, usability, costs, time, etc. are other factors that can be researched for drafting the Design Specifications whenever possible.

Remember to include images, photographs and annotations for all your research.

The Design Specifications

This is probably one of the most important phase in your design journey apart from finding a real design need

The linkThe design specifications are specific instructions for the purpose of Idea Generation . In other words, the list of design specifications specifies and details all the functional and the aesthetical requirements of your product. i.e. that your product MUST do.

A good set of design specifications sets the path for Idea Generation. Ideas can be generated to satisfy one specification point at a time and eventually synthesized to include all the specification requirements.

You might be interested to note that the number of points for your list of design specifications happens to be same number of points from your list of design considerations and constraints. 

So you never have to ask your teacher 'how many design specifications must I write?". 

An example showing how a Specification point is created:

A typical thought process for design specifications will be,

"I want to (insert your design brief here). One of my (1) consideration is the internal diameter of the ketchup bottle mouth. I did my (2) research on that and got an average of 25mm from five different brands of ketchup available in FairPrice and Shop & Save supermarkets."

Now my (3) design specification is, 'The product must be able to be inserted into a bottle mouth that is not bigger than 25mm in diameter".

Idea Generation & Refinement

A super brief guide on Idea Generation:

Step 1: 
Focus on one specification point at a time

Step 2: 
Generate ideas that satisfy the functions first

Step 3
Always check the usability of your ideas with the target audiences. Keep on refining the functionalities until it works.

Step 4: 
Refine the aesthetics (styling).

Step 5
In no particular order, constantly consider product functionality and usability, refine material choices, number of parts, jointing methods, overall size, suitability of color choices and combinations, type of finishing, suitability and practicality of user-solution-environment use.

Step 6
Always summarize your ideas by re-drawing your solutions in context showing the user using the product and the product used in its environmental context.

A reminder to all my students or online students: 

The journal is for you to record your thoughts, thinking processes and your decisions. Recordings can be done with annotations on relevant images (if required).


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Aysham Ali. Glad you found this post helpful.

  2. thank you sir for writing on this topic.

  3. helpful...i am a dt student

    1. Dear student I am glad you found this helpful. All the best in your coursework.


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