Lesson # 8: Design Briefs
Objectives: By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:
- Describe how design briefs can be effectively used and
misused in Technology Education, noting their strengths and weaknesses.
- Compose an appropriate design brief for Technology
- Plan instruction in Technology Education centered on a
Instructions: Please read through this page. Some of the highlighted areas are
activated just by holding your mouse cursor over them for a while. Others are external
hyperlinks. When you are done with this page, please complete the assignment at the end,
and attach it to an email message to the instructor.
Briefs? No, design briefs are not designer
briefs. The guy at the right is wearing designer briefs, and ugly ones at that. Design
briefs are concise descriptions of a needed design task. For example, if you wish to
remodel your home to accommodate a growing family, then you are mentally forming a
statement of a needed design task: "Redesign the current home so that ..."
Why Use Design Briefs? If you want your students to engage in creative problem solving
activities, you may wish to use design briefs as an aid to provide structure. They let you
clearly craft a design problem. However, because the teacher selects the problem, students
do not get practice in looking for, finding, and defining problems on their own.
Industrial Design Briefs: In industry, design briefs come in many forms. Many are simple
design problem statements, but others include a host of parameters . For example,
in redesigning a house, it may not be possible to build an addition if the current house
already has the maximum footprint allowed by zoning laws.
When is a Design Brief not
a Design Brief? Technology teachers have
increasingly used design briefs, because the movement to teach technology students to
design technological artifacts has been growing. Some teachers are so sold on the practice
of using design briefs, that they use them for every lesson, even when it is
inappropriate. A true design brief must outline some design problem. A teacher might
appropriately use a design brief to have students design a new flashlight, for example.
But it would be inappropriate to create a worksheet for students where they solve problems
dealing with Ohm's Law, and to call
that a design brief.
Activity: Which of these task statements is appropriate to include as the
main task of a design brief in secondary school Technology Education? Opinions may vary,
but you should decide whether each of the following is appropriate for a technology
education design brief. Then hold your mouse cursor over
each one to read the instructor's opinion.
Draw a new floorplan of your house so that
it has wheelchair access.
Build the wooden stool on page 153 of your
Determine which of the samples of metals
is the best electrical conductor.
Build your own appearance model for a
wrist-watch / Internet access.
Come up with a plan for your community to
maximize recycling of all recyclable materials.
Design and build a throwing knife.
Write a song about how the telephone was
Visit 5 Internet sites that explain
how products are designed.
The Format(s) of Design
Briefs: There are many formats that may be
used for design briefs. All of them should include a clear statement of the design task,
and a description of parameters. For technology education students, other information is
particularly helpful. See what Drs. John Ritz and Walter Deal of Old Dominion University
have written about the
format of design briefs in technology education. Pay special attention to the names of
each section of the design brief, and to the wording of the challenge statement.
Examples of Design Briefs: Look at the design brief on wind vehicles following the format described above.
Compare it to Get Off the Deserted Island, a design brief for elementary school
students. Finally, look at a few of the design
briefs tackled by technology students in Hermosa Beach, California.
Too Much or Too Little
One of the trickiest parts in writing design briefs, and in using
them with students, is determining just the right amount of structure. If you give too
much structure, you can stifle creativity and inappropriately limit students' options.
There are three ways that unwanted structure is too often included in design and problem
solving activities. These involve the challenge statement, the materials available, and
Using Design Briefs with
Grouping: Although design briefs can be assigned as individual work for
students, they are especially well-suited for small-group cooperative learning. With small
groups of two or three, the synergy among students can lead each group member to greater
heights of creativity.
Introduction and Lesson
Planning: Students should be introduced to the
format of a design brief. Therefore, a lesson plan should be used to enable you to plan
your introduction, the execution of the design brief activity, other activities in the
class, and closure to the lesson. Unfortunately, some teachers attempt to use a design
brief as a lesson plan. It should be obvious that the plan for a lesson is very different
from a lesson using the setting of a design problem.
Timing: Design briefs are usually short, and their execution is usually
quick. Work on a design brief often lasts no more than two days, but may be as quick as 2
minutes. Where the curriculum is flexible, some teachers have successfully used a single
design brief that spans an entire semester. This is especially useful if the students are
working on a national technological competition.
What Work Should Students
Submit? There are different approaches as to
what would be submitted by students. Usually, teachers ask students to submit a model of
their solution, and to verbally describe to their fellow students the design and
development process they followed. Previous sketches are usually used to illustrate this
Learning: Failure is good. So is success.
Design and problem solving are processes that often encounter failures on the road to
success. Unfortunately, the limitations of a typical classroom do not always permit
students the time to turn failures into successes. It is therefore critical that teachers
appreciate the value of a trial-and-error approach. So while students should aim for
success and should be rewarded for success, students should also be rewarded for
creativity, resourcefulness, and for pursuing a solution. Other criteria may well be used
by a teacher (e.g., aesthetics, cost, utility, ergonomics.) Evaluating design activities
is more problematic if a teacher expects each student to learn the same content by the
same method; some teachers find the use of a checklist helpful. Instead, a more flexible
approach is suggested.
Assignment: Your assignment is to write an original design brief to accompany
the topic you selected in Lesson 7. Upload the design brief (in html format) to your web
site, and send the instructor an Email message
containing the URL. The subject of the message should be "Lesson 8 Assignment".
Before you begin, please read through the following tips, using them as a checklist as you
compose and upload your design brief:
- Make sure your topic is clearly appropriate to technology
- Be sure the topic asks students to come up with their own,
- Write the design brief for the reading and interest level
of your selected group of students.
- Indicate the grade, class, school, and your name on the
- Include a catchy title.
- Set the stage in a Background or Context area.
- Make sure your Problem Statement or Challenge is very clear
and concise. If you expect them to draw, build, model, test, or make, then use those
- Do not give them a complete, step-by-step procedure. Let
them move through their own design processes at their own rates.
- Include other sections of the design brief at your
- Use good graphic layout. Try to fit the entire design brief
on a single page, without clutter. Use eye-catching graphics.
- Proofread your work. Make sure there are no errors in
grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, or content.
- Have a friend read your design brief, without any
explanation from you. Ask the friend their impressions, and what solutions they might try.
- Upload your work.
- Visit your uploaded work to make sure it appears as you
intend it to.
- Send the instructor an Email.