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Ministry of Education.
Kaua e rangiruatia te hāpai o te hoe; e kore tō tātou waka e ū ki uta

Brief development

A brief is a statement that guides students to design and develop a fit for purpose, successful outcome. The brief guides the design thinking processes and is a core element of ‘intervention by design’; the essence of Technology education.

Brief development is an authentic, iterative, and very personal, and ever evolving, dynamic process. Because of this, how students approach it, can look different as they bring their individual personalities and approaches to iteratively refine it, describing and justifying the outcome that is being developed.


Technology HOD Carol Rimmer describes how she approaches brief development.

Duration: 08:30


I think if our students understand brief development – they do understand tech practice. They need to understand both the process and the purpose of developing a brief in order to understand technological practice.

If I develop a unit of work, this involves brief development – then I can include all the three strands into that unit of work because it is so broad. 

But it is important that the students understand the difference between developing a brief and writing a brief. There is a key difference. Developing a brief is iterative, it is interactive, it is ongoing, it moves, and it results in an evolving brief. So it’s important that, as teachers, that we give the students the opportunity to – for the students to identify an authentic need or opportunity. If it’s contrived, the technology ends up, or the practice ends up, as “me, myself, and I". The student makes all the decisions and the tech practice is weak.

So there’s two main ways of starting. There’s – and I like to start with the context. In some cases, the student will identify a key stakeholder or a client and we’ve had a wonderful example on the TV at the moment. We’ve had the case of the student who identified a need to be able to cut kindling safely. So she developed an item; an outcome, that held the timber over the blade and then it was smashed and kindling was formed. That is an authentic need or opportunity that a student has identified. 

Some teachers like to start with a context and a broad context, and it really depends on choosing which way you start. You have to look at your students; you have to look at your resources; you have to look at the confidence of the teacher; in order to put a context in front of the students that’s going to allow a range of outcomes. And I also like to make sure that in that range of outcomes it’s going to allow the students depth and breadth of practice.

Some of the contexts that we use at our school you will have heard before – outdoor living, indoor living, entertainment, child’s play, teen scene – we do them all. But what it does allow, it allows us to work across the faculty. We can choose contexts that we can work on together in our different subject areas and that can have its value as well, but we don’t always do that either. But choosing a context that allows a range of outcomes, allows the students to then make it their own.

So the next step then is to, for our students to understand that they need to interact with people. As they’re developing their ideas, they need to be making sure that it’s going to be fit for purpose, for the stakeholders, for the wider stakeholders – and that’s the community within which the outcome’s going to be placed and who’s going to use it, and the place it’s going to be in, the physical environment. There also has to be some constraints around where it’s going to be produced, because our school workshops – if that is the case of where the outcome will be produced – may provide some constraints.

So the best way of interacting with the people and the place is through functional modelling, and I see functional modelling as an evaluative tool. It’s where they collect their research together, where they trial ideas, they test ideas, they talk to people, and they ask themselves those kind of questions like: Can I do this? Should it happen? Is it suitable for the environment? Is it suitable for the people? Is it safe for that child to play with? All of those things that I was taught are “go”, “no-go” situations. And through functional modelling the brief will start to evolve. And as they are making key decisions, I see the brief as starting fairly simply and then moving into a brief that will describe the final outcome.

So there are two main parts to the brief. There’s the conceptual statement – and I always say the conceptual statement tells the story, it’s the purpose, it’s the identified need or opportunity, and where the student states the full purpose of the intended outcome, who’s likely to use it, who’s going to be affected by it (because it isn’t always the person who uses it that considers what happens around the outcome), and the environment where it’s going to be placed, and in some cases any constraints on time and resources. So that’s the big picture. 

Then they start with general requirements – if you like – of the actual outcome, and sometimes it’s just ideas that come from the students and then they evolve by talking to the stakeholders. So we get physical and functional attributes and again they’re still broad descriptors. But as the functional modelling takes place, they start to confirm and they become specifications.

By confirming the specifications, they’re often in the two categories of physical and functional, and it’s the physical – are – is about the looks, the feel, things like texture, the colours. Those are the style, are the things that we would call physical specifications. Function is about what it will do. And we do expect, when they get to specifications, that the students can test and prove that these specifications do happen in the outcome, and so that the outcome is fit for the intended purpose.

So as the brief evolves, the conceptual statement becomes fuller – if there’s such a term – and the specifications become tighter so that the outcome can be evaluated. So where in the final brief, which is what we expect at the end of brief development, it’s a full description of the outcome that meets or addresses the issue and is fit for the intended purpose, for the people in the place, so in the social and in the physical environment.

My challenge to teachers would be to be involved. When I say that brief development is interactive, the teacher is in there “boots-n-all”. And so they need to set up situations where the students understand what a brief looks like. And some of the things that we do is that we may unpack a product and write we call a “reverse brief” – so that we write a brief for an existing product and the specifications for that. We talk to people in industry and see how they deal with briefs. We might look at past students' work. There’s no harm at all in looking at what students have done in the past and analysing how they have got to the point where they’ve got a good final robust brief. 

But to me the challenge to teachers is it's not a hands-off activity. We have to be involved and it’s about asking those challenging questions. We need to be moving the students on from their pre-conceived ideas – if you like – and making sure that the student is getting the best out of the information that they have got in front of them.                       

Brief development: Key ideas (Word 2007, 132 KB)

Acknowledgment: This paper is derived from an earlier version by Dr Vicki Compton and Cliff Harwood.

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