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.
Need or opportunity
Every brief is a response to a need or opportunity.
Identifying an authentic need or opportunity may take some research and careful analysis of the context. If exploration throws up a number of possible needs or opportunities, the technologist needs to select one that offers scope for technological development and then justify their choice.
The brief should clearly describe an outcome that will meet the need or realise the opportunity, taking into account the physical and social environment in which it will be situated/used.
Parts of a brief
A conceptual statement describes what is involved; the ‘who, what, where, when and why’. It is based on the findings from the research and investigation a student carries out into the problem, need, or issue
Attributes and specifications
Attributes and specifications describe the requirements of the outcome to be designed and developed.
Attributes are broad requirements - such as ‘safety’, ‘portability’. Attributes are often developed as a first step to developing specifications. They can mean different things to different people.
Specifications are specific requirements that are measurable - such as ‘must have rounded edges to be safe for a toddler’ and ‘be lighter than 1kg so that a toddler can carry it’. They provide a criteria against which the final outcome can be judged as fit for purpose (or not).
Unlike specifications, attributes are broad descriptors – relative, not measurable.
Attributes and conceptual design – this 14 minute YouTube presentation by Cheryl Pym describes the differences between attributes and specifications, design ideas, and teaching strategies.
A developing brief is an iterative process
An initial brief can usually capture the student’s first thoughts and ideas when considering a problem/need/issue.
A brief continues to be developed and refined throughout the life of a project in response to ongoing research, consultation with stakeholders, technological modelling, changing constraints or circumstances, reflection and evaluation, and the technologist’s own developing practice. A developing brief can describe an intermediary outcome of what the student is designing and developing (technological practice), for example, a scale model. In this case, the brief will outline the purpose of the functional model (to communicate and/or test the potential of a concept for development into a technological outcome). The specifications will relate to the model itself.
Refining initial attributes into final specifications requires extensive research and trialling and testing of design ideas.
The brief is developed in an ongoing manner within any project, and should be finalised prior to the completion of the outcome, so as to serve as the evaluative tool against which the final outcome is judged.
Physical and social environments
A brief should take into account where the outcome will be used and who will be using it - the physical and social environments in which the outcome will be developed and situated.
- The physical environment refers to the spaces where the outcome will be developed and finally located. Factors to be considered include area, topography, temperature, lighting, wind, weather, noise, nearby objects/features, and hazards.
- The social environment refers to the complex of human factors – for example, ethical, cultural, political, economic – that will influence the acceptability and viability of the outcome when placed in its destined location.
Technologists/students must prioritise (rank by importance) physical and social environmental impacts and influences, as well as other factors that come up in consultation with key stakeholders and the wider community.
Stakeholder feedback is an integral part of brief development. When seeking feedback, technologists choose how they will communicate the brief (for example, oral, written, or visual). The medium should be chosen to make the process as straightforward as possible for stakeholders.
Acknowledgment: This paper is derived from an earlier version by Dr Vicki Compton and Cliff Harwood.