V. Ryan © 2001-2010

The Problem and Design Brief are sometimes viewed as two different sections of the design process. However, they are very closely related. Before you can can start a design project you must find a ‘problem’ to solve. Sometimes this may be given to you as a question set by the teacher or the Examinations Board and is usually a paragraph of writing. The ‘design brief’ follows the ‘problem’ and states clearly how you intend to solve the design problem.

Below is an example of a design problem and brief. Remember, the presentation is important especially if you are taking the Graphic Products course. Above all the problem and brief must be easy to read and follow, clearly saying what the problem is and how you intend to solve it.



A number of houses have been broken into on my street. It has been noticed that the number of strangers walking down our street has increased lately and house holders are becoming concerned about the security of their houses. The police have advised people to make their houses look as if they are occupied when they go away for a holiday or even out for the evening. This may deter a potential thief from breaking into either the house or garage.

The Neighbourhood Watch scheme has also been introduced recently and this has helped people feel more secure. However, even though neighbours will keep an eye on your property if you decide to go out and leave the house empty, they cannot watch twenty four hours a day.

Often even the police ignore house alarms when they are activated because of the high number of false alarms.


I am going to design and make a security device that will make my house look occupied when, in fact, it is empty. Police statistics clearly show that houses are much more likely to be broken into when they are empty. Consequently, if the house looks occupied it is likely to be safe.

The device will be mobile so that it can be moved from room to room, easy to set up and control and also cheap to make. It must not be powered by mains voltage and in this way it will be completely safe to be left ‘on’ for a long time and will not be affected by power cuts. It will be activated by anyone approaching the hose from the front or back.

It must deter even profession crooks from taking an interest in our house and even convince people in the street that the house is occupied.




The brief and problem shown below has been produced for a project based on an educational toy.

The brief and problem is mainly text (writing) that is printed in a clear style so that it can be read and understood easily.
2. The problem is a paragraph or more in length. It describes the problem you are aiming to solve. Do not say how you intend to solve the problem, only what the problem is. If you have been given a examination question as your design project, add more detail. The example opposite is based on the following examination question:
“Design and make an educational device for young children. It must improve hand and eye coordination”.
The problem written opposite is a more detailed and imaginative way of writing the examination question. A pedestrian crossing simulator has been selected by the pupil as the educational device.
3. The first sentence should state the problem, adding more detail with the following sentences.
4. If the examination question does not name the product that has to be designed and made (such as an educational device) - you can mention an area that you are interested in. This could include, jigsaws, puzzles or something that could be adapted as an educational device.

1. Always start the design brief with “I am going to design and make .....”. This is followed by a general description of the type of device you feel will answer the design problem.
2. Do not be too specific. The brief should be a general description that allows you flexibility regarding the type of product you intend to make. For example, if your are designing an automatic animal feeder it may be a good idea not to say the type of animal it is for, at least not at this stage in the project.
3. Do not be specific about materials. It may be wise to avoid stating the exact materials it will be manufactured from (eg. pine, steel, perspex etc...). Instead describe the materials to be used as strong, tough, flexible, natural, manmade, recycled, water-proof or similar general descriptions.
4. Mention points such as; safety, general size, what it will do (it’s functions), general properties of the materials needed, who it is for (eg children), basic cost of manufacture or a lower and upper cost limits, circuit requirements and other points you feel are important.



A. Is there a product that you could improve for a hobby or interest?
B. Is there an item that you use every day that could be improved? Is there an item that could be adapted for disabled people or young children or the elderly? or another group of people?
C. Ask your friends and relatives. They may have a few suggestions about design problems you can solve that will help them.
D. Do not be over ambitious. Do not select a design problem that is too complex.
E. Ask the teacher for advice and look at completed projects for inspiration.
F. Complete your homework on time. Do not fall behind as you may find it impossible to catch up.





1. A sample design problem is seen below. Read this problem carefully.

A local company has found that sales of its educational toy range are falling. This is due to competition from other companies, especially from abroad.
The company sells a range of toys all aimed at helping young children learn. Some are number games and others help children learn the alphabet and to read simple words. Other toys help children develop hand / eye coordination.
However, in recent years more imaginative and interesting games/toys are been manufactured by other companies. If our local company does not design and manufacture more interesting games/toys it will slowly reduce its workforce and eventually shut down.

2. In order to fully analyse the design problem to be solved list the key words / phrases..


3. Take the most important key words / phrases and explain what each one means.

A company usually employs people. They may work in a factory or shop. A company is a business but also an organisation of people who work together in order to be successful. A company pays wages and has other cost but always aims to make a profit.


Most companies aim to make sales of their products. If they do not sell their products they will not make enough money to pay wages and to invest in new equipment and machinery. A company that is not making money is said to be ‘in the red’. A company that makes money is said to be’ in the black’. All companies need customers as these are the people who buy the final product.


Most companies have to compete against other companies making the same product. Usually the customer decides which product is the best by deciding to buy it, or not. To be successful a company must have efficient, up to date equipment/machinery. It must have well trained staff and manufacture a quality product. Customers must be satisfied that the product they are buying is value for money.

As a child grows up his / her coordination skills develop. He/she becomes better at using their hands and fingers and ensuring that their hands and fingers do what they want them to do. Very young children have poor hand/eye coordination - they have difficulty picking items up. Encouraging children to develop good hand/eye coordination skills is important.

All companies have markets for their products. A market is usually composed of customers of a particular age range or particular types of people. For example, some products may be designed for young children whilst other products may be designed for old age pensioners. Sometimes a company may target certain people to encourage them to buy their product. This is usually done through advertising. A company may sell its products at home and abroad.

Young children learn in many ways. Usually a child will learn quickly if what they are doing is fun or exciting. Many games and toys involve the use of numbers, letters or words. Sometimes shape and movement is integrated into a learning toy/device. Sound, even if is caused by mechanisms rather than electronics encourages a child to learn.

4. When you have fully analysed a problem you will be ready to write a meaningful Design Brief.

Write a problem and brief for a project of your choice. Try identifying a design problem that you have experienced yourself.