Post 3 -by Gautam Shah


Specifications help to recollect or reenact a happening. Specification formation is also a process of improvisation and rationalization. Specifications are likened to a cookery recipe, a set of instructions for materials and methods to generate a product or initiate an action. A specification is the ‘best possible definition or explanation at a given time, for a given situation’, a continuously evolving experience, where familiarity reveals greater details.

From Description to Specification

Specifications at a very basic level could be a description listing the physical qualities such as size, weight, shape, colour, feel, etc. of a thing. These also cover changes profiled in ‘time‘, in the thing itself and the surroundings. One needs to define the process for occurrence. When a description consists of both, the physical characteristics and the processes, sequenced in time, it becomes a Specification.

Trying to deal with Cannon early Experience 1326 > Wikipedia image by Walter de Millimeter

Negative Specifications

When goods and materials are comparatively new and their effects are not fully known, ignorance and fear dominate. Negative specifications, therefore mention, undesirable aspects that must be avoided. Negative specifications relate to things that are harmful, unpredictable and debilitative for life. All specifications initially tend to be Negative, but gradually become Affirmative. Negative specification may, however, remain ‘independent statements with insufficient corroboration’. Negative specifications are eliminating, and so allow a vast degree of openness. Results or creations, through negative specifications may prove to be unexpected and even detrimental. Gradually, with realization of all causes and effects, the initial Negative Specifications become elaborate and affirmative statement or Positive Specifications.

Affirmative or Positive Specifications

When things are familiar and their effects are well documented, affirmative Specifications come into being. A specification becomes affirmative on being corroborated through detailing of all sub aspects or parts. Affirmative specifications gain their clarity through cross references or dependency on similar other specifications. Affirmative specifications are very rigid, complete and positive, so allow little variations, alterations or improvisations. For these reasons these do not seem very innovative, however, results are better guaranteed. Negative specifications are too thin, whereas the affirmative specifications are too elaborate and technically complex. A reliable and secure way out of such a dilemma is to look for a Comparative Condition somewhere, and relate to it.

Gillette safety Razor Patent Specifications > Wikipedia image

Comparative Specifications

Comparative Specifications are dependent specifications. Here an item is imitated or referenced because it offers an assurance. People, who are technically incompetent to define a problem or its context, tend to seek a known product. An original thing may be perfect in its own, but the same in a different context or environment may precipitate unseen problems. It is very difficult to search for a root cause of a fault, or a deficiency through such specifications. Comparative specifications are usually non-innovative or creative.

Commercial illumination products > Image attribution: Geoffrey.landis at English Wikipedia

Forms of Specifications ● Messages or Documents

Oral instructions or messages are the simplest way of conveying details. These are ordered or delivered in chronological order, or at least have some cause-effect arrangement, and so seem action-oriented.

Written or recorded documents are substantial means of conveying the specifications. Documents are complex and bulky as these also include methods for access, reference, and interpretation.

Memo to w.en.J. Edgar Hoover regarding a request by CIA director > Wikipedia image

 Forms of Specifications ● Traditional Specifications

Traditional Specifications define constituents and production processes. Primary way of specifying a thing is through the measures, sensorial aspects and physical qualities. Time definitions like, rate and quantum of change are required. Items flourishing for their Performance (output-input, yield rate, productivity, etc.) require checks and evaluation processes and operational assurances through guarantees and warrantees.

Example of Material safety data sheet > Wikipedia image by Jeffrey M Vinocur

 Forms of Specifications ● Specifications of Technical Nature

Specifications of Technical Nature depend on drawings and flow charts (scaled representations and surrogates using symbols, metaphors, etc.). Drawings show size, shape, scale and such other physical details, but require a written backup to show the sensorial aspects like weight, speed, odour, warmth, etc. Drawings are sometimes backed with scaled models (art cartoons, mock-ups, dummies, samples, pilots, etc.), or full-size replicas.

Architectural drawing cum specification > Wikipedia image by user:Gaf.arq (CC-By-SA 2.0)

 Specifications Formats ■ Brand-name Specifications

Brand-name Specifications are restrictive, and limit the bidding to a single product. The only competition will be between various suppliers of the same product.

Brand-name or its Equivalent Specifications cite one or more brand-names, model identity or other details to identify certain category of products. The vendor is asked to show that offered product is indeed identical. The procuring agency reserves the right to determine equivalency. Brand-name or its equivalents have perhaps a legitimate ground, but very limited place in public purchases.

Specifications Formats ■ Lists of Qualified or eligible products

Lists of Qualified or eligible products are maintained and periodically updated by Government’s agencies, for purchase of commonly used items by various departments. A vendor quotes + or – over the quoted price. In India, DGS&D (Directorate General of Supplies & Disposals) creates such lists. The term goods used in this manual apply to articles, materials, commodities, livestock, furniture, fixtures, raw material, spares, instruments, machinery, equipment, plants but excluding books, publications, periodicals, etc.

Specifications Formats ■ Design Specifications

Design Specifications also called Item Specifications. This is a traditional scheme of creating an item, or prescription of what an entity should be in its completed form. Here the manufacturer or supplier is emphatically told what and how to produce or deliver, leaving no chance for technologically or economically a superior item.

Ammunition by India’s OFB > Wikipedia image by BharatRakshak

Specifications Formats ■ Performance Specifications

Performance Specifications are the expectations how an entity should function or what performance it offers. The specifier communicate the requirements as to, What will be an acceptable product, and How the adequacy of the product will be judged. The vendor gets substantial freedom in offering the most appropriate technology. There is a tendency to demand performance requirements that are very high in comparison to actual projections, which leads to cost escalation. Problems arise when test methods for judging adequacy of a product could require a ‘Destructive Testing’ or a ‘Laboratory or Plant-based facility’. Full activation or critical testing of an atomic reactor may not be feasible, or a long term performance of material cannot be checked in any setup.

Operations – Servicing Specifications > Wikipedia image by Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA)

 Specifications Formats ■ Operational Specifications

Operational specifications relate to the functioning of the item. Operational specifications are not performance specifications, but details about mitigating risks arising out of operation of a system.

Dependent and Independent Specifications

Dependent and independent specifications have a web of dependencies. These specifications are variously linked to use of parts, components, tasks, materials, equipments, costs and operational charges, and so once included, any alterations need to be carefully monitored. Such specifications cannot be changed without any consequent repercussions. Though, rationalization of a sub-aspect helps in rationalization of the larger object or job, yet restrain is necessary.

Open-ended system Specifications of ADSL Modem/Router > Wikipedia image by Mike1024 on en.wikipedia

Specifications for Open-ended and Closed-ended Products

◆ Some creators wish to protect their creations from marauders, so intentionally design an inaccessible or closed system. Such closed ended products or ‘close ended architecture‘ lose the favour when equivalent open-ended objects are available.

◆ Products in public (domain) have specifications that are ‘open-ended Architecture‘, and always preferred by the users. Such products allow greater degree of customization.

Specification writers such as designers, aspire to conceive parts and tasks which are independent, or at least have a designed or controlled inter-dependency. Plug in micro chips of modern electronics and other add-on systems are examples of such purposive design.

Design Specifications

Design Specifications are aimed at creating or procuring a product or assembling them to form an invoice-able item. These are substantially whole, and similarly identified in Estimate schedules. So often variants of design specifications also appear as brief description on drawings and estimate schedules, each contradicting the other.

Performance Specifications

Performance Specifications are holistic, and so, ideally should not include a separate or single item of work. Design if any relates to the exterior (such as fitment, size and shape parameters, etc.) rather then its interior (its constituents, method of working, etc.). But these set of specifications are distinctly stratified. 3 & 4 state Requirements and Verification and so most important ones.

Strata of Performance Specifications

  1. This Level offers the scope and background information of the project. No requirements are stated here, and even if implied, are not binding.
  2. This lists all the documents that form the set.
  3.  Performance requirements are stated here, and these are binding.
  4. Testing and Verification requirements are stated here matching to the performance requirements.
  5. This lists all peripheral aspects of work, such as handling, packaging, shipping, delivery, precautions, etc.
  6. This section contains information (such as method of submission, bid evaluation, etc.) and other data.

Statements of Work (SOW)

Statements of Work (SOW) are unique to each acquisition or proposition document. It documents details of the work to be performed. It consists of first three tiers (see previous para) only. A Specifier (Designer) must prepare on own, or alternatively can seek it from the bidders. There are three types of SOWFunction based, Performance based, and a combination of the two. Selecting the type of SOW depends on how User wants to govern Specific Contract Requirements.

Lettering stencil per DIN standards > Wikipedia image by Breitschrift, CC BY-SA 3.0

Citing Specifications and Standards

By citing published Specifications and Standards one can make a specification document very compact, extremely reliable, and automatically updating. On the wrong side, citing an incompatible or a cancelled version is unprofessional. When a Specification or Standard is cited, one may actually be citing a lengthy and voluminous chain of documents, many sections of which may not be relevant or impossible to understand. Some of the cited documents could be obsolete or cancelled.

Specifying a wheel chair for performance by early-Oing (1680) artist for Confucius > Wikipedia image

 Strategies for Creating Performance Specifications

It is very difficult to conceive a fresh set of exclusive performance specifications. But one can gradually and consciously reformat the traditional specifications with inclusion of performance parameters for standard parts and components. Many resources are available to form performance specifications such as, Government departments and large corporate groups which prepare indexed descriptions of commercial items for frequently or routinely required products, Performance oriented descriptions as available in public domain purchase bids, Trade associations, commercial organizations, or technical societies often develop coordinated standard specifications, for the warranted performance of items produced by their members, Government Departments design and publishes Model Specifications for use by their own sub departments and agencies. Specifications of well-organized departments like defence, telecommunications, etc. can be used for further understanding of the methodology and Market analysis as available in technical journals can show the ranges of performance that are currently possible.






Published by

Gautam Shah

Former adjunct faculty, Faculty of Design CEPT University, Ahmedabad and Consultant Designer

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