How To Write An Effective Design Brief

How To Write An Effective Design Brief

One of the keys to success for any project is the design brief. An effective design brief acts as a roadmap for the project team and helps set up a successful partnership. So, how do you write an effective design brief?

Determine a fit

The first goal in potentially working together is to determine the best fit. We want to work with as many clients across as many industries as possible, but not all design or engineering firms will fit every client or every project. Our firm has experience across many markets and leverages this experience to bring ideas, technologies, and methods to different industries. Typically, the more technical a program gets, the higher the demand for specialized individuals and experiences that may suit one firm better. 

Finding the right firm to deliver on your specific deliverables is key to a successful relationship, and understanding this fit starts in the design brief.

Understand your needs

Gaining a clear understanding of your industry and its challenges is an essential part of developing our relationship. Every client is different not only in the markets they operate in, but each has its own challenges, business conditions, management styles, and internal capabilities.

  • Past challenges and lessons learned for the application of the current project.
  • State of the industry, marketing challenges, and business conditions.
  • What are your business goals for the project investment including timelines, ROI and return on innovation?

Get your ducks in a row

All too often we leave a review of a client’s design brief with more questions than answers. This is a crucial step in alignment with our clients, but a few common areas lead to dwelling periods and wasted time. 

  • Create an internal project team of key stakeholders that will need to give feedback throughout the alignment and development process.
  • Relevant research or lessons learned on a specific challenge or the industry overall.
  • An understanding of budgets and cost targets, if available.
  • Any related CAD to help understand the position of the program currently and the effort needed to get CAD to a level we can kick off development.
  • Ensure your delivery format for internal CAD systems and REV levels.

Establish a clear understanding between the client and design/engineering firms

To cut down on potential future headaches, it is important to understand the intended outcome of a program. This quickly aligns both parties on end deliverables and overall expectations that will come out of the work we do together.

  • Challenges for different user groups that we intend to overcome.
  • How do we plan on measuring the success of the project?
  • Establish a cadence for design reviews. We have found weekly or bi-weekly touch points are required to keep everything moving forward and all parties up to date on progress.
  • Budgetary estimates available to execute on the goals that have been identified. There are many ways our team engages with a client. By understanding a rough idea of project funding, we can better understand how to approach the program to best suit your needs.

Breakdown phases and key milestones

Everyone has some type of internal process they follow to develop a product. These processes tend to vary case by case in how phases are described and what percentage of the overall budget is applied they follow a similar ideology. 

The standard project development process is research, ideation, concept development, engineering, and documentation. Phases also include areas for prototyping, testing, and analysis depending on the details required by the program. Understanding how our client views this process and how it will be reflected in the project gives us a good understanding of the overall project flow and team alignment.

  • Key phases required to deliver on project goals.
  • Project activities per phase to further understand how the client views the project breakdown.
  • Milestone dates and how they relate to our client’s master timeline. These dates are critical for understanding loading and prioritizing activities to run smoothly as an extension of your team.
  • Understanding our role and fit within the current project structure.

Benefits of an Effective Design Brief

Project briefs vary greatly depending on the type of program. The development of a rock-solid project brief is critical not only to a firm using the brief to quote the program but also to our client’s internal teams to gather a deeper understanding of the program. Beginning a project with an undefined brief tends to lead to fluctuating costs from suppliers who don’t have a clear understanding of what is being asked of them. This can lead to commercial issues down the road. By taking some time to work through the finer points of the brief with the key stakeholders involved in the program’s success, everyone gets a clearer understanding of their roles and responsibilities needed to achieve the desired result. 


How Can We Stay Focused and Energetic to Drive Innovation?

How Can We Stay Focused and Energetic to Drive Innovation?

January seems like a perfect month to reflect on the past year and map out plans for the year ahead. This is counterintuitive thinking in business. We are all off to the races with aggressive business goals and personal aspirations to become better humans and drive innovation. I considered several topics for this blog before catching myself to focus on one of the highlights of my business travel from 2022. I am lucky to be able to attend industry events every year. Liberated by our team and supported by our project work with great Clients, I methodically research each show to optimize my time and identify new projects for our team and key suppliers. This is tricky to do since there is an opportunity for advanced concept development in all industries. The emergence of “new mobility” concepts, alternative energy or EV technologies, and autonomous driving are just a few of the emerging and evolving industries we work in to make a positive difference. It’s exhausting and invigorating to research, plan and travel to shows with an eye on new opportunities and working on personal development. I have been blessed with these challenges!

IAAPA Insights

In November of every year, I travel to Orlando to attend IAAPA for a few days. The pandemic, of course, impacted the themed attraction industry in extreme and challenging ways. Ticket sales went immediately to zero and guests were not in the mood or position to buy tee shirts or princess dresses. It was a uniquely different period in our history. As a nation, world and individuals, we all found ourselves in a time of challenge. The lucky businesses survived or, in some cases, thrived depending on the industry, product or service offered. These dark times are behind us and there are now significant opportunities for business growth and personal development. I attended the kickoff event of IAAPA and the Orange County Convention Center. The lineup seemed intriguing and I am always amazed by the production values on display and the keynote speakers. The speaker this year was Abigail Posner from Creative Effectiveness Teams at Google. Ms. Posner offered up a premise that “creativity and innovation drive business growth.” This is an easily embraced concept. Execution towards this goal is challenging for most leaders and many teams. Groupthink settles into most organizations and a fresh look at ourselves, cultures and teams helps us pivot and find new ways of working. The 30-minute presentation resonated on many levels. The five key takeaways offered for our consideration and application in our work and life were as follows;

1. Tap into your unique gifts

I continue to wrestle with the reality that my gifts are limited to a few key attributes. “Let the birds fly and the fish swim” sums it up neatly. Hire great people, give them the tools required to succeed, and stay out of the way. 

2. Just say yes.

So often in life, we look for a way out of opportunities that are a stretch for our talents. Look for ways to embrace opportunity and jump into the deep end. 

3. Look for the links

Cultivate your network and identify connections and contacts to build on collaboration. 

4. Teamwork it

Innovation is a team sport. Look for opportunities to work with cross-functional teams in all areas of life. Remember you are very rarely, if ever, the smartest person in the room. 

5. Share with others

Give back to others in all areas of your life and pay it forward.

Share for the act of sharing with no expectations for a return.  The timing for this message was perfect. I left the event with renewed energy and focus to drive innovation. This learning moment has very little to do with meeting new contacts or exploring emerging technologies. It was one of those experiences that come along when we put ourselves out in the world, navigate airports, and simply show up when we have the opportunity.  My plans for this year include attendance at a minimum of four industry events, team development and growth, working on my lifelong learning goals, reading one book a month, working with charitable organizations, and teaching at Northwestern University.  Please share your thoughts and plans for increased effectiveness and innovation for the new year.

Best wishes for future success! 


Featured image illustration by Sol Cotti

AI: Effect on the Future of Automotive Design and Development

AI: Effect on the Future of Automotive Design and Development

Artificial intelligence (AI) has made significant strides in recent years and has the potential to revolutionize the automotive industry in a few ways. From self-driving cars to advanced manufacturing processes, the integration of AI in the design and engineering fields is likely to impact the automotive industry significantly.

Artificial Intelligence in Autonomous Vehicles

One area where Artificial Intelligence has the potential to make a significant impact is the development of autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles rely on various sensors and algorithms to navigate roads and make decisions in real time. These systems must be able to accurately perceive and interpret their surroundings, as well as predict the behavior of other vehicles and pedestrians.

One key advancement in AI that has enabled the development of autonomous vehicles is machine learning. Machine learning algorithms allow autonomous vehicles to “learn” from data, improving their performance over time. For example, an autonomous vehicle might be trained to recognize pedestrians, bicycles, and other vehicles using a large dataset of labeled images. Once trained, the vehicle can then use this knowledge to make decisions safely navigating roads and avoiding collisions.

Artificial Intelligence in Design and Manufacturing Processes

In addition to enabling the development of autonomous vehicles, AI can also be used to improve the efficiency and accuracy of manufacturing processes in the automotive industry. For example, AI-powered robots can be used to assemble vehicles with greater precision and at a faster pace than humans. These robots can be trained to perform tasks such as welding, painting, and assembly using machine learning algorithms, allowing them to adapt to changes in the manufacturing process and learn from their mistakes.

AI in Manufacturing

AI can also be used to optimize the design and engineering of vehicles. For example, machine learning algorithms analyze data from vehicle simulations and testing to identify areas for improvement. This can lead to the development of more efficient and reliable creations of new design possibilities that may not have been previously considered.

Another potential application of AI in the automotive industry is in the development of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). These systems use sensors and algorithms to assist drivers with lane keeping, collision avoidance, and adaptive cruise control. By continuously collecting data from sensors and learning from the behavior of other vehicles and pedestrians, ADAS systems can improve their performance over time and make driving safer for everyone.

Benefits and Concerns of Artificial Intelligence

There are also a few potential benefits to AI in the automotive industry beyond just the development of new technologies. For example, the integration of AI in manufacturing processes could lead to cost savings and improved efficiency. Similarly, the use of AI in the design and engineering of vehicles could lead to the development of more energy-efficient and sustainable transportation options.

However, the integration of AI in the automotive industry is not without its challenges. One major concern is the potential for job displacement as AI-powered technologies become more prevalent. While it is likely that some jobs will be replaced by AI, it is also possible that the integration of AI could create new job opportunities in fields such as data science and machine learning.

Another concern is the potential for AI systems to make mistakes or operate in unintended ways. As with any complex system, there is the potential for errors or unintended consequences when using AI. It is important for companies developing and using AI systems to have robust testing and validation processes in place to ensure the safety and reliability of their products.

In Conclusion

Despite these challenges, the integration of AI in the automotive industry is likely to bring significant benefits and opportunities. From the development of autonomous vehicles to the optimization of manufacturing processes, AI has the potential to transform the way we design, engineer, and manufacture vehicles. As technology continues to advance, it will be important for companies and individuals in the automotive industry to stay up to date on the latest developments and consider how they can be leveraged to drive innovation.

If you have any questions about the rate at which AI is advancing, know that this blog post was written by chat GPT. The prompt: write a blog post on advances in AI and how they could affect the design and engineering fields as they relate to the automotive industry. GPT is a machine learning model that generates natural language text based on a given prompt. It has been trained on a large dataset of text and can be used for tasks like translation, summarization, and text generation. It uses a neural network architecture called a “transformer” to process language data.


Advanced Themed Attraction Industry Developments

Advanced Themed Attraction Industry Developments

Over the past several decades, the team at Fredricks Design has worked with demanding design and engineering teams in diverse industries. While industry standards vary depending on the project, product, and intended use, the team has developed the capability to come up to speed and adapt to new projects quickly. Whether it be working with unique project teams or different cultures, we never fail to deliver excellent work under tight timelines and budgets. As our capabilities grew, Fredricks Design identified a fit in the themed attraction industry – specifically in rides, animated props, and special effects. Our deep experience in vehicle development, cockpits, interior systems, and seating for cars, trucks, and heavy equipment fit this industry’s needs well.

Entry Into The Themed Attraction Industry

Low volume production of custom build projects is a key requirement of success on entertainment projects. Rides and props are produced in quantities of less than ten units. The projects perform for decades under rigorous conditions. The team at Fredricks Design wanted to learn more about this industry, so we set about the hard work of presenting the firm and pursuing the first few projects.

Since that initial entrance into the entertainment industry, Fredricks Design has worked with prime vendors for entertainment brands. Our skills in design and studio engineering fit perfectly with concept development projects. Many Clients requested manufacturing capabilities for the outsourcing of turn-key “prime vendor” projects. After exploring several manufacturing suppliers, we had the good fortune to connect with Prefix Corporation based in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

Like Fredricks, Prefix is a second-generation, family-run, and Michigan-based company. We began working on projects together, and by October 2018, we had framed and finalized a strategic partnership. This partnership allowed us to pursue and develop projects from concept development through fabrication, assembly testing, and installation of rides and animated props. Our partnership continues to thrive, and we are excited about the future for our Clients and diversified growth for our partnership and team.

Forward Thinking

We have learned many things over the past decade working in the Themed Attraction Industry. Our team has worked on multi-axis motion rides, animated props, advanced concepts, and full-scale mockups. Our portfolio of projects includes work with the largest and best-known entertainment brands in the world. We have also worked with innovative startups on projects from research, sketch, and concept development through production engineering deliverables. It’s been a wild ride and a wonderful adventure with fantastic friends! A big thanks to our Clients, partners, suppliers, and design and engineering team!

These are a few reasons we are driven to continue working in this unique and demanding industry:

  1. We grew up watching cartoons and animated movies. We feel humbled and thankful to help bring stories to life from sketch through the installation of the guest experience. 
  2. Families and friends build lasting memories in the theme parks we help create. 
  3. We work with some of the world’s most demanding creative and technical teams.
  4. We are challenged with performance and technical requirements to ensure the safety of park guests and protect the long-term investment of every project.  
  5. Our engineering team adheres to rigorous technical and performance standards to ensure the function and long-term durability of the systems.
  6. We are challenged with tight budgets and timelines. 
  7. Working as an extension of the Client’s creative and technical team, they task us with delivering complex rides and props. These will run for 18-hour days over years and decades with scheduled preventive maintenance.

Themed Attraction Industry

Attendance At IAAPA

We are now preparing for the annual Themed Attraction industry event in Orlando. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions is an opportunity to connect with friends, make new contacts, attend educational events, and tour the show floor to experience emerging technologies for future application.

Emerging and evolving themes for the industry will include the blend of VR and physical experiences. It will also host motion control technologies, character-based attractions, scaled rides for small footprints, and the application of advanced materials and assembly methodologies. Stay tuned for a recap of our insights from IAAPA in a future post.

Before attending the show, I will play in the golf event on Sunday, November 13, 2022. This special event will benefit the Give Kids The World Organization. Hosted right before IAAPA, the event speaks to the spirit of community and giving that thrives throughout the industry. It is an opportunity to relax, play golf, and reflect on why we love this industry!

Please reach out if you would like to connect at the show or set up a review of findings and insights. We are ready to help with your future projects, big, small, or medium in scale. Thanks for our past and future projects!


Project Management insights . . .

Project Management insights . . .


Project Management insights…

We apply phased methodologies with milestone reviews to develop projects from research and ideation phase, into feasibility and through concept development. In many instances, our concepts are handed off to an internal Client team or supplier to further develop production release deliverables. The overall project timeline and costs can be compressed when the concept deliverables are robust, accurate and developed with production constraints in mind.

As many companies and technologies work to develop less siloed approaches to design and development the traditional phased approach still leaves much to be desired. We have focused our time and resources to develop a design team focused on bridging these silos to digest the key information from one phase and get a jump start on applying it in a fashion that is digestible to the next phase or team.

The ongoing pandemic has forced companies to reduce headcount to contain fixed costs. In addition, there has been a widely reported exodus of experienced talent entering early retirement. These two conditions have resulted in a significant talent exodus from core teams at a time when smart and seasoned project management is needed to develop innovative solutions.

To compound the challenges, inflation is eroding the buying power of corporations and increased competition demands reduced costs to develop products and services. We are, indeed, living in interesting times!

During a recent project review, we sparked a discussion about different ways to improve team performance. An initial comment led to an impromptu workshop about our role with Clients and different ways to improve team performance. We work as an extension of the Client design and engineering team, and we are all accountable for our deliverables. We win only when our clients win.

We identified several key features of a successful project that should be applied to all innovation initiatives with creative and technical teams. Here we go…

Take the time to write a well-defined project brief…

Work diligently with your cross-functional team to construct a clearly written design, engineering, or project brief. This key document will guide the team through the twisting journey traveled to take an idea through feasibility and proof of concept and physical property development.

Our experience with leading companies in diverse industries has shown that most teams rush through the design brief to start moving on the project. This is especially true of lean teams working with reduced headcount and erosion of experienced management.

Teams get stressed when unrealistic budgets and deadlines are shared with little planning or rationale for the demands. This leads to attrition and ultimately the challenges of recruiting new talent in a hyper competitive landscape.

We provide a guide on how to develop a well-defined project brief on our website. This can be found here: Fredricks Design Step by Step Guide to Building a Realistic RFP

Plan the work and work the plan…

After all members of the team have provided input to the brief and approved the document, an equal amount of energy and focus should be dedicated to the plan for key phases of the project.

In many cases, the early phases of the project are compressed to reflect a short timeline for ideation, feasibility, and concept development to make room for additional time and capital to complete production engineering and tooling.

It is our belief that if sufficient time is planned for the early phase of any project, the investment will be returned in later phases via reduced iterations, leaner design and an enhanced end-user experience. A lack of well-informed planning in early stages of development begins an uphill battle that leads to increased iterations due to unexpected feedback from production and engineering teams. This effect snowballs throughout the program forcing delays in timing and headaches for all parties involved.



Team growth and flexibility…

CEOs and leadership teams are now beginning to consider options for growth. Do we recruit and hire for our core team, engage with external resources, or pursue a hybrid model blending incremental growth to the internal team while working with flexible resources?

We have found success through turbulent times in the hybrid model. Our core design and engineering team is lean, and we engage with proven, flexible resources to scale up for sold projects.

We have also forged a strong partnership with Prefix Companies to offer turn-key solutions from sketch through manufacturing, assembly test and installation of vehicles, rides, animated props, and furniture. This flexible offering provides our clients with a wide range of services scaled to the unique requirements of each project. We are liberated to identify the best materials, processes, and methodologies for each project.

We welcome your comments on this article. Please visit us at and download any of our content offers. We look forward to working together when the time is right!

Best wishes for future success on all of your projects!

Maury Fredricks

Mobile +1 616-402-2300

Consumer Electronics Show 2023

Consumer Electronics Show 2023


CES 2023 is just 7 months away…

The show in Las Vegas is only seven months away! Now is not the time to relax on projects for CES 2023!

We are ready to help solve your problems!

Adient Ai19 Demonstrator

Our team is ready to help on your projects, of any scale and complexity.

We offer flexible and scalable design, engineering and build solutions for advanced vehicles, cockpits, seating and interior systems.

Adient Ai19 Demonstrator Interior

We have deep and diverse experience.

Demonstrators, vehicle development, interior systems, seating, cargo systems, lighting and mirrors

Exhibit consulting, kiosks, displays and tech review support solutions

Please visit us at or call Maury Fredricks at 616-402.2300 to get the ball rolling…Thanks for our past and future work with your team! Best wishes for a successful year and fantastic show!

All images provided by Adient Studio with permission for our use. Fredricks Design, Inc.

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