How to write a product specification for a physical product

If you’re looking to create a physical product I’m sure you have lots of ideas about how your product looks, what it does, how it works, what it consists of, etc.  No two product descriptions should (hopefully!) be the same.

Having a clear product specification is really important, for many reasons.  Don’t worry if it seems daunting.  I’m going to tell you all you need to know, so you can create yours with confidence. Don’t worry – I’ll be keeping it simple!

erg Product Consultant podcast

What is a product specification and why do you need one?

A product specification is a full description of your product, what it is, what it consists of, what it does, etc. 

This would give a potential supplier all the information they need to confirm whether they can meet your brief and what it’ll cost.  (Note: It doesn’t need to include all they’d need to actually produce it – that can come later.)

Having a clear brief is really important as it’ll help you get crystal clear on what your product is and make it much easier to narrow down suppliers.  

What do to first

Hopefully you started out with an idea for a product, you did some research, got some input from customers, looked at the market and your competitors.  You can now use this to shape your product into the best product possible.

If you’re thinking about writing your product specification then I hope you’ve already carried out some customer and market research. 

If not, go back to these episodes and blog posts first:

Once you’ve done all of this you’ll be in a great place to start.

Why do I suggest you do all of this pre-work before writing your product specification?

  1. You’ve hopefully used what you’ve learnt from your customers, the market and your competitors to really refine your product, down to the smallest details.  It’s important to figure out what makes your product unique from other, similar products already on the market.
  2. Doing this work in advance means you have a really clear idea of what you’re looking for and a really tight brief.  This makes the sourcing process a lot simpler, as it’s much easier to start ruling out anyone who can’t meet your specification.
  3. If you’ve done the work and are still here, it means you’ve had some validation that there’s a need for your product and that the costs stack up and it can be profitable. I always think it’s good to have that!

What kind of things should my product specification include?

Your specification needs to include everything someone would need to confirm that they can meet your brief (or not) and give an accurate quote for your product.

It doesn’t need to include everything they’d need to make it.  I don’t suggest sharing designs, patterns, recipes, blueprints, prototypes, etc, with anyone else at this stage.

Of course, you need to have this for yourself, but I don’t suggest sharing this until you’re chosen the supplier you’ll be working with. (Even then, depending on your product details, if you have a patent, etc, you might want some kind of formal agreement drawn up before handing anything over.)

Also, don’t worry if you don’t have everything right now. i.e. if your logo isn’t finalised.  You will of course need this for production, but don’t let it hold you back from starting to spec out (and then source) your product.  

Here are some of the things you might include in your production specification:

  • A brief description of what your product is
  • The sizes and / or dimensions 
  • The weight
  • Material(s) to be used
  • Any specific notes on quality and finish
  • Colour(s) / patterns
  • Designs 
  • Will the product have variant?  If so, how many and what will these be
  • How you want your product packaged
  • Ingredients or components to be used or omitted 
  • The number of items in total – i.e is your product a pack containing more than one product
  • Any branding requirements – i.e. do you want a sticker on a box, or custom-made packaging
  • Any labelling requirements – i.e. do you require a washing label, or a swing tag applied

This isn’t a definitive list, as the requirements vary so much between different products and product types.  It’s just a starting point and you may well have plenty of your own requirements to add.

To give you an idea, some of the additional requirements I have for my bamboo hooded towels is that they’re 580gsm, chemical-free and white, yet unbleached.  I also have my own design embroidered on the hood, in 3 specific colours that I have the references for.

My bowls and plates have my logo on the bottom of the bowl and on the spoon.  I also had requirements for how they’re packed and I needed the colour option specified on the outer packaging.

How do you write a product specification?

I suggest using the list above as a starting point and listing out all the details you have.

 

For example:

Product: Muslin swaddle blanket

Size: 90 x 90cm

Material: 100% bamboo

Variants: 4x designs, each with 2 colours

 

This will then form the basis of any communication you’ll send to potential suppliers and manufacturers.

I also suggest pulling together sketches, photos, etc, to help explain what you’re looking for.

You can put this together in a presentation if you like, but I do suggest having some text that you can easily paste into an email.

Of course, you also need to think about the information you need from any potential suppliers too – but this is another subject.  If you want to read more right now, take a look at common questions about sourcing a product.