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Specifications are documents: nothing special about them really. I'm not even sure why they're called specification, apart from the obvious appeal to specifity - and hence, one would hope and suppose - accuracy and attention to detail.

Certainly in the sense that I've always used the term, a specification has always meant a detailed document fully describing some problem or solution domain.

The table below lists the common types of specification document that I've come across in my various travels:

Type of specification



Accessibility refers to the degree to which a person can access and use a website using any web browsing technology. A fully accessible site is one that is designed to make use of the latest web technologies (Flash, AJAX, video, etc) whilst at the same time accommodating the needs of those who have difficulty with or are unable to use these technologies. Even today, when the issues are much better known, the utility of requiring websites to be accessible is not fully appreciated.


I've written elsewhere about brands as memes: that's a theoretical discussion. In the terms I mean, a brand specification is a richly descriptive enumeration of values and descriptors, annotations of all relevant visual devices (e.g. logo and imagery) and explanations for all provocations, straplines and other uses of language.


Sometimes brainstorms can get messy: sometimes they benefit from the rigour of trying to explain in words exactly what it is that got everyone so excited. That's a creative specification.


Where an interactive design specification is all about the "what" of an interactive service, a functional specification is all about the "how". Usually written from a technical perspective, its purpose is to remove ambiguity prior to a technical implementation by accurately describing all functional components.

Interactive design

Also called a "design document" or IDS, an interactive design specification is a detailed description and explanation of all relevant aspects of a website design. At its core are annotated sitemaps and wireframes for all relevant pages and - depending upon the kind of site in question - other specialised content items, e.g. mini applications or games. An IDS will also usually contain descriptions of specialised content items, as well as information on technical, display and accessibility issues. This is a central Definition document.


A requirements specification is the output from Discovery. It's purpose is to "echo back" states-of-affairs to relevant stakeholders, by specifying lots of "we understand that..." statements. The aim is to pose and then answer as many questions as possible about the problem domain, so that consensus emerges on what needs to be done.


A technical specification is the right and proper companion to the interactive and functional specifications mentioned above. Its purpose is to flesh out the rigour of the functional specification with technical detail.

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