how do you spec in china?

what specing format do you use initially for writing up a spec and updating later on?

of course constant and consistent documentation is required.

my company only works with one factory in ho jie town, and they require all specing and spec updates in excel. IMHO- excel is not the most efficient way to spec products, there are many limitations and it’s incredibly time consuming.

at my previous job, we would write up a spec in doc, pdf it and then any adjustments were just documented solely in emails.

am i off base for feeling excel is a terrible instrument for spec-ing?
the only advantage i can see is that its charted and fairly consistent.

I wouldn’t get hung-up on the software being used. Excel files can be formatted to look just like a .doc file with a little work. But it’s not really about the format - it’s about the content.

I know a lot of companies that use Excel as a poor man’s version of MS Project for timelines. The price of MS Project is stupid high ($695). If you know how to build decent formulas in Excel it can be used for a lot of product development spec. and tracking tasks.

The key to developing good specs for China manufacturing is to look into the future and guess what aspects of manufacturing are most prone to screw-ups, then write specs to help reduce the probability of errors. Having said that, sometimes it’s the simple stuff that gets borked.

I have a saying… In China, what should be easy is hard, and what should be hard is easy.

Excel should be only one of your tools in china. Almost all manufacturers in China should be able to accept 3D files. I would suggest to complement your excel files with 3D or at least 2D drawings.

@ c-m-e

I’m afraid your problem is the ever present ‘China factor’ (note HK and Taiwan are exempt) in regards to excel being used for spec’ing projects. You have possibly come across one of the following situations:

A: The pirate copy of word/adobe acrobat has failed and they are too lazy and or incompetent to get a working copy installed.

B: Too lazy and incompetent to work with anything they don’t know already, (took me an age to wean my graphics slapper off Coral Draw and join us in the year 2000+ which uses illustrator). Thus you have sent a file they don’t like the look of and are unwilling to use it as it would divert time from shopping on taobao or playing happy farmer. This may save them 5 minutes and cost you an hour but better your time than theirs.

Now you could go about having them actually installed a copy of adobe reader, point out it’s freely available. But as ho jie town is probably in the middle of nowhere of a middle of no where province, so common sense is probably in short supply. The only true way to get them to change is to be personally on hand to deliver the universally understood sign of dissatisfaction, this being a slap to the back of head, which is hardly worth the plane flight.

However being a supportive type you could always use the following freeware for spec’ing projects:

Which is at least as good as MS project, yet 100% free as I have been informed by my French friend, he also recommended the use of pictures as these are normally more easily understood and digested by the 中国人。

Hope it helps.

3.5 years in and counting the days to release.

Doesn’t Open Office include a project management component?

No no no no to Excel. This is how you spec quarterly reports, not products.

I personally create a tech package, using Illustrator, and saving all the files into one multi-page PDF. This PDF contains drawings, material call outs, construction/manufacturing information, sometimes a page of pure text (etc, etc, etc). This way it, more or less, can’t be edited by anyone who sees fit, and I know the client, factory manager, and workers in the prototyping rooms will all see the same thing. That’s my method, I’ve seen many others use this method too (seems to be industry standard for my specific industry). But I’m sure there are many others out there.

In my opinion, using Excel would make me feel less professional, and make me think my clients would also feel this way about me. You’re being hired to do things that your client cannot do. So I feel like using a program that your client is probably an expert at, makes you less credible. We should use programs that are more powerful than accounting programs for Industrial Design. Just my two cents.

Best of luck!

I likewise follow a similar process to Taylor (multi page PDF made in Illustrator).

I work in footwear and Excel is common however for end use by the factory. I have a format that I’ve made as a final spec cost breakdown I have all the factory complete for all final products. It allows a much easier review of each part supplier name, material, color, usage, cost, loss, etc. With so many components and as a costing tool this is easy to use.

Illustrator or a PDF is good for initial spec, but if the supplier can’t update it, they can’t ensure the spec is up to date following any revisions. After initial samples, the original spec is pretty much useless aside from a place for the supplier to write notes on and manually update on paper. There is normally very little point in updating a drawing or PDF spec after each round as the sample is the living spec.

The excel CBD is just for costing and reference. The CFM sample is the “spec”.


Ditto to the multi-page package as done by Richard and Taylor. But I use Corel to create it because it supports multi page documents (although the latest Illustrator might finally do that, no?). And I also then convert it to a “locked” PDF.

Sometimes I include an Excel doc, but only for categorizing repetitive information.

Yes, Illustrator can do that now by creating multiple artboards.

I’m pretty much in agreement with the rest, although I use InDesign vs. Illustrator, and often ZIP up any CAD files along with the doc.

You have to go there and be face to face at important points in the product development process. Being there is everything and no software will solve that problem.

When I work with Chinese fashion shoe factories, they insist on Excel, on their own factory spec sheet. (Because it has both Chinese and English on there). Any additional info I send pdfs.