© 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited.Purpose: This paper aims to present key characteristics of educational design briefs for the circular economy (CE) through the analysis of 11 design briefs focussing on real-life challenges related to sustainability and the CE, developed with collaborating industry partners for four consecutive circular design internships conducted in Ireland, Catalunya, The Netherlands and Sweden. Design/methodology/approach: These four internships were conducted between September 2017 and June 2019 and each internship lasted three to four months. The supervisors for each internship collaborated with local industry partners genuinely interested in adopting sustainable business practices to develop design briefs focussing on real-life challenges they face. The briefs for each internship were developed further according to the feedback of the interns, industry partners and supervisors of previous internships. Findings: Five steps of brief making for circular design were identified as reviewing the existing resources, emphasizing the importance of systems thinking, emphasizing the importance of collaboration for the CE, focussing on circularity and communicating expectations. The paper outlines how design briefs changed throughout the consecutive internships according to the different curricula and the characteristics of an educational circular design brief. Originality/value: For design educators and researchers, the value of this paper lies in presenting the steps for the brief making of educational circular design projects. Additionally, the characteristics of circular design briefs are outlined, discussing their focus and content to act as a guide for design educators.