Abstract : Systems design has become a key challenge and differentiating factor over the last decades for system companies. Aircrafts, trains, cars, plants, distributed telecommunication military or health care systems, and more, involve systems design as a critical step. Complexity has caused system design times and costs to go severely over budget so as to threaten the health of entire industrial sectors. Heuristic methods and standard practices do not seem to scale with complexity so that novel design methods and tools based on a strong theoretical foundation are sorely needed. Model-based design as well as other methodologies such as layered and compositional design have been used recently but a unified intellectual framework with a complete design flow supported by formal tools is still lacking albeit some attempts at this framework such as Platform-based Design have been successfully deployed. Recently an "orthogonal" approach has been proposed that can be applied to all methodologies proposed thus far to provide a rigorous scaffolding for verification, analysis and abstraction/refinement: contractbased design. Several results have been obtained in this domain but a unified treatment of the topic that can help in putting contract-based design in perspective is still missing. This paper intends to provide such treatment where contracts are precisely defined and characterized so that they can be used in design methodologies such as the ones mentioned above with no ambiguity. In addition, the paper provides an important link between interfaces and contracts to show similarities and correspondences. Examples of the use of contracts in design are provided as well as in depth analysis of existing literature.