Many designers and team leaders postpone documenting the design process until it’s over. Time is already limited and they want to focus on design and product development first. They can worry about documentation later.
But this is a dangerous approach. Memories fade and something that was clear just a couple of weeks (or even days) ago may be hazy when you finally get around to writing your documentation… and it might be something crucial. This can have all sorts of consequences, from confusion to implementation mistakes. Documentation, therefore, should be viewed as a vital part of the design process.
I’ll show you why design documentation is so important. I’ll share my process so that you can easily keep track of all of the important information during your own project.
What is design documentation?
Design documentation is a collection of documents that cover all of the most important aspects of your product or service design.
It keeps everyone on the same page and if there’s a new team member, it lets them know what’s been done, why it’s been done, how to implement certain elements, what’s next, and more.
Design documentation includes information about target users, product features, essential implementation details, design decisions that you have agreed upon, project deadlines, and anything else that the project requires you to keep track of.
Why you need design documentation
Design documentation is important because it tells the story of why and how a product or project was designed. It helps everyone involved understand what was done and why, so that the final result is the best it can be. Having design documentation also makes it easier to fix and update things later on. Basically, it makes the design process smoother and helps ensure the success of the project.
Having no design documentation can result in a number of problems:
- Bits and pieces of information will get lost. Reasons for changes will be tough to recall. Either you’ll have to spend more time searching for answers as to why something was done, or you’ll have to move on without them.
- Insights will be disconnected. There’ll likely be plenty of data but no coherent source of findings that your team could benefit from.
- Lack of clarity. Teams will continue working in their own way. Marketing, UX, developers, graphic designers, and others won’t be in sync with one another.
- The design process won’t be efficient.
- Inability to scale or iterate: If the design process and decisions are not documented, it can be difficult to scale or make changes to the product in the future.
Design documentation benefits
Source of truth
Everyone needs access, and everyone needs to understand how to use the documentation. A single source of truth in design systems is like having one special rulebook where we save all the rules and all the information is regularly updated
There will be multiple people working on a product. The people implementing the design may not be the ones who created it. In some cases, they might have joined the process at a later stage. Having design documentation with some implementation details, or even step-by-step instructions, will make their job much easier and will result in far fewer questions and mistakes.
Documenting design and design changes is also very helpful when it comes to analytics and metrics tracking. For instance, it enables us to connect any spikes in traffic or conversion rate fluctuations with certain changes and actions that we took. It gives us the ability to look back and see how design affected other areas, what worked, and what didn’t.
How to properly document design
Make sure that:
- Design documentation is easy to use and searchable
- The documentation process must be consistent and have a clear structure.
Alongside these, there are some important aspects that you need to take care of:
Ensure documentation is up-to-date and clearly marked
What is the latest version of a certain document? Make sure that everybody knows how various versions are marked and minimize the risk of confusion and incorrect decisions.
It’s a maraton, not a sprint
Design documentation is not a one-time activity. You won’t be able to create all of the documents before the project, and that’s not the point of it. You have to work on it incrementally. That’s why it’s so important to create a flexible, accessible structure which other team members can update as well.
Provide visuals and code samples
Now we’re moving into design system territory. However, if you can show actual design samples and resources in your documentation and what team members should use, it’ll be a lot easier for them to translate information from the documentation into design decisions and coherent design.
My design documentation process
I wrote an extensive article about design documentation here.
It focuses on the design system documentation. It has everything you need + my Figma Community file “Design documentation template” for setting up your own organized design file. 🙂
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