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Is UX Design Documentation Killing Your Productivity? Here's How You Can Streamline It

UX design documentation might not seem that important for today’s agencies, and it can pale in comparison to research, client interaction, and development. However, documentation will always have its purpose in design; it helps the client understand how the final product will look and feel, and it helps designers have a clear development roadmap in mind. Good documentation emphasizes the end user’s pain points and establishes ways in which the new design will solve them while at the same time providing a framework for developers to follow.

And yet, most design teams dread making the product documentation because it takes them too much time and kills their productivity. And what’s the point anyway, do you need yet another document before you start work? Well, it depends on the type of documentation you have in mind. If your team’s idea of documentation is a general document that could apply to just about every project and that’s just there to create a paper trail, then yes, that kind of documentation only wastes your designers’ time without bringing anything useful to the table.

However, targeted documentation, which drives decision-making and gives your team actionable insights, is a must, and it can greatly streamline UX design. So, how can you prevent documentation from becoming meaningless paperwork and killing your team’s productivity?

To answer that question, let’s have a closer look at what design documentation is and what purpose it should achieve.

What is design documentation?

Design documentation is a set of guidelines and documents that lay out all the details of the design process, including:

  • the end-user
  • product features
  • deadline
  • implementation timeline
  • UX design decisions that the client has agreed on

While it’s easy for documentation to become an afterthought, the truth is that done right, documentation can make your work easier by:

  • Putting the UX design team on the same page with stakeholders.
  • Establishing clear project requirements.
  • Establishing each team member’s tasks (considering that more and more development companies now work remotely, documentation has become all the more important).
  • Aggregating all details about the project into a single place, making it easier for UX designers to refer to it when they don’t know what to do.
  • Explaining the vision behind the project (Why are we building this? What are we trying to achieve with it?)

What’s the best design documentation format, and what details should you include?

When it comes to the format, there is no one-size-fits-all. It all depends on the scope of the project and your own preferences. For example, some agencies like to keep things visual and do wireframes in OmniGraffle or Photoshop pages. If it’s not too much of a hassle and it works for you, go ahead. However, for most agencies, PDF is the format of choice for UX design documentation because it’s easy to use, and just about everyone is familiar with it.

For even more efficiency, you can give your design team access to PDF tools that can easily split, merge, rotate, rearrange, and edit PDF files. Even in this day and age, 33% of workers waste time with document versioning and editing, so avoid that by giving your team everything they need to access and use documents. If the documentation is longer, then separate it into multiple documents, with corresponding headings and subheadings, so that designers can easily navigate it.

Once you’ve settled on the right format, it’s time to consider what will be included in the documentation, and here, you have to be as specific and useful as possible. Here are the details that every UX documentation should cover:

  • The scope of the project
  • Requirements (business and technical)
  • Services to be delivered (wireframes, mock-ups, prototypes)
  • Target user – this will help the designers make informed decisions and create a relevant product
  • User journey
  • Design & style guidelines (color scheme, fonts, etc.)
  • Implementation roadmap and/or project timeline
  • Post-release tasks (testing, QA, new versions, etc.)

UX design documentation lifecycle

It might sound odd, thinking about the lifecycle of a document before embarking on a project but, if you want your agency to become Agile, then you have to realize that a single document can impact your workflow. In simple terms, the lifecycle of documentation means the path that the documentation will take before you no longer need it. Who uses it, and why? In general, the longer the documentation stays relevant, and the more people it helps, the better.

Ideally, the documentation should serve as many people as possible, not just designers. When creating documentation, keep the entire team in mind, including product managers, developers, and QA testers. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself making four different documentations, and, at this point, you’re drowning in paperwork.

Documentation Development Life Cycle (DDLC) shares some of the principles of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC): analysis phase, designing phase, development phase, and maintenance phase. Why maintenance? Because one of the biggest mistakes you can make when drafting documentation is to forget about it after release. Things can change throughout the process, which is why managers should review the document once a month and modify it if necessary.

Mistakes to avoid when making the design documentation

By avoiding these six mistakes, you can prevent the documentation from hindering your workflow:

  • Avoid non-targeted documentation that doesn’t help anyone in particular.
  • Documentation should be usable. When deciding on its format and layout, don’t choose something highly specialized that only part of the team can access or knows how to use.
  • Don’t send your team long, needlessly complicated documents. If you’re working on a complex project and you don’t have a choice but to write 40 pages of documentation, at least break it down into easy-to-browse sections. Otherwise, they’ll skip and prefer asking their colleagues about it, and that not only wastes time but also creates the possibility of miscommunication.
  • Don’t attempt to write the entire documentation in one go. Documentation is a project in itself, so break it down into several steps and make sure the entire team has a say in it.
  • Don’t forget to test the documentation. Ask for feedback to find out if it’s easy to use and if everything is clear.
  • The documentation shouldn’t be static (i.e., a document saved on all computers). For easy access, store it safely in the cloud and ensure everyone has access to it).

Drafting your documentation by following these guidelines may seem more complicated but, in the long run, it will save you time and streamline your work.

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