Managing your design projects

Drafting effective design documents


Drafting effective design documents may help your business in several ways. For example, it can:

  • Offer a clear point of reference - the document is the key resource for all team members. Any new employees can quickly learn what is involved in the project.
  • Ensure continuity - staff and management may change but the document remains the same.
  • Ensure compliance - good documentation helps with any necessary legal compliance and may help if someone takes legal action against your business.
  • Improve quality control - comprehensive documentation makes the quality assurance process easier.
  • Improve workflow - documenting the process helps to establish the deadlines and make sure that they are met.
  • Avoid costly mistakes - documentation helps in detecting mistakes and identifying cost-saving opportunities.

How to write an effective design document

When you write your design document, you should:

  • Know your audience - who will read the document and what do they need from it? This helps you to structure the document and give the right tone, emphasis and content. Restrict review of the document to those who need to see it. Circulating it too widely could confuse the project. It may also mean that sensitive, confidential information gets into the wrong hands - such as your competitors.
  • Tell a story - this helps to convince your design team of the needs for your product or service. Use personas and scenarios to show the experiences of people using your design. Remember to tell stories in pictures as well as words.
  • Explain your reasons for commissioning the design - give the reasons why you need features of the new product or service.
  • Use a clear format - make sure that you present your design documents well and use a consistent format with all pages to make it easier for readers to understand what is required of them.
  • Use the active voice and the present tense - this is clearer and more direct. Say - "The customer chooses this because..." rather than "We found that, when presented with a choice, customers chose...".
  • Ask someone to edit your design document so that you can be sure it does its job in communicating your goals to others.