Documentation. Makes you want to call it a day and start with some real work tomorrow. Or at least that’s the reaction that you often come across in web design, even with seasoned developers and designers. Yet the biggest problems we often come across in our work are ones related to communication; problems with people from marketing; clients with bad ideas; management with worse ideas. What if you could make them understand your vision? Documentation is the answer.
Communicating Design, by Dan Brown is one of very few books that address the subject of documenting a modern web design project. With chapters ranging from personas and usability testing to content inventory, sitemaps and wireframes, the book covers a lot of ground, with something for everyone; from project managers to interface designers.
The chapters each follow the same general format, and can be read in pretty much any order – making the book an ideal reference to have lying around. Each chapter breaks the chosen deliverable into three layers; essential, enhancements and contextual information, which makes getting started easier and further adding to the book’s reference potential. The chapters also include tips on presenting the various documents, and useful information which places them in the wider context of a project.
Dan Brown does a very good job of describing a potentially dull subject in useful ways. As a long time contributer to Boxes and Arrows and an active member of the Information Architecture community his experience comes through in the examples, and in particular the real world problems you may encounter when using the proposed deliverables. These sections on when, how and what to deliver to clients really raise the book into must-read territory.
The most impressive aspect of the book though is the up-to-date discussion. Not content with describing what makes a good site map and how to present it we get the author’s well-thought out ideas on whether sitemaps are indeed up to the task in a world of user-generated content, search and non-hierarchical site structures (probably not apparently). In another chapter a disussion of the problems involved in carrying out a large content inventory are accompanied by details of why the perfect tool for the job is difficult to come by.
A minor issue is that the book focuses on the documentation of the interface design aspects of a web design project at the expense of including chapters or comment on documenting the more technical, functional, aspects of development. In fairness it doesn’t set out to plug this gap in the market, although personaly I’d love to see a follow up in the same style. Communicating Development anyone? With all the diagrams throughout the book full colour would have been nice, but these really are minor points.
Overall Communicating Design is a good read, covering techniques that you can jump right in with, and providing hard earned, real world knowledge in digestable chunks. For anyone interested in improving their design documentation this will be a solid purchase, for anyone not interested in creating better documentation this should be required reading.