5 Tips for Creating Design Documentation

September 26, 2022
5 Tips for Creating Design Documentation

Clear documentation keeps design and code organized, creating a better user experience with minimal visual inconsistencies and speeding up development times. It also results in code that’s cleaner, faster and more reliable.

Here are five tips for creating design documentation.

1. Document Specific Use Cases

Use cases shouldn’t be vague. They should be specific, clearly explaining how a design element should and shouldn’t be used, so there’s no confusion.

When use cases appear to be too restrictive, changes can be made to them after a rigorous design review (specifically, one that utilizes a voting committee to avoid bias). This approach can make design systems both strict and flexible, as needed. Specific doesn’t have to mean inflexible.

2. Organize Carefully

Design systems can be extensive. They’re used to document colors, components, typography, iconography, layouts, code and more, and store assets. Some design documentations include instructions (e.g., for setups) and/or guidelines (e.g., for branding, social media or written communication). It’s fair to say that navigating documentation can be difficult sometimes.

In addition to this, stakeholders don’t always approach design systems to find a specific design element. Sometimes, the design problem is clear but the solution isn’t. The best way to handle this is by organizing design system elements by the problem that they solve (e.g., displays information, collects information, etc.) in addition to organizing them by what they are (e.g., information blocks, forms, etc.).

3. Provide Visual and Code Examples

Always include visual and code examples for added context. Also, making it so that developers can copy the code snippets to their clipboard is a nice touch.

Use Sympli Handoff Embeds to embed artboards into your design system documentation, offering stakeholders visual context. For code context, the artboards link to their Sympli Handoff documents, where the design is translated to code automatically and developers can copy this code to their clipboard.

To embed artboards into a Notion document for example, simply type “/embed” and copy your Sympli embed code into the field. Notion is commonly used to document design systems and works well with Sympli.


4. Make it the Single Source of Truth

Design systems only work when they’re the single source of truth. To ensure this, changes to design systems must be reviewed (and, if approved, merged). If this doesn’t happen, multiple variants of design system elements by multiple stakeholders can end up existing. Eventually, this leads to teams losing track of what the current versions are and the design system becoming out of date and eventually abandoned.

5. Keep it Simple

Design system documentation should be simple. When it’s simple, it’s easier to understand, which in turn improves the implementation of the design system, creating a better experience for users. Indirectly, quality documentation means quality user experience.

However, this outcome relies on the design itself being simple, too. As an example, if there’s an excessive number of button variants, even the best readers will have a hard time understanding the use cases of each one. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, remember that if a design system concept is difficult to explain/document, it probably needs to be simplified.