9 Steps on how to write design specifications that fit into the UX design process

Do you know that poor communication is one of the significant challenges faced in UX SaaS design today? Not only UX design but many other industries as well. Research has shown that poor communication or lack of alignment within a team directly impacts any task or project's outcome.

That makes a design specification document necessary in every UX design process. Creating design specification documents allows UX designers and developers to collaborate and communicate effectively and arrive at a unanimous decision on the design process — from design thinking, research, analysis, and prototyping to eventual product development and launch.

In this guide, we'll explain every detail of writing a design specification document and its relevance. By the end of this piece, you will have hands-on knowledge in drawing up a design specification document that applies to your website design specs or mobile app product design.

What do UX SaaS design specifications mean?

In UX design processes, a design specification is a document or brief containing information and details about a product to be designed. The project manager, UX designer, client, or owner records research results in this document, confirming their design needs and demands. Then, they prepare these demands (specs) and requirements in a document to be used by the designers and developers to bring their ideas to reality.

What the design specification includes

A design specifications document usually includes the following:

  • Preliminary section of the project

    . This consists of the project overview, scope, goals, roadmap, and possible delivery time or deadline.

  • Information about the user interface design

     covers typography or character styles, font and background colors, measurements, and other details that define the exact properties of the UI design details.

  • Design assets

    . These are additional stuff that enhance the finished product. They include API keys, media, icons, photos, buttons, and other styles required in the project.

  • User experience information

    . This section explains the logic behind the decisions and choices of the project manager, designer, or owner. Here, you'll have details like user flows, behaviors, and functionalities to be used or included.

  • The references section

     usually details updates, prototypes, iterations or product versions, research work, analytics, etc.

These details aim to enable the developers to understand clearly what the project manager or design team wants. As a result, they will need little or no further assistance actualizing the clients' or designers' visions or ideas.

Where design specs fit into the UX design process

If you're new to creating or writing design specs, then by now, you'd be curious to know where it fits into the UX design process. Let's start by refreshing your memory on the core UX design processes. Then, we can point out the phase where you write design specifications:

A typical UX design process includes:

  • User Research 

  • Analysis

  • Ideation

  • Design/Implementation

  • Validation/Testing 

The first three phases of a UX design process usually involve empathizing with your product users, learning about the project scope and context, defining the exact problem the product solves, etc. Writing your design specs at this stage will probably lead to inconclusive results and constant revisions.

The design or implementation stage, however, comprises the iterative prototyping before the final validation of the product to be shipped. At this stage, between prototyping in product design and validation or testing, you can create design specs for a website or mobile project. Nonetheless, during each of these stages, you should curate important information that will be relevant when you eventually start the actual design specs creation process.

Why do you need a design specs document?

If you're wondering why you need a design specs document in your UX process, here is your answer:

Clarity and consistency

A design spec document ensures that the project design details, including roadmap, user flows and maps, design elements, etc., are clear and easy to understand by the development team. This fosters consistency in what the design team and stakeholders want and what the developers should implement.

Communication and collaboration between teams

Poor communication could cost businesses over $37 billion yearly, including UX design-dependent projects. With a design specs doc, project stakeholders, the design team, and the developers are always on the same page or in alignment over what works and what doesn't during the UX design process.

Usually, the developers must agree with the content of the design specification document before it can be finally approved. This agreement depends on the feasibility of the clients and designers' demands or a pragmatic need to employ an alternative approach to what the designers or clients initially specified.

Smooth handoff to development

Writing a design spec doc gives a project manager peace of mind and assurance that the development team properly understands their ideas. This smooth handoff allows the project managers or designers to focus on other aspects of the UX design process while the developers do what they know best — coding.

Effective design implementation

What is the purpose of design thinking if you do not implement it effectively at the end of the day? Effective design implementation is where design thinking meets reality as idealized and planned. It is the development team's job to collect the design blueprint from the UX designers and transform it into an interactive web or mobile app product design. Proper communication through a design specifications document makes it possible to implement design as-is and avoid back-and-forth or repetitions.

Scalability and iteration

An effectively implemented design will always be scalable and easy to improve or iterate over time. Remember that iteration is how mobile or website product designs become perfect. But if the design and development foundation is faulty, so will future scalability and iteration execution. This is one of the core purposes and benefits of writing design specs for mobile projects or any project at all.

How to write a design specifications document — 9 steps

Now that you're clear on what a design specification and design spec doc means, you can write it for your product development in these 9 steps:

1. Begin with the project overview

Preparing the project overview is the first step in writing a design specification document, as it gives the development team an idea of where the project is going. It also allows them to understand the rest of your design specifications contextually. A typical project overview contains your project details, roadmap, goals and objectives, and the steps required to achieve your goals and objectives.

Usually, this is where you collaborate with other stakeholders to ensure you include feasible, viable, and desirable details. A properly crafted project overview will help you predict the expected outcomes of the project, the project budget, and the resources needed to achieve the project's functional and non-functional requirements.

2. Highlight the project's functional and non-functional requirements

Functional requirements are usually the front-end or user interface interactivity needs, such as input and expected outputs. On the other hand, non-functional requirements determine how your digital products perform or how the back end interacts with the front end. Functional requirements you may include in your design specification are:

  • pop-up/display messages or welcome sounds when someone opens the app or website, 

  • compulsory email confirmation when users sign up, 

  • account verification via SMS or email, etc.

Meanwhile, non-functional requirements you may include are: 

  • cloud-native requirements, 

  • server requirements, 

  • loading times, 

  • data privacy or security compliance, etc.

3. Write the design guidelines

Design guidelines are recommended actions or principles you expect the development team to employ to solve your design challenges, create compelling designs, and get a positive result at the final stage of the development process. A good rule of thumb when writing an effective design guideline is to be assertive, straight to the point, and brief. Hide, enable, disable, consider, never, always, avoid, etc., are the design specification examples of words you could use. These words will help you avoid sounding wordy and unclear.

4. Present your design data

After writing your guidelines, map out your design data and UI layout or flow. Typically, design data uses graphs, drawings, model sketches, etc., to present figures and information in your design specification document. While presenting your design data, highlight the color, font style, and digital assets you wish to use in your final product. Also, state your choices and reasons so that the development team can follow along.

5. Define system architecture and constraints

Your system architecture could be monolithic or headless. Monolithic architectures include traditional CMSs like WordPress or Drupal. They make it hard to scale your project in the future but are more cost-effective to implement.

Conversely, microservice or headless architecture offers you the flexibility and freedom to explore both your front-end and back-end systems to allow you to build scalable applications. When defining your system architecture, it is essential to include your reason and the possible limitations of using them.

6. Outline testing criteria, documentation standards, and risk mitigation

Documentation follows immediately after development is complete. This is the stage where the developers highlight their development process, the product features and functionality, and extra information your users or stakeholders might want to know about the product. Remember to include the design testing criteria you want the developers to adapt and the mistakes they could encounter, which could hamper your product or brand at the end of the day.

7. Set a timeline with key milestones and deadlines

Deadlines keep everyone on their toes. It's important you make them realistic so that you do not build bad products. When setting deadlines, a good rule of thumb is to measure your success by key milestones. Building MVP, for instance, could require measuring your timeline by the features the dev team implements or integrates over a given period.

8. Approval process

Next, establish a process for review, approval, and sign-off. This involves how you intend to approve or review the project before and after development. It also specifies if you'll need the services of quality assurance engineers or consultants to oversee this review process.

9. Communication and distribution

In situations where there is a need for clarity and investigation before or during development, you'll need a communication and distribution plan to help the developers reach out to you. Also, there could be situations where you need to update the design spec doc. In that case, you must implement a communication plan and distribute finalized specifications or reference material.

Consider Dworkz as your trusted partner

A design specification may look easy theoretically, but in reality, it requires some work. This work is necessary to streamline the UX design process and handoff to developers to build the product seamlessly. If you need help figuring out how or where to start creating design specs for websites or developing the perfect strategy for your mobile app design specs, our team at Dworkz will help you sort it out. We'll walk you through writing a design specification, advise you on choosing and hiring a SaaS designer, and help you with development. Contact us right away to get your design specification template today!


What is the significance of a design specification document?

One of the significant reasons why you should create a design specification document is to ensure the final product design meets the expectations and demands of the client or project's original objective.

What makes a good design specification document?

A good design specification must be detailed, straight to the point, and able to communicate effectively the project's technical requirements to be built or developed.

What are the benefits of design specification?

Some benefits of design specification are effective communication, streamlined UX design highlighting the importance of UX design for SaaS, standardization of the development process, and production of quality software.

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