Design by All

Dan M. Brown lays out a case for thoughtful design documentation in Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning.

Brown defines design as a, “complex process composed of many smaller activities,” including (but not limited to):

“…listening, analyzing, evaluating, brainstorming, synthesizing, experimenting, composing, describing, discussing, exploring, reacting…”

-Dan M. Brown

Site maps, flowcharts, wireframes, design briefs, and usability reports might not sound exciting. But these documents allow designers to capture the design process in a form that can be shared, discussed, tweaked and improved by others.

I never used to think of myself as a designer. My experience with graphic design was limited to one art class in middle school (and let’s face it, I will never be a graphic artist). Then suddenly I was a young professional working with designers and developers. It was a tough learning curve. My team would often send a project out to designers and get something totally different back. Or we would get exactly what we asked for, but technical difficulties prevented it from going into production. As I began to take on the role of project manager, I found myself learning to speak the language of designers and developers. As I did, my own thought-process began to change. I used to think of design as just “making something pretty.” I began to realize that design was actually about  purpose, function, and form.

Documentation is crucial to good communication and digital project management. But perhaps more importantly, these documents allow for collaborative design. Brown argues that the main challenge for a web designer is to,”help everyone contribute to the design process, to establish a vision and help a multidisciplinary team realize it.” (xi)

The diagrams and deliverables that Brown outlines in his book are documentations of the design process, not the process of design itself. Not everyone knows how to create a flowchart (or even how to use AdobeInDesign). But (hopefully) everyone knows how to listen, question, and explore. Historians need to be able to think about design to offer their own expertise to the process.







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5 thoughts on “Design by All

  1. I had a similar experience Julie,

    Just by being willing to learn I became the go-to website person in a previous job and liaison with a number of developers along the way. It was a great experience which this book brought back. It also definitely taught me the importance of good documentation. I was happy to see Dan Brown make such a strong connection between documentation and communication. I think a lot of people document things ‘because they should’ not because they understand why it will help them and their partners in the future.

  2. ameliawhere says:

    Great post!
    Even though most of us are not very familiar with the technical aspects of design, we all have the tools to communicate about design and collaborate with those who have more specialized design skills. Brown certainly made design more approachable and familiar by discussing it in broader terms that I think we can all relate to, even if we don’t know how to make the digital tools that we are talking about.

  3. mariaeip says:

    Great post Julie. I have to say I have had similar experiences and still struggle with understanding the tech talk.

    As public historians, we need to be able to effectively communicate with designers in order to obtain our desired product. Even if we have limited knowledge on design. I agree with you that historians need to be able to think about the aspects of design. Brown’s book opens a door for us to learn about the basics of the design process and collaboration.

  4. EricAtAmerican says:

    I had the same thoughts about the book. It seems like a good way to educate those unfamiliar with the process on what to expect and how to better collaborate with projects.

  5. drdankerr says:

    Excellent argument about the role of the deliverables — the book is primarily about the process of collaboration.

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