Documentation is essential to successful design

In last week’s letter, I talked about how documentation processes can hinder organizations' growth. Shared knowledge systems are efficiency machines, but internal documentation doesn't translate very well to public communication efforts.

This week, let’s look at how organizations' appetite for documentation can improve their content and design efforts.

(Note: By “design”, I mean everything from web design and copywriting to operations and service models. If you’re engaging in any creative problem-solving — it likely falls under this definition of design.)

Designers can learn from your organization’s documentation practices

Some designers aren’t in the habit of documenting the results of their work in the same way other employees are expected to document their interactions with customers or patients. They either don’t stick around long enough to study the impact of their work or they work in an agency where reporting results is viewed as a part of an account manager's sales cycle.

But that doesn’t mean design can’t be measured. You can encourage designers to study and share the results of their efforts throughout your organization. It's the best chance it has to generate a return on investment.

How to measure design

Remember — a design intervention isn’t just redesigning your website or publishing a new web page. It’s anything that impacts your business.

Here are some design interventions you can measure:

  • Distributing a brochure at a trade show (More website visits?)

  • Sending an email newsletter (More store conversions?)

  • Implementing a new guideline for face-to-face or phone interactions between customers and employees (Better online customer reviews?)

  • Deploying Slack or similar technology to streamline internal communications (More positive employee survey results and faster time-to-launch for campaigns?)

  • Changes to a website's navigation (Reduced bounce rates, fewer support calls?)

  • Launching a television ad campaign (More traffic to website landing page?)

  • Launching a PPC ad campaign (Traffic and conversions?)

  • Skywriting campaigns (More social media referrals?)

You get the idea.

Practically every activity — even those that seem indirect — can be documented to measure impact.

Start with annotations in Google Analytics (GA)

Annotations in GA let you observe shifts in audience behavior in relation to particular events. This is an important step toward triangulating information to be sure that the data you have is relevant and not coincidental.

“But a brochure or tv advertisement doesn't have anything to do with our website.”

Are you sure?

Everything you do that influences your organization will likely be reflected in the way users interact with your website. An effective tv ad or brochure is going to drive traffic. Moreover, if you’ve coordinated the campaign well, you can identify what segments of your traffic are interacting with your site as a consequence of the campaign.

Here's a 2-minute look at annotations in GA:

Triangulate data to prevent mistaking correlation for causation

Let’s say you’ve engaged a service designer to evaluate your company’s service model. They interview stakeholders — from C-level executives to receptionists — and talk with customers to produce customer journey maps and service blueprints. They examine call logs, online reviews, and private messages to your company from your Facebook Page and website chat threads.

The service designer makes recommendations for streamlining internal processes and introduces new technologies to support those efforts.

You train your staff and the new protocols go into effect on April 10th.

Done, right?

Not quite. Ideally:

  • your data analyst will make a notation in your Google Analytics (GA) account to mark the event,

  • your CFO or CMO will do the same in whatever dashboard they’re using to track conversions (eg, appointments, sales, leads, donations), and

  • your CXO will generate similar records in their customer feedback monitoring system.


Because six months later when you’re wondering how much of a difference that service designer really made, you want to be able to get answers to questions like:

  • How has this new service model impacted our online reputation? (eg, reviews on Google and Yelp)

  • Are we seeing any trends in our website traffic?

  • Are website conversions increasing?

  • Are we seeing any conspicuous changes in revenue?

  • What patterns do we see in customer response and questions through our support channels?

The more data sources you have that reinforce each other, the more confidence you’ll have that the trends are actually related to the project.

If a designer’s work goes undocumented, does it make a sound?

By now, I hope you can see how important thorough documentation is to the design process.

Investing in design interventions without documenting those efforts from many angles, is not design — it's a Rorschach test. Everyone can see what they want to in the “results”, which leads to a spiral of waste.

So start documenting your design efforts just as seriously as you record your financial transactions. They’re more closely linked than you might think.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle Bowen