I'm currently trying to implement a usable UX documentation system , streamlining the flow of work between User Researchers/Usability specialists, Information Architects and Visual Designers.

Just to be clear, it's only the documentation process I'm wrangling with not the UX process itself! The current documentation process is:

  • IA produces wireframes in one document.
  • Usability specialist conducts expert review, cutting & pasting wireframes into a separate document adding callouts and notes.
  • IA amends the original wireframe document.
  • User Researcher completes user test, creates new document capturing feedback.
  • IA amends the original wireframe document.
  • The visual designer (possibly external) works from a multitude of documents.
  • Visual designer creates a visual design templates document for review.
  • IA, URs & VDs review design, notes are captured in template doc.
  • The dev (possibly external) who'll be working from a multitude of documents then starts work...

That's a total of 5 documents (and several versions of each of those). Messy to say the least.

My 'ideal' documentation system/flow/process is as follows:

  • IA produces wireframes in one document (version controlled; audience is usability specialist)
  • Usability specialist conducts expert review, adds a callout/notes 'layer' to the wireframe doc (version controlled; audience is IA)
  • IA amends wireframes (version controlled; audience is User Researcher)
  • User Researcher completes user test, captures feedback in a new callout/notes 'layer' to the wireframe doc (version controlled; audience is IA).
  • IA amends the original wireframe document (version controlled; audience is Designer).
  • The visual designer works from a single document - callouts/note layer doc history can be viewed/traced if required.
  • The visual designer adds their designs to the document/system, notes from URs, IAs and other VDs can be added for modifications to be made.
  • The dev starts work...

And so to my question(s)... Is this possible? Is this practical? If so, is there a documentation/version control system that could manage this?



I think this is absolutely practical as long as you choose the right documentation medium to contain the different assets.

For example

I produce wireframes at tabloid size which I print down to A4 - either would be too big to be contained and visible in a single word document (which could be versioned). The way I get around this is to take screen shots to put in the doc and then include the wireframe file in an appendix folder (which would increase the number of files again).

One way of looking at this is to unify the tools your IA and Usability Specialist are using so they can work on the same file - lots of visio and omnigraffle templates exist to allow notes and call-outs to exist in a wireframe grid. A single doc for the UX process part.

Even the designer could insert their photoshop files after the relevant wireframe in the single document.

Using a service like drop box (for example) you can get unlimited versioning (which has saved my skin) so the single folder will contain the most up-to-date version with older versions available through the drop box application's version control utility.

You can achieve the same with SVN, Visual Source Safe etc. but they require manual intervention to check the file in. Drop Box works when you save the file.




There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to version control and workflows:

  • Do you want people to be able to collaborate at the same time on a document? If so, both the version control system AND the software have to be set up to handle this -- SharePoint is pretty good in terms of Office integration, but I'd imagine you'd have PhotoShop, Visio, OmniGraffle, Axure files to contend with etc.
  • Are you happy for one person to be able to lock out edits? With systems such as EMC's Documentum and SharePoint, checking out a document means other people cannot (generally) edit it and check it in. Otherwise you'll end up with many branches and difficulty with merges (especially with documents; less so with code, but only a bit).
  • Some workflow management systems allow you to manage who the audience is at a particular stage of the document's lifecycle. This can take some setting up, however: SharePoint is fairly easy; Documentum requires a bit more work.
  • What are you willing to spend? Depending on your organisation, SharePoint might be part of a wider agreement with Microsoft. There are plenty of open-sourced projects, but they mainly deal with code and content, not documents (correct me if I'm wrong).
  • Will you be managing the document or the content? CMSes are good at the latter; products like Documentum the former.

Sorry, lots of things for you to consider! The answer is definitely a yes, you can do it, thought you'll need to do some work to get it to match your workflow and management requirements. My perspective is quite enterprise based, so it would be good to hear what other's outside of this world think!

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