Communication is key
As designers our job is essentially to communicate: Communicate with the client about the project in hand. Communicate with the people the design is for. Communicate with the web team to work on design and development. And ultimately deliver a design that will communicate its message well. Explaining and discussing the design process to all parties involved is vital to ensuring productive collaboration and an effective end result.
Our design proposals will present the results of our exploratory and preliminary work and put our suggestions forward. Without explicitly elaborating on the process and reasons behind the decisions, fruitful discussions are difficult to achieve. A well-written design rationale provides insight into the thought process and considerations that influenced the design decisions.
Typical topics included
A design rationale starts by clearly defining the website's goal and its target audience. It outlines what the final design aims to achieve and continues to express the reasoning behind the decisions made during the development of the presented design.
the problem to solve
As any design is about solving a problem - the rationale will elaborate and explain the nature of the problem. There will be different approaches and solutions. The rationale will state any explored paths and the reasons why not all were part of the development of the final result.
the user-focused work process
Regardless of who the rationale is speaking to, it will state in detail the specifics which will meet the intended audiences' needs and expectations. User-centred design processes begin and end with the people it is for. Discussing how to best achieve a good result for the target group will ensure the following:
- It will keep the project team on track and focused on the outcome for the end user above all else.
- It will help guide and shape any user testing activities and ask for appropriate and well defined feedback and input.
- It will remind any client that the final design's priority does not lie with pleasing their own subjective preferences but with delivering for the target group.
Importantly, the rationale will explain the thought process and decision making behind all aspects of design. For the visual aesthetics, it will describe why the proposed typefaces have been selected and how they fit the project in hand. It will elaborate on the choice of colours and explain why the proposed colour scheme is effective and supporting of the overall goal.
As part of the user-centred approach the design process will involve an interface which requires a finely tuned user journey. Any interaction, whether it is merely links, complete interfaces or forms, will be planned, revised and tested thoroughly. The rationale will include specific explanations on each detail and why the design has taken the proposed direction.
Depending on the overall brief, the rationale might also cover other aspects of the website. For example, it might include competitor analysis and conclusions for the project in hand.
Practicalities such as time or budget constraints and projected future update schedules might have been requested as part of the rationale. This might also apply to the scalability of the project and its maintenance long-term.
inclusivity & sustainability
As part of the user-centred approach, accessibility is an important aspect to include. This might be included as part of another section of the rationale or as a different topic on its own. It will state that the site's design is responsive, for example, and include the mention of any specific enhancements. As part of good design, stating the sustainable approach to preparing assets as well as performance enhancing methods for code and online delivery will be a good addition.