Design Document: A Necessity or Just Another Hurdle to Jump?

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Darryl L. Sink and Associates, Inc. (DSA) helps organizations design and develop learning and performance solutions that get results. DSA works cooperatively with organizations to:

  • accomplish internal custom projects
  • train and educate their internal staff in Instructional Systems Development.

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 Part 3 - Effort, Detail, and Benefits

In Parts 1 & 2 of this series on writing design documents, I described the elements to include, and provided some idea of when, in the instructional design process, design documents are prepared. In Part 1, I defined and described a high-level design document. In Part 2, on detailed design documents sometimes called blueprints, I offered an example of a design document and an annotated template.

You can still receive these by emailing me at Please include design document in the subject line. We will have to match this up too with the offer of the Design document examples.

In part 3 of this series on design documents, I will address various circumstances that would affect the amount of effort and detail provided in either the high-level design document or the blueprint. I will then end with the benefits of writing design documents.

How much effort and detail?

Cost, size, and significance of the project are the three most important factors that determine the effort and detail that should go into writing a design document.

Let’s take size for example. If the training development project is very small, let’s say one lesson or module, you would not need to make a detailed design document. Why? Because, you could write one module as quickly as you could write the detailed design document. So we usually just create a draft of the one lesson/module and review it with the stakeholders. The cost and effort to redesign the one lesson or module should be minimal if it is not on target.

There are exceptions, of course. Let’s say there is a costly video involved in the one module. Now you will want the video treatment and the final storyboards approved before production. For larger projects with more than one or two lesson/modules, we recommend at least a high-level design document.

Benefits of Using Design Documents

For large projects, the design documents allow you to divide up the labor to get the program developed in a timely manner. In addition, each instructional designer and SME will know what part their lessons/modules play in the whole program (course). Design documents provide:

In addition they provide for:

The bottom line is that design documents show all stakeholders what you’re going to do ahead of time so you can make sure you are aligned with the need for the program in the first place: i.e., the program is designed for the right audience, you have the right content, and you have the support of all concerned.

This concludes the 3-part tip on design documents.

See you next time,