Design Handoffs

Your constantly-updated definition of Design Handoffs and collection of videos and articles

What are Design Handoffs?

Design handoff is the process of handing over a finished design for implementation. It involves transferring a designer’s intent, knowledge and specifications for a design, and can include visual elements, user flows, interaction, animation, copy, responsive breakpoints, accessibility and data validations.

Apart from the specifications (the “what”) of the design decisions and changes, the design handoff may also include problem statements and business logic (the “why”) that enable software developers to better understand the design context.

The design handoff bridges a designer’s vision and the final product built by software developers. A poorly implemented design leads to a broken user experience. As Szymon Adamiak, the Co-founder of Hype4 Mobile, explains in this video, a smooth handoff and a tight collaboration between designers and developers is crucial for a good end-user experience.

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What Should You Include in a Design Handoff?

Most teams continually iterate and improve their products to stay ahead of the competition. Every improvement or new feature you design will involve a design handoff. What you include in the handoff depends on the type of project you’re working on, the stage of product development, and the nature of design changes you need to communicate to the developers. 

If the changes are primarily visual (say, changes in the screen layout), your design software’s built-in specifications (e.g., inspect, developer mode) should provide all the technical information the developer needs. In this case, you only need to inform the developer that the design has been updated. Most design tools now allow you to add comments and tag users directly in the design file to direct your team members’ attention to the design changes.

If the changes are more complex, for example, changes in the underlying user flow and business logic, you will need to add that information to the designs you share.

Screenshot of IxDF Figma design file.
© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0
  1. Visual design elements: These include the color palette, typography, layout, images and icons.

    • In most design tools, developers can easily extract this information without much input from the designer.

    • For images and icons, check with the developers about the type of files they need (file extensions, image resolutions, naming conventions and file size restrictions). Relying on vector-based icons (for example, .svg file formats) is often the easiest for designers and developers.

  2. Interactive elements: Include notes about what happens when users interact with elements such as buttons and inputs. For example, what do disabled buttons look like? What happens if the user hovers over a clickable icon?

  3. Form elements and data validations: In the case of forms, remember to include rules such as minimum character count, whether an input is mandatory or optional, and the format of input to be expected (email, phone number, etc.).

  4. Error states: Define what will happen in case of user errors. These include the style and placement of error messages on form fields and the dedicated 404 pages.

    IxDF's 404 page.
    © Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0
  5. Loading and empty states: How will a page look while the content is being loaded? What if there isn’t any data available to show on an interface?

  6. Animations: Use prototypes or gifs to show how you’d like transitions and other moving elements to appear on your interface. Some tools will also allow you to export the motion to code that developers can tweak and use directly in the application.

  7. Copy: Always use realistic (or as close to final as possible) copy in your mockups. Real copy looks different than “lorem ipsum” and will help you visualize what the end user will see.

  8. Flows: Use flowcharts, wire flows and prototypes to show the developers what happens when a user clicks/taps on a specific part of the user interface. Flows help developers understand how obscure screens are connected with the rest of the application.

    Prototype of the Teacher Toolkit in action.
    © Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0
  9. Accessibility information: Accessibility is often an invisible aspect of interface design. Remember to include information such as tap target size and image alt text. Define what different elements will look like when the user navigates the interface with a keyboard—which elements are focusable, and what the outline will look like when the element is in focus.

  10. Responsive design breakpoints: Since users can access your content on different devices, you must provide information on how the design will elegantly “break down” as the screen size reduces.

    • It is best to provide three resolutions for your designs (mobile, tablet and desktop). At the very least, include two resolutions (mobile and desktop).

    • Include information on how the layout differs from one resolution to the next. Which elements are removed? Do the images get replaced? Do the layout and order of elements change?

Interaction instruction: On mobile devices, upon scroll, the minimized version of the sticky bar will remain fixed at the bottom of the screen.
© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0

Learn More about Design Handoffs

What goes into the making of a successful software interface? Dive into the world of interface design with the specialized course, UI Design Patterns for Successful Software.

Product designer Chloe Sanderson explores different approaches to creating specifications in this guide.

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Literature on Design Handoffs

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Learn more about Design Handoffs

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— Don Norman, pioneer and inventor of the term “user experience,” in an interview with NNGroup

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  • Ann Blandford, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at University College London

  • Frank Spillers, Service Designer, Founder and CEO of Experience Dynamics

  • Laura Klein, Product Management Expert, Principal at Users Know, Author of Build Better Products and UX for Lean Startups

  • Michal Malewicz, Designer and Creative Director / CEO of Hype4 Mobile

  • Mike Rohde, Experience and Interface Designer, Author of The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking

  • Szymon Adamiak, Software Engineer and Co-founder of Hype4 Mobile

  • William Hudson, User Experience Strategist and Founder of Syntagm

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