Defining Design Principles

Posted 2 years ago by Sandra Mileikyte

Every designer needs to set their own design principles.

There, I’ve said it. In the very first line of my article. Now let’s get down to the details.

Design principles are very common among large and well-established companies. Google, Atlassian, even British Government (just to name a few) have their own design rules. And that’s pretty cool. Why? Well, it defines the core of who those companies are and how they go about certain things. It mirrors their values and the quality of their products and/or services.

Setting design principles isn’t exclusive to companies. Each design professional must have their own. You may already have a few rules on how to approach each creative project, whether you’re a furniture maker or a graphic designer. They probably are not set in stone and are just hanging loosely in the corners of your brain. If that’s the case, please do me a favour, get yourself a pen, a notebook, grab a coffee and zone out for an hour.

“Define what sets you apart from other creatives”

Define what sets you apart from other creatives. And I’m not talking about your skills. Write down what are your rules, principles, non-negotiables when you work on a project. Perhaps you have a specific style or way of working. Dig into this and I promise in one hour you’ll be crystal clear what they are.

Still unsure why you need this? Ok, let’s make it simple:

  1. It sets you out from the crowd
  2. It shows your thinking and your process
  3. It makes you look professional and credible
  4. It shows you’re an expert in your field

“Now that you bragged so much about this, why don’t you show us yours?” — I hear you say.

Alrighty, then.

I have started off as a product designer. Creating physical stuff, like shower heads for SAD sufferers. I then switched to packaging design at Cadbury’s. When I’ve had enough, I tested digital design waters. And it kind of stuck with me. Through all these years of my varied experiences, I have developed a strong sense of how to create stuff. Be it a shower head or an app.

So here are my design principles.

Principle number 1

Sorry marketeers, user is the king from now on. It’s all about the user, their needs, their behaviours, likes, dislikes, you name it. I’m not suggesting you follow them blindly though. What I’m saying is — listen to your users, look for insights and then use your brain and skills to translate them into exceptional experiences.

“User is king from now on. It’s all about the user, their needs, their behaviours, likes, dislikes…”

Principle number 2

Let’s go for the old cliché, shall we? Whatever you’re creating, don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t make the user think. Keep things simple and easy to understand. Even Dieter Rams is with me on this:

“Good design is as little design as possible.”

Principle number 3

Ok, this may sound conflicting with principle number 2, but hear me out. Little details, no matter how subtle they are, bring a great joy when using a product. Remember that feeling when you received your parcel bought on eBay and it was all wrapped up nicely? Or when you got notified when you tried to add the same song to your Spotify playlist? It’s nice they think about that, right? Thought through micro-interactions can add a lot of value to your product if you do it right.

“Little details, no matter how subtle they are, bring a great joy when using a product.”

Principle number 4

This one is my favourite and I do it every damn day. No matter what you’re working on, test stuff. You’ll soon find out whether you are on the right track or not. And don’t be afraid to fail, as failure is just a lesson. Once you learn your lesson, repeat the cycle. Great things happen to those who experiment!

“Don’t be afraid to fail, as failure is just a lesson. Once you learn your lesson, repeat the cycle.”

This is by no means is a complete list. Things change, we grow and learn something new. Same goes with my design principles. Who knows, maybe in a few years’ time the list will double. Or shrink. But for now, I think, it’s a good place to start.

So what are your design rules?

This post was originally published on Sandra’s Medium profile.

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