My Design Principles

November 28 2013

In the interest of openness I thought I’d share my set of design principles that I have been experimenting with for the last few weeks. They serve as a guide for design decisions and help me focus on good, honest values when making products for real people.

I’ll run through each principle individually below expanding on its meaning. Some have been borrowed and tweaked from elsewhere and noted in the footnotes.

Start with needs

A product should be useful. To be useful it needs to serve a specific need or a set of needs. The needs belong to the user and no-one else1. We need to know what the user needs through and through otherwise we’re making a product nobody wants.

Think impossible

To serve needs in the most efficient manner, the solution must be visualised clearly without obstruction. Obstruction may come in the form of the proposed platform for the product — it’s best to think without the distraction of how you’re going to solve the problem, rather think in terms of the impossible — how would it work if it worked like magic?

Design from the content out2

A design without content is, at best, a guess. It’s a guess at how it should look, how it should function, how it should feel. One big assumption. The content informs the design and the overall shape of the product. Preconceived notions of how a website should look must be ignored and trust placed in the content to lead the decision making. Content is an absolute which holds value to the user and must be treated with such esteem rather than being regarded as a commodity.

Keep it simple

A simple product is more likely to be easier to use and rarely has complex problems to fix. Why design something complex? Superfluous design is nothing but exercise for the ego. Simple design is clear, useful and honest.

Accessible

In every sense of the word. From screen readers to Kindles. IE7 to Chrome Canary. A simple product shouldn’t have to bend and break to work everywhere.

Future-Friendly

Take a device agnostic approach to delivering an experience that works where the web works for past, present and future devices, interfaces and scenarios. The best way to achieve this is by staying true to the nature of the web.

Do less

Where time and budget are fixed, scope needs to flex or else quality suffers3. Less important features can wait for another day, priority features shouldn’t be compromised for the sake of shipping with all features. It’s better to do one thing well.

Make useful things

The finished product should be useful, otherwise design hasn’t achieved anything — it’s solving imaginary problems. A useful product solves real problems for real people.

Make remarkable things

The finished product should resonate with people and touch their lives in a positive, meaningful way.