Design principles to choose the right ideas

Often people ask me how we know which ideas to choose from all the hundreds of ideas we’ve generated during brainstorm sessions. Apart from our gut feelings and experience there’s a method that could help us decide, define design principles.

Often people ask me how we know which ideas to choose from all the hundreds of ideas we’ve generated during brainstorm sessions. Apart from our gut feelings and experience there’s a method that could help us decide, define design principles.

In the past we used to call these principles ‘design criteria’ until I came across this great article about ‘Ubiquitous Computing Workshop: Mobile User Experience Design Principles‘ by Rachel Hinman back in 2007.

What are design principles

Design principles describe the experience core values of a product or a service. They should be written in a short and memorable way. As a designer you should know them by heart while doing a project. Good design principles are cross-feature but specific. Therefore we should always try harder than ‘Easy-to-use’. Design principles are non-conflicting.

Google’s design principles that contribute to a Googley user experience

  1. Focus on people – their lives, their work, their dreams.
  2. Every millisecond counts.
  3. Simplicity is powerful.
  4. Engage beginners and attract experts.
  5. Dare to innovate.
  6. Design for the world.
  7. Plan for today’s and tomorrow’s business.
  8. Delight the eye without distracting the mind.
  9. Be worthy of people’s trust.
  10. Add a human touch.

Design principles to help choose ideas, not to generate them

It’s good to have design principles to help you choose ideas, but I don’t think it’s smart to stick to these principles too much while generating ideas in the first place.

Although it’s a good idea to use a solid framework to get the ideas coming during brainstorm sessions. We don’t want to restrict ourselves too much when sketching ideas in the first place. When we would do that, it would be really hard to come up with the one idea that’s going to put the world upside down.

An idea that doesn’t suffice for specific design principles could easily inspire other designers to come up with ideas that do fulfill.

Design principles

At UX London Dan Saffer hosted a great workshop about brainstorming and design principles. I took the summary of rules from his slides (slide 39) which he used during that workshop.

What design principles should be

  • Based on design research
  • Short
  • Memorable
  • Cross-feature
  • Specific ‘not easy-to-use’
  • Differentiators taken together
  • Non-conflicting

More examples of design principles

Google calendar’s design principles

  1. Fast, visually appealing and joyous to use
  2. Drop dead simple to get information into the calendar
  3. More than boxes on a screen (reminder, invitations, etc.
  4. Easy to share so you can see your whole life in one place.

Microsoft’s Surface design team defined Natural User Interfaces should be

  1. Evocative: Principle of Performance Aesthetics
  2. Unmediated: Principle of Direct Manipulation
  3. Fast Few: Principles of Scaffolding
  4. Contextual: Principle of Contextual Environments
  5. Intuition: Principle of Super Real

Microsoft’s Surface should be

  1. Social: multiple simultaneous users
  2. Seamless: digital & physical combined
  3. Spatial: kinesiology

Tivo’s design principles

  1. It’s entertainment, stupid
  2. It’s TV, stupid
  3. It’s video, damnit
  4. Everything is smooth and gentle
  5. No modality or deep hierarchy
  6. Respect the viewer’s privacy
  7. It’s a robust appliance, like a tv

Sources

Design principles at Microsoft by luke Wroblewski
UX Team of one by Leah Buhley

4 Replies

  1. Colin Hall

    My father used to tell me a story about a protest rally back in the 60’s. The protestors were, what was called then, ‘Free Thinkers’. About an hour after the rally started things got a bit nasty and fur started to fly. The police set off their sirens in one area to the north of the rally, making as much commotion as was possible. All of the ‘Free Thinkers’ did exactly the same thing and ran for an adjacent park, where the trouble dispersed and everyone eventually went home.

    My point, with regard to design principles, is that you have to let your customer feel free, they must feel unique and, above all, they must be free to choose whether they will respect authority or not. Eventually most of us will follow, but it is essential that we feel we lead ;-)

    All the best

    Colin

  2. Glenn Friesen

    Design principles vary, and depend on context. I’ve exhausted myself explaining this absolute truth over the years to people who want to overlay their design biases over a project.

    There’s additional observation and data to support your argument, but you said it dang well, “it’s good to have design principles to help you choose ideas, but I don’t think it’s smart to stick to these principles too much while generating ideas in the first place.”

    In my opinion, design principles should reflect the audience / users / customers of the thing being designed. Regarding web design, design principles should be derived from CRO and UX, more than personal opinions about what color goes where, and why what font size means what. We should test these little details against our goals, rather than heuristically assume our opinions are the best bet.

Reply