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Create Great Design Principles by Using and Testing Them

Jeremy Keith has talked and written about design principles extensively. He has compiled an excellent collection of design principles. In a recent post, he shared some great insights he’s learned from others.

Designed for use

Great design principles define how they should be used and applied. If they aren’t put to good use, then they are nothing but meaningless truisms. Jeremy pointed toward a post from Andrew Travers about how the team at Co-op Digital is building out their principles.

What we’re building towards is a set of principles, few enough to be memorable, short enough to be repeatable, relevant enough to be usable. When we’re running a design crit, it’s these principles that we want to lean on. When a sole designer in an agile delivery team is talking about a design approach, it’s these principles that back her up.

Andrew Travers

In Design a Better Product with Product Principles, I gave other examples of how to use your design principles. The important thing is to find ways to use them and work them into your culture. Whether in critiques or reviews, in usability testing or design studios, each designer on your team should be able to rely on the principles as a tool (among many) for making better design decisions.

In creating your own set of design principles, consider the following:

  • Where can you apply these principles in your process?
  • How can you use these to measure the quality of a given concept, prototype, or solution?
  • How does current work measure up to your principles and what can you do to test and improve it?
  • Can you incorporate the principles into your usability testing and user research?

Designed and tested

Most great projects aspire to be usable, inclusive, simple, clean, and fast. You could call these baseline design principles. Great design principles ascend past these basics and help define what differentiates your product from any other product. Jeremy pointed toward a great article where Jared Spool dives deep into some tests that can help your team define unique and useful design principles.

One of those tests is whether the principle could be reversed in a different situation or for a different product. Could you see the opposite of your principle being useful? If not, the principle may serve better as a baseline.

Jeremy summarizes this nicely:

Is it reversible? In other words, could you imagine the exact opposite of the design principle being perfectly valid in a different organisation or on a different project? If not, then the principle may be too weak to be effective.

Jeremy Keith

The other tests are also great measures of whether your design principles can be useful:

  • Are your design principles based on real research?
  • Can your principles help you say ’no’ to designs that aren’t great?
  • Do your principles help distinguish your product from the competition?
  • Do you regularly re-evaluate your principles for new projects?
  • Does the principle inspire healthy debate on your team?

Whether your team is just getting started creating a set of design principles or you’ve had them for years, the above tests and use cases are a great way to refine your principles.

Read more

Thanks to these great posts for the inspiration:

Share your principles!

Have you published a set of design principles for your team or product? Let me know. I’d love to share them with others so we can all learn and grow together!

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