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Formulating design principles

The definition for design principles is usually to have a headline and some explanation. This requires very focused writing and editing and may prove less useful in all the contexts. A simple structure could be:

  • Principle name - start with a verb. Starting with a name gives an easy scheme and makes things a bit more actionable.
  • One sentence of high level description. The best is 1 “over” statement talking about the chief trade off we are making. This makes it clear what we are choosing with this principle and what not. (Even) over statements are super powerful and make also the description easy to remember.
  • One sentence of explanation why it makes sense for our company. So we don’t have fluffy designery statments, but something more concrete that also makes the principle usable to other departments, not only design.
  • 2-3 examples on how this would manifest in the field. Design principles tend to be fairly high level, which is fair as you’d want to stay fairly high level to allow for a broad range of design solutions. But this might also means it will be hard to interpret in some cases, so examples help. These can stay on a mid level, so describe how the principle would apply to a login process, without prescribing solutions. Examples can also talk about existing good places where this principle is already applied within the product.

Design principle sets

  • Principles of Product Design by Joshua Porter.
    • A more general set, but fairly useful when looking to formulate your own. Once you are at a good working set, you can scan this to see if you’ve missed something. Formulations like this also help to rethink your own.
    • Also collects a bunch of ideas in a principle format with sources. This might be a good idea when writing your own, highlight your thinking in further artifacts, links. This helps others to understand rationale.
    • This set is more process oriented, talks about the ways you should do product design.
  • Principles of User Interface Design by Joshua Porter.
    • Fairly generally focusing on the user side.
    • Useful for scanning after you have an initial design principle set to see if you have missed something or could make your formulation sharper.
  • Inclusive Design Principles
    • Like the structure of these, headline, explanation, detailed description, examples.