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Define and implement design principles

Help make crucial decisions for your product efficiently

Why does a digital product need design principles?

What is your favorite color? And what about your favorite food? Do you like to dress minimally, colorfully, or aligned with your music or lifestyle preferences?

All these established factors are helping you make decisions, beginning from small daily decisions to even more complex lifetime choices.

Design principles in digital product design relate exactly to these types of already-agreed-upon, established preferences.

What are design principles?

They are a practical set of definitions that have the main purpose of helping your team make design decisions more easily and effectively. These decisions will ensure that the design is set to achieve the main user, business, and product goals.

Once you decide on the design principles, you might wonder how to define them—how to begin using them in the real product-development environment.

Effective principles

In order for the principles to be effective, they should focus on concrete needs and goals. The principles will be shaped in the form of an inspirational statement. Each statement should have enough value and clarity that it will help with better decision making.

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Examples of design principles

Inspire your team with this set of eleven digital product design principles by Degreed.

In this example, you can already see how Degreed’s design team managed to take the most important product goals and translate them into a set of design principles—how each one is shaped already provides enough of a guide for any designer to follow.

The design principles could be split into some general sections. Here are some examples to consider:

Design vision and mission

Come up with an inspirational sentence that summarizes why the design of this product matters. What are the aspirations behind the work created by the design team? What is the work aiming to achieve on a higher level than just the daily operations?

Design main goals

Define the most important objectives the design always tries to achieve. For example, how does the design help the user to achieve their goal?

Accessibility vs interactions and visual design

Define what you know about the targeted user group and their accessibility possibilities.

User vs business vs innovation

Define the balance between user and business needs as well as to what extend the design team could experiment in a search for new solutions.

UX, UI, visual design, functionality, and usability

For example, define for how long and on which process steps designers should focus on their process so that they can ensure not only a fully functional product but also one providing delight.

Depending on your product needs, you might add on to or exclude some of the main sections in the design process. The design principles for your product should be custom made to answer the concrete product needs.

Step one: define design principles

Collect information and find out the core product strategy, values, and vision

Defining the design principles is a team process. To pick the correct principles, the team needs to first know the product well. This information will shape the quality of the selected principles.

To kick-start the process, a team workshop would be a great idea. Prior to the workshop, as a preparation, collect valuable information and details about the product that might be already known in the company. Collect details about:

  1. the product
  2. the users and the business
  3. the problems and the solutions offered
  4. the value and impact of the solutions
  5. the design audit and current state
  6. the brand identity and strategy

Run a workshop, compare, and iterate

Let each team member set their list of product principles, based on the collected research, prior to the workshop. Then the discussion can begin smoothly and efficiently.

Agree on a set of principles

After defining the principles, let your team shape them and organize them.

Remember that the quality of your work and your decisions later depend on the quality of the selected design principles.

Step two: implement the principles

Onboard the product team, business, and new members

Once you have set design principles for your product, share them with the whole development team, the business, and new members. You could even create a cool poster and print them out for better visibility.

Ensure visibility

It would be a pity and a waste of time to not use the design principles. To ensure that they will be used, make them visible and talk about them often. The design team could help by referring to them and repeating the statements so they eventually stick.

Use as a guide

When designing new solutions, it’s a good idea to refer to the set of principles and let them guide you. In cases where there is a problem committing to one solution in the team, review the principles—they will help align everyone so you can choose the right solution.

Review and adjust

The already established principles will change over time as the product changes. Don’t let them collect dust on a shelf, but rather adjust them over time so they serve the process better.

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Conclusion

It sounds like a lot of work. However, even if it might take time to establish, design principles are powerful tools to help make better products and design decisions.

When defined and implemented properly, later they will save lots of time in meetings, in discussions, in debates, and in wondering about solutions to problems. Design principles are also there to free up time from the product team’s agenda and let them focus on resolving the most complex problems.

Thank you for reading! 💜

GEO STUDIO is a brand and digital design studio based in Berlin. 

Contact us if you need help with the design of your project or you want to share feedback.