Experience / Design Principles

01Feb11

What are they?

Design principles (also called experience attributes) describe the experience core values of a product or a service. They can be visually oriented objectives that describe the personality the product should have.

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.

They define and communicate the key characteristics of the product to a wide variety of stakeholders including clients, colleagues, and team members. Design principles articulate the fundamental goals that all decisions can be measured against and thereby keep the pieces of a project moving toward an integrated whole. They provide a consistent vision of the project for the project team.

They should be defined and explored concurrently with the requirements gathering/scope definitions process.

These principles should accompany requirements definition activities to help guide the solutions and concepts.

They establish criteria for success for the project.

What they should be

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

Some examples

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.

Facebook’s design principles:

  • Universal: our design needs to work for everyone, every culture, every language, every device, every stage of life.
  • Human: our voice and visual style stay in the background, behind people’s voices, people’s faces, and people’s expression.
  • Clean: our visual style is clean and understated.
  • Consistent: reduce, reuse, don’t redesign.
  • Useful: meant for repeated daily use
  • Fast: faster experiences are more efficient and feel more effortless.
  • Transparent: we are clear and up front about what’s happening and why.

Why should we use them?

They help focus decisions and get everyone on the same page.

Used to determine what concept we move forward with.

To assist us in creating a consistent and purposeful experience for our customers.

Like specifications, they are the explicit goals that a project must achieve in order to be successful.

How do we define them?

Design principles should combine the structured findings of research with the best ideas of ideation.

They should succinctly communicate what we are trying to achieve.

Start by gathering all available research. Ask your project manager for any existing research as the marketing team often research products before they get to online.

Determine if we have time/budget to get some research done.

Some research questions could include:

  • What is the existing offering like for our customers?
  • What are our competor’s offerings like?
  • How can we improve/design our offering better?
  • What frustrations do customers have in relation to this product or service?
  • Have they been delighted before by similar services/offerings? How? Why?

An ideation session can also help inform the definition of design principles as can undertaking a competitor review.

A workshop

A Simple Recipe for Design Principles (from Leah Buley)

Set aside an hour or two to work in a small group. First, brainstorm about the personality you want for your product. Try completing these sentences:

n If our product was a person, it would be … n If our product was a place, it would be … n If our product was a neighborhood, it would be … n If our product was food, it would be …

Look for examples of people, physical spaces, or other things that describe your product’s personality.

Second, after brainstorming these ideas, discuss them. Someone should be scribing, listening closely to important personality traits or characteristics. They’ll be writing down things such as “dependable,” “busy,” “fast,” “exotic,” “safe,” and so on.

Finally, with the ideas that emerge, craft five to seven memorable statements of what the experience of using your product should be. Tivo (see the main article) calls them “design mantras” because they’re short, simple, and evocative.

Further Reading

Developing Design Principles by Luke Wroblewski

Ubiquitous computing workshop mobile user experience design principles by Rachel Henman (looks at a process for defining design principles for mobile devices)

Making research actionable: an introduction to design criteria, by Sarah B Nelson, Adaptive Path

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One Response to “Experience / Design Principles”


  1. 1 Reframing “UX Design” : peterme.com

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