Design principles are the guiding stars for designers. They ensure designers make the best decisions for their users, and for the product or service they’re working on.
A design principle is essentially a value statement that is tied to the goals of the product or service, what it wants to achieve for users. Design principles should be clear about what they advocate for and why they should take a stand on which value will trump others, and how they should inspire empathy for the user. Because after all, that’s who we’re designing for.
For example, accessible design is good design. Everything we build should be as inclusive and readable as possible. If we have to sacrifice elegance, so be it. We’re building for needs and we’re designing for everyone. The people who most need our services are often the people who find them the hardest to use. Let’s think about those people from the start. Notice it’s clear why accessible design is important, they’re designing for every citizen. This principle inspires empathy for the user. We are asked to think about the users and their situation when designing products. Now when faced with a decision about what type of button there should be, or whether there should be a type of header or a drop down we can turn back to our design principle which forces us to ask the question, what’s the most accessible? Rather than what looks tidy and is the most visually appealing.
When designers have design principles to refer to, it’s more likely they will make decisions that help products and services meet the desired goal and less likely that they will make decisions based on their own personal preference.
Lastly, design principles are only useful if they’re being used. If you don’t have design principles, create them with others, rather than creating them on your own. They’re more likely to be accepted and remembered if others have had a hand in creating them. Once created, don’t let them disappear into the background, socialize them. For example, print them out and stick them up on a wall so everyone can see them included them in presentations or regularly discuss them in meetings.