Design principles are concise, specific guidelines for generating and evaluating ideas and artifacts.

Good design principles serve as shared reference points in conversations about the design, development, and deployment of a product. We use principles to generate and categorize ideas, but most importantly, we use them to put aside exciting proposals that are probably distractions from more important goals. Working from shared principles helps teams make decisions independently while sustaining a consistent, coherent vision across disciplines and throughout different stages in a product lifecycle. Designer Luke Wroblewski calls them "filters for making decisions."

We want to help other teams at 18F, and our partners throughout the government, get started with their own. Though there are many inspiring examples of design principles out there, we had trouble finding detailed instructions for making them online. So we decided to write our own, synthesized from our own experience and from the advice that has helped us the most.

Who do design principles help?

  • Principles can assist product managers in flexibly scoping current and future phases of a product’s life cycle.

  • Delivery teams get a shared language and reference point to guide collaboration and critique across design and development.

  • For partners or stakeholders outside 18F, creating design principles gives them the opportunity to affect project tone at the start. Using the principles as a common reference allows partners to participate more fully in discussions as the project progresses.