Creating design principles

Making and using design principles

It’s not hard to create design principles, but it requires a little time and perseverance. Plan for an initial commitment of about a week, with occasional refresher meetings with the team. For that reason, we advocate setting design principles early in any project. With a set of agreed-upon principles on hand, teams can make decisions collaboratively.

Step 1: Make sure you have broad participation

Get representatives from all the stakeholders.

Step 2: Assemble data about your users and your organization

Gather research about the product owner. Review internal documents and notes from kickoff activities to gather common terms or concepts that seem particularly significant to project goals and organizational culture. After conducting observational and desk research, group terms or concepts that seem particularly important to customer or user groups to determine which patterns emerge.

Step 3: Group your data and label each group

Find a work space with a whiteboard, or some other open space where everyone can write or draw, and cluster the collected terms and concepts into rough groups. Once a group has a critical mass, give it a name.

Step 4: Review what you have

Ask the overall group if there are any principles they would like to add, change, or edit from what has been placed in the collaborative space.

Step 5: Select your final principles

Choose 3-5 final principles that best represent the desired outcomes for the project. Locate the evidence from user research, project goals, or mission statements that support the list of design principles. Using that evidence, write 1-2 sentences describing each principle.

Step 6: Make the principles part of decision-making

Publish the newly defined principles with the broader team. Reference them during meetings, design sessions, and feedback cycles to ensure the principles are being honored and used effectively.

Step 7: Revisit and revise

As new information is gathered and the design process moves along, revisit and revise the principles as necessary. A good checkpoint to revisit the principles is every time you make a major change to the product. Are they still specifically applicable to your organization and your product? Still borne out by research?