There’s a tinge of clickbait-slash-unnecessary controversy in this post, but it’s a great analysis of design principles nonetheless. The gist is that design principles should go beyond basic good design practices (“Make it clean and simple!”) and help differentiate organizations and clearly steer them in the right direction for the specific organization.
- “Does it Distinguish Your Design From Your Competitors’?”
- “Is it Something You Might Reverse in a Future Release?”
A really good test of a design principle: is it reversible? In other words, could you imagine the exact opposite of the design principle being perfectly valid in a different organisation or on a different project?
Having first-hand experience building design systems with underpinning design principles for giant organizations, I can speak to the fact that principles that sometimes sound like generic design advice are actually coming from research and the organization’s real needs. A design principle like “Just enough interface” sounds like generic advice to “keep it simple” from the outside, but for the highly-technical audience that is used to seeing lots and lots of data and controls, a concept like UI minimalism needed to be explicitly spelled out.
I really enjoyed the way the author closed the article:
If your organization wants to spread awareness of design best practices, then generic principles may make sense for the time being.
I think this is true, and scaling design awareness and best practices are often huge roles that a design systems plays in an organization. Many design system users are not and will never be designers, so “concepts such as simplicity, consistency and accessibility” may never be obvious to them. For organizations that are trying to scale design practices, including some generic-sounding principles serves a very real need. I think you should try to avoid having all of your design principles be general, all-purpose principles, but including a few key principles that aren’t entirely unique isn’t the worst thing in the world.