The pursuit of great design [1/2]: Design Principles [Max Yogoro]

The pursuit of great design [1/2]: Design Principles

My journey into Design was not the most obvious one. I was not an artsy kid and my current drawing skills are almost the same of my 8 years old self. At that time, keeping my Lego creations limited to two colors felt good enough. As most of the kids, I was very curious about why things are the way they are, and why, in the face of a choice, one would choose A, and not B or C. Nurturing this curiosity and exploring these issues throughout my life had a major influence on leading me to work with design, innovation, strategy.

Designing products, services, strategies, and organizations is a process of choosing. Good design comes out of good choices. Choosing wisely, therefore, is a core issue.

In my pursuit to become a better ‘chooser’, one concept that I heard some years ago greatly helped me: Design Principles. For those who are not familiar with this concept, imagine it as a set of guidelines that will drive your design, your decision making. They influence the coming design phase by mentioning things like… the product should have [this], its purpose is [that], it focuses on [this phase of the user journey], and so on.

Every intentional design is based on Design Principles. Quantitative and qualitative researches and their further analysis are sources to define Design Principles for a given challenge. If you want to create a product, you do your best to understand the market, trends and your customer, get some insights and move on into designing, right?! Yes… partly.

There is what we can call as the ‘Challenge at hand’, the problem or opportunity that makes relevant the design of a solution. We are used to looking at it when defining the design principles. Users’ journey and needs, technical feasibility, resources and expertise, related trends, and existing solutions are facets of the ‘Challenge at hand’.

However, there are other sources of Design Principles that are as important and often remain hidden of sight or as hidden influencers. Acknowledging such sources promotes a clear view of the challenge as well as better decision making during the design process.

Let us take a closer look at them.


More often than not, designed solutions [products, services, business models, strategies, and more] face several problems during their development and implementation inside an organization: lack of engagement, lack of execution, confusing and harsh validation meetings that can undermine, slow down and even stop the project, to name a few.

It is true that unexpected and uncontrolled variables will always exist, and some aspects are out of the designer’s reach. However, certain aspects can be tackled to promote fit between the organization and the designed solutions.

Designers shall uncover as much as possible the following aspects of an organization:

  • Strategy
  • Culture
  • Identity & background
  • Situational influencers, including but not limited to market conditions, trends, relevant new technologies, relationships with stakeholders, and internal political environment [decision makers, sponsors, supporters, opposition]

Part of this content will be explicit, part implicit. It can be uncovered through conversation, observation, reflection and co-creation.

Designer [individual or team, internal or external]

Give the same briefing to two different designers and you will get two different solutions. No surprise about it. Designers are different and design challenges enable a spectrum of solutions, not just one.

As an individual or team, inside the organization or as an external agency/consultancy, you are guided by your unique combination of traits. Strong as they are, such traits are often the core of your very Value Proposition and can be summarized into:

  • Values
  • Purpose
  • Strategy
  • Expertise
  • Preferences

Getting the awareness of and building such traits is a path to valuable Value Proposition.

Society & Ecosystem

Every design is placed in and integrates a more complex context. Considering this broader organism leads to more impactful design. It includes, but is not limited to:

  • Acknowledged challenges [examples of global ones]
  • Social context [culture, economy, politics]
  • Nature

What now?

Here are some tips to help you:

  • Keep this framework at hand and try to write down all the design principles that may be relevant to your challenge. Then, prioritize them
  • Conflicting principles lead to bad design or a bad design process. Try to get awareness about it and discuss the issue with your team
  • If the Design Principles are too specific/narrowing, less space is left for creative solutions. Pay attention to it
  • If you are a designer, your research does not start when you go to the field. It starts when you first meet your client/organization
  • If you are an organization looking for hiring an external designer [individual or consultancy/agency], try to understand their Design Principles. Embrace Principles if they match yours or if you want to develop them internally. Avoid the rest
  • If you want to take a look at some companies’/projects’ design principles, check: Design Principles Collection, MIT Media Lab’s Principles

What next?

This article is the first half of the content. The next article will be related to the application of Design Principles and Challenge Framing when designing solutions. Here it is The pursuit of great design [2/2]: Designing.

Sep 4, 2016
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