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April 25, 2014

Creating Your Own Design Principles - Tips from a Leading UX Trainer

Design-Principles-Dollarphotoclub_48616817“By the time you realize you need design principles on a particular project,” said Carolyn Chandler, Co-Founder of the School for Digital Craftsmanship at ADMCi, “it’s often too late to make them.”

Chandler was speaking to members of Chicago’s digital community at the April 17, 2014 Chicago Interactive Design & Development Meetup group event, sponsored by the WunderLand Group. Her presentation, entitled “Creating Your Own Design Principles Through Collaboration,” defined the concept of design principles—and stressed the importance of their creation being a team effort.

“Great design principles are inspirational,” she said. “Yet business leaders and designers seldom take the time to create design principles together.”

Defining design principles.

What do a motorcycle website and a clever error message have in common with the work of an award-winning architect?

Chandler invoked all three to demonstrate design principles at work.

She described how the work of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi grew from his determination that people “feel the light” in his buildings, and pointed out how a simple question—“Did you mean to attach files?”—demonstrates Google’s empathetic user experience principles.

Then, she asked attendees to select three or four “brand attributes”—from a handout with more than 60—that described a Harley-Davidson web page on screen. When we called out words like “Dominating,” “Heavy” and “Energetic,” she said that’s the kind of inspirational, accessible and precise vocabulary that comes from sound design principles.

Her definition:

“Design principles are brand-rooted guiding statements that help your team make decisions about which features to build, and how they work.”

Saying the savvy “no.”

Chandler said the famous Second City improve motto “Yes, and …” is an essential stage of the creative process. Great ideas only happen when imaginations run wild.

But the next stage, she insisted, was saying “No.” And that’s the hard part.

She held up Starbucks as an example. Their brand statement cites the “human need for a slower pace”—which means they’re consciously saying “no” to McDonald’s style standardization that would speed up service. “If you need your coffee fast, go to Dunkin Donuts,” she said.

In design terms, establishing three to five “pithy and visual” design principles, such as:

Liberated: providing the chance for emancipation, freedom, happiness and delight

gives both designers and managers the basis for saying “no” to design concepts that—no matter how clever, beautiful or potentially effective—don’t fit.

Making co-creation happen.

Of course, that only works if everyone agrees on the same design principles—which is why they need to be created by all stakeholders working together, not just the design team.

“When teams don’t know how to engage stakeholders,” said Chandler, “somewhere in the product creation process, it's all too easy for teams to become reactive, losing the vision set forth in the kick-off.”

She recommends breaking down walls by “creating something together that’s relevant, but possibly unreal. Creating real things right away activates people’s agendas and defenses. Creating irrelevant things doesn’t hold your stakeholders’ attention.”

But a design challenge workshop, inspiring meaningful play, can bring teams together to establish the right kind of design principles:

  • - Inspired to create
  • - Connected to brand values
  • - Empathetic to your users
  • - Able to say a savvy no

Chandler said, “Great design comes from strong foundations, a common vocabulary and valued checkpoints. Designers can facilitate them, but they have to be owned by the whole team, to the highest stakeholder.”

Carolyn’s presentation can be viewed here:

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