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Embracing Design Principles

In this post I'd like to dive into Design Principles. To me, they are one of the best things ever in this line of business.

What are Design Principles?

Design Principles are a set of rules you define with your client. They provide direction in your design process. They give the design process a clear and shared vision and help in making decisions. Finally, they describe the meaning of your product or service to the customer. I myself mostly use them for the clear and shared vision and as an aid in making decisions.

Principles first!

It's important to write the Design Principles before starting the webdesign. You need everyone to agree to the Design Principles before you start your design task. There's a simple reason behind this: think first, act after. If you're developing the Design Principles during the design phase you'll most likely write them so they match what you're doing in the design.

Example: I always have a Design Principle stating "Cut the crap!". I want a visitor of a website to find the content he was looking for. I don't want a page that is filled with promo teasers that have no relation to the content. Anything that is not related to the information a visitor was looking for - should be scrapped. If you're already designing you most likely have included a sidebar with banners. I want to think freely - no sidebar and for sure no banners unless related.

If you're setting the ground rules first and have everyone agree to them (without showing visuals) its much easier for clients to understand. I find it quite logical to set some rules first. Its like going go-karting. Before you get to drive you have to listen to the people of the track. They will explain how it works, what the different flags mean and a bit about safety. Defining Design Principles before designing is quite similar.

Whenever you show a webdesign everyone starts having an opinion. Often they don't have this opinion when they see the boxes of an interaction design, but when it gets turned into visuals... Everyone has an opinion.


There are truly many examples out there. Most designers will quote you the design principles of companies like Apple, Google or Microsoft. I personally favour Dieter Rams' Design Principles. Dieter Rams was a Product Designer who turned Head of Design at Braun back in 1961. Mr Rams wrote down ten principles for good design in the late 1970's. Just imagine that, they are as old as I am myself!

Good Design...
  1. Is innovative
  2. Makes a product useful
  3. Is aesthetic
  4. Makes a product understandable
  5. Is unobtrusive
  6. Is honest
  7. Is long-lasting
  8. Is thorough down to the last detail
  9. Is environmentally-friendly
  10. Is as little design as possible
Alright, you can argue some of them when it comes to web design. But they are pretty good principles for any designer. And I'd admit number 6 has been broken a lot. Not every client has the best intentions with a website...

Rules, rules, rules...

After you've set the rules with your client sometimes you'll find you have to break your Design Principles. That's okay. The way I use them is more as a form of communication stating our goals. As I mentioned before I always have a rule that states 'Cut the Crap!'. I mostly use it to make clients think about content.

Very often your client has internal stakeholders. Those people are nagging your client to put more banners on the pages. They want to shout what then need to communicate. Your client has to deal with them. Every now and then for my clients I break my own 'Cut the Crap!' rule - its always because of stakeholders. But that's okay. They are rules to set a common goal. For agency and client to understand what we want to achieve. We work with these rules in mind, but its never fair to say you have to live up to them 100%. That's often just not happening.

Corporate Principles

After working with Design Principles heavily this past year I've absolutely come to love them. They help so much in the communication with clients, its just amazing. I've seen pretty big companies change their ways on the worldwide web because of the Design Principles. The thing I find most odd and also pleasant is that clients start thinking about content. I love that aspect very much.

You can also take it a bit further. Why not set Design Principles for your own company? They help communicate to clients what you're all about. It also helps the agency to maybe not take on clients if their request differs too much from the company's Design Principles.

Edenspiekermann is an example of a company having set principles for itself. They call it a manifesto, but basically they've set their own principles:

  1. We work for your customers. We may have to take their side at times.
  2. Challenge us. Complacency is the enemy of great work.
  3. We don't give answers. Unless we can explore the question.
  4. We are not suppliers. Partnership gets the best results.
  5. Talk to us. We thrive on feedback.
  6. Trust us. You hired us because we do something you cannot.
  7. Pay us. Our work adds to your bottom line, so invest in our future.
I love this kind of approach. When you're a client you know what to expect. And for Edenspiekermann it must be easier at times to say 'no' to a client - when he doesn't fit these principles.

Give it a go!

I know this post is pretty one-sided. I am mostly telling about my love for Design Principles. I can tell you from experience that they work wonders, because they mean you and the client actually have to chat about them. And be sure to include my 'Cut the Crap!' principle. It will go down well, because everyone wants to say 'Crap!' at work - and because it really helps your content.

Thanks for reading and feel free to share your experiences with Design Principles. Or get in touch if you need more information.

Kind regards,



  1. Nice blog Corné!

    Design principles are a great way to help both customer and agency to stick to the essentials of communicating the message, ensuring goals are met, combined with a slick and above all effective design.

  2. Thanks Mascha! I simply love Design Principles for those reasons!


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