Is Now the Time to Establish Your Design Principles?

Paul Boag

On this episode of the Boagworld Show, we discuss design principles: what are they, why do you need them and how do you make the most of them?

This weeks show is sponsored by Balsamiq and FullStory.


Paul: On this week's episode of the Boagworld Show we discuss design principles: what are they, why you need them, and how to make the most of them. This season of the podcast is sponsored by Balsamiq and Fullstory.

Hello and welcome to the Boagworld Show, the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining me on this week's show is the very wonderful Marcus Lillington, and the very, very evil Leigh Howells.

Leigh: Hello Paul. How are you?

Paul: The first thing he said. The first thing, right. Skype started up, immediately out of his mouth is, "What's that alien?" Talking about my face.

Leigh: Well, it was filling my screen and it was a bit of a shock, just, you know, 4:30 in the afternoon after a long day. I'm sorry.

Paul: My face, my face is a bit of a shock. That's what you just said, Leigh. I just want to be clear about that.

Leigh: This is why I don't generally like speaking because the words, they just come out wrong.

Marcus: I can always rely on you, Leigh, to put your foot in it one way or the other.

Leigh: Foot, ankle, leg.

Marcus: Yeah.

Paul: Up to the knee. So, Marcus, I've got a confession I need to make to you.

Marcus: Oh, no, what?

Paul: I'm seeing other podcast hosts. Did you know that?

Marcus: Who? Who, when, where, how, now why?

Paul: It's not a proper podcast. It's not like this. It's not professional.

Marcus: It's really, really unprofessional then.

Paul: I'm doing a thing with Vitale as part of the smashing membership. We did the first one yesterday, was it? I think it was yesterday, where it's really, it's a nice little idea actually. It's very different to this. Anybody who's a smashing member can come and join in the show and they can ask questions and they can review sites together, and it's very interactive. It's the future, unlike this kind of dinosaur of a podcast, so you've been replaced I'm afraid. Sorry to break that to you.

Marcus: So, this is the very final episode then?

Paul: Oh, no. I'll carry on humoring you.

Marcus: Andy Clark tried to get me to do another thing, but I declined because of busyness, but it was just going to be talking about music and stuff rather than …

Paul: Oh, I see, rather than-

Marcus: … webby.

Paul: … the webby things. What I've not told you is that we've stopped. I'm not actually going to publish any of these podcasts anymore. It's just for your benefit, so you feel like you're still doing something.

Marcus: Thanks Paul.

Paul: That's all right.

Marcus: Mate. I wasn't rude to you, or him.

Paul: No, that's true. You weren't rude about my face. Could we basically, can we just beep Leigh out, so every time that he speaks, we just beep it?

Leigh: Does that mean that I can start swearing horribly?

Marcus: No, no. Don't do that Leigh. That's even worse.

Paul: No, those are the bits we'd leave in, so everybody would just think you had turrets or incredibly rude, one or the other.

Leigh: No, I don't think so.

Marcus: Paul, Paul, don't you already do two podcasts a week, don't you anyway? Because, you kind of do your blog posts.

Paul: Oh, the blog posts. Yes.

Marcus: You'll be spending the whole time in front of a microphone if you're not careful.

Paul: Well, no. I mean, it takes me about, well, it depends on how long the post is, but it takes about eight minutes to record the average digital insights show, but you know, those have suddenly become incredibly popular. In the last six months, we are now at the point where more people listen to my blog posts than read them, because that way they don't have to put up with the terrible grammar and spelling mistakes.

Leigh: Well …

Marcus: That's a good point.

Leigh: Reading's an effort, isn't it?

Paul: It is.

Leigh: Listening is easier. It really is.

Paul: You could also speed me up as well.

Leigh: I much prefer listening to stuff.

Paul: You two don't read books, do you? Neither of you.

Leigh: I usually now have an audio book and an actual printed book on the go.

Paul: Yeah, I think that's very rude. I have two books on the go at the moment that are in Kindle format. Obviously, I don't do paper. I don't live in the dark ages.

Marcus: Well, what I'm doing is, I'm trying to throw my paper books away, but I think I should read them first, so that's accurate.

Leigh: No, don't do that.

Marcus: Well, let's face it, books are just insulation at the end of the day, and things that add a bit of color to a room, but …

Leigh: They're so much more than that.

Marcus: Like, clutter. It's clutter. I'm such a hypocrite. I've criticized people in the past. People have got no books in their room. Soulless.

Paul: It's going to be about 30 seconds now before Marcus starts smelling books and talking about …

Leigh: Start rubbing the paper.

Paul: Yeah, that's what people say. Oh, it's not tactile. Oh, screw tactile.

Leigh: I think that's rubbish, Paul. I think books, especially a book that meant a lot to you when you read it when you were 14, should still be on your bookshelf and you should still be able to refer back to it and get those feelings of enlightenment they would have given you, so don't throw books away, that's really bad.

Marcus: But wasn't that the words rather than the physical object, which is still there?

Leigh: No, both of them. No, no, because obviously we didn't have Kindles and things. We only just had ink on paper when I was 14, and no, it's the actual item. It's the item that you … all those kind of creases in the spine you made.

Marcus: Yeah, I've got a Charlotte's Web, my bedroom at home at my mom's. Quite a few books that I never read back then either, [inaudible 00:06:07].

Leigh: Yeah, I'm not saying … I guess that that's maybe how an author, somebody that reads books all the time might view books, but there's still will be some. Like the first time I read Lord of the Rings, it blew my mind, and many examples of that since. I've still got that copy, or copies, all three of them.

Paul: So, what are you reading at the minute Leigh?

Leigh: I'm reading, oh God. I'm reading something called The Surgeons. These books that are on my shelf, I don't actually remember how they got there or who bought them, or if somebody bought them for me. I was just looking at them and thinking, what are these things? I've got no idea where they came from. This one is called the Surgeons, so far it's terrible.

Paul: Oh good. That's excellent.

Leigh: Dump it then.

Paul: No, I think I should read it. It's a bit kind of gory I think, when I say it's terrible. I think it's written by a doctor.

Leigh: Oh, right.

Paul: But it's the usual thing, bodies have been found, detective, blah, blah, blah.

Leigh: Oh. See, that's the difference with me, is that if it's a fiction book, then I will listen to it as an audio book. If it's a work related book, that's when I read it on the Kindle, because that way I can make highlights, I can search it, those kinds of things.

Paul: Right.

Leigh: At the moment, for example, I'm reading a book called Strategy in the Fat Smoker, which is an excellent title for a book I think.

Paul: Yeah.

Marcus: I know a few of those.

Paul: It's intriguing.

Leigh: It actually makes a lot of sense. The premise of the book is that creating company strategies like being a fat smoker. You know you should have a strategy, but shorter niceness wins over longterm kind of commitment. It's like if you know you should diet but you never quite do it, you know you should give up smoking but you never quite do it, and that's what most strategies are like. It's good. It's a good book. I highly recommend it.

Marcus: I've got two books on the go at the moment. One is … I ordered this months ago, and it was exciting when it popped up on the top of my Kindle, is the new Alastair Reynolds book called Elysium Fire, which it goes back to prefect Dreyfus, which is kind of detective type novels, around Yellowstone and the Glitter Band and all that kind of stuff.

Paul: Oh, okay.

Marcus: Another one is Neil Gaiman's book called The View From the Cheap Seats, which is basically a lot of his speeches, his write-ups on other authors, and all this kind of stuff. What it's great at is all the recommendations of books that he has.

Paul: Oh, yeah.

Marcus: That's worth a read.

Paul: The Alastair Reynolds one, I'm just finishing Absolution Gap, so that's my audio book at the moment.

Marcus: That's a bit of a weird one, that one, if I remember rightly.

Paul: To be honest, I'm not overly impressed with Alastair Reynolds.

Marcus: Some of them are good, some of them less so. That's a less so. That's the one with the cathedrals on wheels, isn't it?

Leigh: Yeah, it is.

Marcus: Absolutely, yeah, yeah.

Leigh: Sorry, just the concept of that is ridiculous.

Paul: That whole series, the Absolution Series, hasn't done it for me. See?

Marcus: No.

Paul: But there you go. We're all different. So, nobody's reading, other than me-

Leigh: Oh, I'm reading [crosstalk 00:09:29]-

Marcus: House of Suns is my favorite.

Paul: House of Suns?

Marcus: Yeah.

Paul: So, I did quite enjoy that one. Sorry, Leigh, what were you saying?

Leigh: So, I am reading a … well, I'm listening to a design book called Glimmer. Don't know if you've come across that one.

Paul: Oh, no. What's that?

Leigh: It's a few years old. Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your Business, Your Life, and Maybe Even the World. It starts with product designers, but these product designers seem to get called upon them to design like healthcare systems and economies, which seems a bit weird. There's lots of kind of anecdotes, and I like the idea from this book that it's okay to-

Paul: You like the idea of you changing the world is what you like, isn't it?

Leigh: No. The number one premise it keeps saying is ask stupid questions, and I think I'm quite good at that, so this book has kind of made me feel I can do it right, I can ask stupid questions, and that's okay. I keep asking them.

Paul: But I don't think that's enough by itself.

Leigh: No.

Paul: You can't just go through life asking stupid questions and then hand across a really big invoice at the end. It doesn't work quite like that.

Leigh: And learning to love constraint, which we kind of already knew. I'm a big sufferer of choice paralysis.

Paul: I always think with design in particular, in my opinion, that's the difference between design and art. Art is free from constraints and design works within constraints. That's my little bit of fortune teller … No, what is it? Fortune cookie wisdom.

Leigh: That's one way of defining it, yeah.

Paul: It's a bad way of defining it [crosstalk 00:11:05]

Leigh: The first thing most artists do is find their star, which is imposing constraint on themselves, really, isn't it?

Paul: That is true.

Marcus: Well, I liked that, Paul, until Leigh ruined it.

Paul: Yeah, well … We've already established that Leigh is just a bad influence on the show generally. So, the next book I've got lined up is called Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers. So, I'm hoping that by the end of that, I understand business, or alternatively understand how to be a designer, one or the other. Either would do.

Leigh: So, is that designing success, or being successful as a designer, or are they the same thing?

Paul: It's the trendy stuff, isn't it? Ooh, design is no longer … it's almost what you just said, actually, about product designers. Designers are no longer just designing interfaces. We're now designing business too.

Leigh: Yeah, but it kind of feels like we're just used to the word design in place of something else.

Paul: What we've done is we've taken a load of stuff and wrapped the words "design thinking" around it, and now we sit in the board room and look intelligent.

Leigh: It's almost as if someone said, "Leigh, can you design the economy for me please?" First of all, you come from it from a place of total ignorance, and you design stuff from a user perspective, but then the first thing that's going to happen is you're going to get shot down by all the expertise in designing economies or whatever the word is for creating economies.

Paul: Yeah. To be honest, in fairness, to all of this, it's taking some of the working methodologies of design, things like collaboration, things like user centric thinking, various kind of workshoppy exercises and approach.

Leigh: It's workshops and yellow stickies, isn't it? That's what it is.

Paul: Basically, yeah, yeah.

Leigh: And thousand of people looking at them and pointing at them. Look. Which makes sense.

Paul: Yes, it does. To be honest, we joke about it a little bit, but I've been in enough businesses now and worked with enough organizations where that kind of stuff is radical, where normally instead of … The best example of that, of design thinking, is a really simple idea, which is that instead of sitting around talking about stuff, let's make something together, right? Let's prototype something and try it out, right? In a lot of situations, that is just radical. Instead, what you do is you form a committee and you have arguments and discussions, and you create specifications and all of that kind of stuff. This kind of iterative, agile, collaborative, working, prototyping type methodology is quite radical within certain parts of the business world.

So, it's quite interesting. I certainly have had some real good experience introducing design thinking, whatever the hell that is, to organizations. So, yeah, perhaps I've drunk the Kool-Aid. I do have a tendency of doing that. Let's be honest.

Leigh: Go ahead.

Marcus: I was going to say, I read an article or blog post Andy Bud wrote, I don't know, probably six months ago, and it was basically saying a little bit the opposite of that, in the fact that they were finding, they were going into work shops with their sticky notes and their pens and all this kind of thing, and they were finding that the people they were sat down with were sort of going, "Oh, we just did this with the branding people last week," or we did it with whatever the week before. He's saying that maybe people are getting a little tired of it, but then the opposite of that kind of goes with what you were saying, Paul, and what his conclusion was that maybe we should just be doing something. Not asking endless questions and putting things on the wall, just building something and seeing if it works.

Paul: Yeah. That is the trouble … the danger with the kind of sticky note approach, because I would actually agree with Andy over that, that the danger is that you don't actually produce anything, that you talk a lot, and again, it's just meetings in another form, isn't it?

Marcus: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Paul: Yeah, I think you've got to try to produce something tangible out of it, and get to that as quickly as possible. A big part of what I do is mentorship, and one of the things that they often fall into the trap of is they feel they have to get everything lined up before they can start producing something. I take the opposite approach. Let's produce something shit now and quickly, because it's much easier to pick something apart than it is to start from nothing, if that makes sense.

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: Probably it doesn't, but anyway, all right. Well, I think we've kind of waffled long enough. Let's talk-

Marcus: You can't move on yet, Paul. You have the words on the notes, every day carrier bags, and I don't know what that means.

Paul: I was going to save that for next week. It's a whole different conversation, all right?

Marcus: I've got to wait a whole week to know what that means?

Leigh: Yeah, is it carrier bags or trendy man bags?

Paul: It says trendy man bags.

Leigh: I thought it was.

Paul: I think, at the moment, all right? Okay-

Marcus: Okay.

Leigh: Are you in a quandary about which one to buy? You are, aren't you?

Paul: No. It's not that. The reason I put it on is because I've realized that I need to start carrying a bag with me.

Leigh: Really? A sudden flash of inspiration. I need a bag.

Paul: I need a bad. It's a radical change for me, so I was looking at what bags are around, and I discovered this term, every day carry bags, so you sucked me into this conversation. It's like a cult, right?

Leigh: Really?

Paul: People are obsessed by it, but it's really weird. For me, the reason I want a bag is so that I've got something to put my iPhone in and a battery in my wallet, and some Polos, because my breath stinks, and all my pills, because I've reached a certain age, and all of that kind of stuff, but every day carry bags. It's like, a flashlight and a fire starting kit.

Leigh: God yes, watching line.

Paul: And a big knife. Yeah. They talk about it as an every day carry bag. I don't know what their days are.

Leigh: Are these preppers being ready for the apocalypse? They've got their bag, they're okay. Got my fire starter, I can wash my socks, I'm going to survive.

Paul: Yeah, but that's not every day one hopes.

Leigh: Well, it might be though. That's the thing.

Paul: It's like they're fighting zombies everyday or something. I just don't get it. It's lost on me. So, at some stage I'm going to write an every day carrier bag for middle aged nerds. That, and put sensible things on it, like …

Leigh: [inaudible 00:18:26].

Paul: [inaudible 00:18:28] take a big part of it, and then plasters that can go on the back of your soles when your feet ache because you're not used to walking, and ointment. We won't say what the ointment's for, but I'm sure I need to start carrying ointment by this age.

Leigh: Smokes if you're a fat smoker.

Paul: Exactly, yeah, and a cream [inaudible 00:18:51] if I'm that way inclined. Anyway, we've spent nearly 20 minutes now on absolute pointless waffle.

Marcus: Useful reading tips, Paul.

Paul: It must be time to talk about our sponsor, because that's what you do before you get to any valuable content whatsoever. So, yes, let's talk about Balsamiq very quickly. So, Balsamiq is an easy to use wire framing tool supporting the whole of the season actually. What's really great about it is it's got really low barrier to entry. Wire framing is great for lots and lots of reasons. It's great for creating a discussion and a dialogue. Goes back awhile, say the [inaudible 00:19:34] go about is easier to shoot something down than it is to endlessly discuss it, so throw something together in Balsamiq quickly and easily, and then start discussing it, start testing it, start iterating on it. This is a perfect example of doing rather than talking, and Balsamiq is really good for that. It's also great for selling ideas to your team without putting a lot of work in. You can start to show rather than tell, which is one of my big things, because a lot of people have trouble visualizing stuff. A tool like this enables you to quickly show those kinds of stuff.

It is super fast to create and to test things, and in fact, I would argue, I was thinking about this. This is something that they wrote down. They suggested it's so easy that it competes with pen and paper, and I was like, eh, I'm not sure about that. The great thing is, is if you think about how long it would take you to draw, I don't know, a calendar widget, and with Balsamiq you can just drive a calendar widget straight onto the screen, and of course you can move things around really easily.

Leigh: That's the thing. The fact that you can go-

Paul: It depends.

Leigh: … interrupt a …

Marcus: If it's nice about the sponsor, then yes, you can.

Leigh: It's excellent about the sponsor because I still use Balsamiq. I think somebody … I think you, Marcus, did it or something the other week, but I use it in workshops for precisely that reason, because it's easier than pen and paper, and you can put it on the projector, and it's just the fastest tool I've still got really for getting ideas.

Paul: It really is. This I quite like. This is a good reason. Good reason for using Balsamiq is because it looks crappy, which is not the kind of thing you'd expect somebody to say about their own product, but their logic for this is it's got to look rough and ready, it's got to look hand drawn, because you get more honest feedback, because it's obviously you haven't spent very much time on it, and you don't get confused and think it's something it's not, which I think is really good.

So, you can get a 30 day free trial, and in fact, you can do even better than that. You can get three months for free of using Balsamiq Cloud, which is their web-based collaborative version, by using the code Balsamiq Boag alongside … when you create the account, you have to put your billing information in. You can just drop it in there, and you can find all of that out by going to

Okay. So, that's that. Let's get on to the topic for today, 22 minutes into the show. This is what happens when we have Leigh on the show.

Leigh: Yep. I'm sorry. I'm just going to keep apologizing.

Paul: So, I thought we'd talk about design principles, 'cause no doubt, no doubt, Leigh, you've got some big problem with design principles and think they're a shit idea because you just like criticizing, don't you?

Leigh: That actually was my initial reaction until I started really thinking about it, because-

Paul: Oh, dear. You're not a convert, are you? We ought to say what design principles are first.

Leigh: Well, yeah, say what they are first, because that was my first problem.

Paul: So, design principles are the thing that I spent quite a lot … I'm quite a fan of them, so that's why I naturally presumed Leigh didn't like them. Basically, they're a set of rules that define how you go about approaching design. They're particularly useful if you are part of an in-house team within an organization and you want to kind of set some ground rules in terms of how you go about approaching design. So, our typical examples were things like we always start with the users' need, or we don't break the main experience to cater for educators, or we design with data. The little kind of short, snappy statements that define what you do and do not do in terms of design.

So, typically you have between about five and 10. If you end up with too many, then you kind of water each one down, if that makes sense. They're becoming increasingly popular. You find that there's a huge number of organizations that have set these kind of principles, and increasingly this is one of those examples of a kind of design practice that's going beyond design, because often, these are now used to be broader digital principles as well, or even business principles. They're kind of like rules of operating. I think they've come about largely because it's very hard to plan longterm into the future when it comes to the kind of work that we do. It's all very fluid, so you don't have this kind of very solid goal that you're heading to at the end of the path, so to speak.

So, the other way of doing it instead is to have these set of rules within which you operate. So they help inform your decision making, especially when you're faced with multiple potential approaches that you could take. They're also very useful to explain and rationalize your approach, and they unite your team around a kind of common approach and a common set values. Move a little bit away from personal opinion towards something a little bit more structured, although it's always going to be open to interpretation.

So, I think this is something that you can have, like at a team level, on an individual project it might be that you want to define some design principles, but even an agency like Headscape could have a set of design principles that when they first engage with the client, they would say, "Well, look, this is how we normally go about making decisions, how we go about design. These are the rules with which we operate, and let's all agree on those upfront," so that someone in senior management might think twice about sleeping and pooping on the project later.

That's basically my logic for them.

Leigh: Go on, Marcus.

Marcus: I think they've also … if you've got a design where people are going, one, the client might be saying, "I'm not sure this works," or, we're saying, "Yes it does," and other people, maybe somebody else in Headscape is going, "Well, I don't like that part of it," if you've got a principle or a bunch of principles that you can go back and say, does this design fit with any of these principles, or maybe you've got a principle … I'm looking at the ones that Ed uses, data rams, which are kind of his old product designer, one of them is good design makes a product understandable. So, if your design isn't making whatever it is understandable, then you could argue that it's not fitting the principles, so you need to go back to the drawing board on it.

Paul: Yeah. It's a kind of checklist really, I suppose.

Leigh: Yeah. To decide whether I actually had any design principles, I decided to write down my design principles. It turns out I do have some.

Paul: Yeah. So you aren't completely lacking in any principles.

Leigh: Apparently not, but they're kind of these unwritten rules which we all kind of stick to. We don't really write down what they are in this sense, so they're kind of there. We just don't spend the time to define them. They're just sort of things we keep saying along the way of every project.

Paul: That's a good thing, I think. I think it's good to actually write them down and formalize them. So, go on, then. What did you come up with? I'm fascinated.

Leigh: See, my design principles come into my design principles because I didn't want too many, and that's one of the design principles. So, I've got five.

Paul: Okay, that's good.

Leigh: So, my principles are, if I do the top level first, focused, inclusive, aware, flexible, and kind. You can kind of group all your principles into these five. So, focused. Simple if I reduce, remove, reduce copy, keep the information architecture shallow, create limited cause to actions, don't overcomplicate things in technology, focus on the top tasks, not features that people don't want, and probably lots of other things, and make our design focused on what it's about, what the site's about. Inclusive. So, we include our accessibility guidelines, being responsible, including different users and different devices, performance is part of being inclusive, making sure that people with older devices don't get hammered, so things degrade gracefully. People on slow connections, we have to include them, and older machines.

In terms of being aware, we have to be aware of the brand of the client, data analytics, the client needs all together, making sure we collaborate with them. The top tasks of their audience, we've got to be aware of those. Aware of the users' challenges, and aware of things like design trends in their industry and what are their competitors doing. So, we're always making sure that we're aware of all this stuff. Next one, flexible. So, we have to not be precious in our designs. We have to kill our darlings when we need to. Don't hold things to heart. We need to be flexible to get rid of things. Be flexible by building things in a component based kind of way, so things are literally flexible and they can be used in different positions, and being flexible with clients, so when they have new needs, we're flexible with what they want to achieve. I think being kind …

Paul: Yeah, that's a weird one. I'm curious about this one.

Leigh: Okay.

Marcus: Paul doesn't like being kind.

Paul: No, no. It's not that I don't like-

Leigh: Well, apparently neither do I.

Paul: Ha ha ha.

Leigh: So, if you're kind, you're not tricking people with dark patterns, you're not confusing people with just weird design choices and design patterns. You're not making life hard for people, for mobile users. You're not making people wait around for stuff to appear. I went to a site actually today for school. The home page was 36 megabytes. Time to first paint was 37 seconds.

Paul: Wow.

Leigh: Wow. So that wasn't a very kind site. I had to wait for ages. I was annoyed. Yeah, so being kind. Imagine if I was on a mobile trying to do that, and all my data was limited, and I was in a country with expensive connections. That wouldn't be very kind. Don't force too much content onto people. So, if they have to wait through all of these words, that's part of being kind. Make the content clear, easy to understand and read, and just be nice to everybody. Buy biscuits at meetings. There we go.

Paul: I like that last one the most actually. I think I'm most behind that. That's really good.

Leigh: And don't call Paul names when he appears on Skype.

Paul: Yes, exactly. Don't laugh at someone's face. That's just harsh, isn't it? When you see people in the street that may be balding a little bit or you point and laugh-

Leigh: Just laugh in hysterics.

Paul: Anyway, no, actually I think that's a really good list, 'cause I made a list of what makes good design principles, and you've kind of actually hit on a lot of them, so you've avoided trends. You haven't said, do flat design, or something, which obviously those kinds of things come and go. Everything you wrote there all stand the test of time. You've expressed a strong opinion. You've said things where that it's not blindingly obvious, and there are some things in there that if you consider the opposite would be feasible as well, if that makes sense. You've got stuff that is actionable and not just aspirational. Maybe not the top level ones, but as you drilled down a little bit, it's got some very actionable stuff here. And I like the way that you've done, you've taken tangible examples from each of the different areas and turned them into something very tangible, which I think is good. They're very quotable. I love the idea you can make amazing posters, couldn't you, of be caring and be …

Leigh: Yeah.

Paul: … inclusive.

Marcus: That's what was going through my mind, Paul. That's what I'm going to make him do, to go on the walls.

Leigh: Oh, wouldn't it be nice if the first letters spelt out a funny word? But they don't.

Marcus: Maybe they do in a different order?

Leigh: Oh, yeah. Oh, it might be rude. No.

Paul: Things like that I think we'll come on about that in a bit about how to use design principles, but I think it's a really good set. There are a couple of other things I had in terms of what makes a good design principle, is that it should be differentiating, so what do I mean by that? Maybe somebody else doesn't do that. Maybe somebody doesn't consider that, and that's why I quite like the caring one, because I would've never thought about being caring, but I wouldn't never thought of framing it in that way, if that makes sense. So, I think having some way of differentiating yourself through your design principles is quite good. They should be based on a business or user need. Yours are almost all based on the user need, aren't they, really? It's about creating a better experience for the user, so that works well.

Leigh: Yeah, I suppose so.

Paul: Yeah.

Leigh: It's my personal, what I think about, when I'm designing I suppose.

Paul: You avoided making any of them related to a functional specification. They haven't become too specific in terms of what you would end up building. It's a really good list. I like it.

Leigh: Wow, look at me, designing design principles.

Paul: There you go. You're a grown up designer.

Leigh: I decided they even had to be one word each because that's part of the number one thing, simplify, and reduce, but then I waffled on about it making it long again.

Paul: Yeah. That's the difficult one, isn't it? I always struggle with that, because yes, but do you lose clarity in simplifying?

Leigh: Yeah, this is something that often happens in IA. I try to reduce things down to single words, but then there's lots of hymning and hawing about, well, they probably won't understand that particular thing because I've tried to be too concise.

Paul: I would argue maybe you've been a bit concise, if I can be critical of you. I don't like criticizing other people, unlike you, Leigh, but if I was going to level a criticism, it would be maybe that you've gone too far, and it's become a little bit vague as a result, but whatever makes you happy.

Leigh: Who knew I was going to write a list? I didn't.

Paul: No, it's good.

Leigh: Started spewing out.

Paul: How should you use these? I thought that was what Marcus said about turning into posters. It's about disseminating them so they become part of the culture and the way that you think as an organization, so posters, screensavers, include them in proposals you send to clients. They should be on the website. They should be everywhere, if that makes sense. If you were going to adopt these, if Headscape was going to adopt them, you'd also want to consult other people in the company, so Ed should get his say in it. I think part of creating a set of design … obviously you would just write in a list of the podcast, but in reality it's about engaging with other people and having a conversation about your design principles and the direction you're going. That should be something you're doing with your clients as well, at the outset of a project, saying these are normally the way that we work. These are the principles we operate in. But is there anything specific to this project?

The other thing that I think is really good is with the example that you gave there, Leigh, is that you gave some practical examples of what that means in practice. So, we make decisions with data even for example, let's say one of your principles was we design with data. You go on to then explain that we make decisions with data even if that contradicts our personal preferences, you know? So, it's kind of showing the cost of those principles, how it might be difficult. One thing that I did once with a company, which went really well, I was working with one company, and there were so many problems with their culture in terms of how they were operating, and so we decided to create a set of digital principles, design principles, whatever you want to call them. We didn't have that many, but you thought even this is too much. They're so far away from where they should be that a set like this, I think we had 10, which was probably too many, would be too much, too big a change for them.

So, we just picked one, which was let's test that, and we turned it into a little mantra. So, I basically said, every time someone disagrees in a meeting, just say, "Let's test that." Every time you show a design, say, "Let's test that." Just keep saying it. Don't do anything else, don't try and change the world or anything like that, but just keep saying that phrase, let's test that, let's test that, let's test that. It became like this mantra, and most of the time when they said it, everybody ignored them, and they never did do any testing, but over time, they came back to me. I met up with them at a conference or whatever and got chatting with them, like a year or two later. They said to me, over time, what started to happen is other people started to say it as well. They kind of picked it up like an ear worm, do you know what I mean? They started saying it, and eventually they started to actually do it.

So, I think that's one nice thing about design principles, is they can become agents of change. That sounds so pretentious.

Leigh: I do like the idea that you can refer back to them and you've kind of agreed them, say at a kick off or something. It's like you've got the rules by which we're all working together and you've got something to point at and say, "Look, we said at the start that we aren't going to do these things, or we are going to do these things," rather than just … because sometimes it just feels like you're pulling things out of the air. Have you thought about performance if someone is suggesting an idea or something? It feels like you're trying to knock it down for no good reason, but if you can point to some principles like this, that have been agreed at the offset, then it feels like a very useful thing to be doing. Design principles.

Paul: There's also a little psychology trick going on there as well, which is that people like to be consistent. If at the beginning of a project they said, "Oh, we're going to design with data," and you point out later on that maybe we're not designing with data, then they're going to be more inclined to do it, while if you just suddenly say halfway through the project, "Oh, we should be designing with data," you don't have that kind of leverage of wanting to be consistent. And, like you say, you're pulling it out of your ass, aren't you, if you say it halfway through.

Leigh: That's what it feels like sometimes, yeah. Where does this come from? Oh, it was always there. We just never really said it.

Paul: Yeah, which is the good thing, like you said, is it's taking these things that you've always been doing and had in the back of your head and actually making them tangible. It's good. It's good. See? Look, by bringing up this subject, I've made Headscape a better place. Even though Leigh did all the work, I'm taking the credit.

Leigh: I like the let's test that.

Marcus: Yeah, I like that, let's test that. I was just going to say that I fully agree with Paul that it's something that we all need to agree upon, and I also agree that I think the single words aren't that helpful. When you first read them out, I was like, hm, but then you did lots of brilliant examples of it. I think we can get some excellent finalized design principles out of that bunch.

Leigh: Cool.

Paul: Let's do it. Do you know what that sounded like to me? That sounded like a manager saying, "Good attempt, but now we're going to do it properly."

Marcus: School teacher.

Paul: Nice start. Yeah. Well done for trying. I'm sure there's some nugget in …

Marcus: Good effort, Leigh.

Paul: Yeah. I'm sure there's some nugget in there we can make use of. We'll just throw away the rest. Yeah. No, it's very good.

Marcus: That's not what I was saying at all.

Paul: So, I think then the moral of the story is that it's worth taking those things that you are doing already, that you are … that is baked into your approach, and actually formalizing them a bit, that they become this powerful tool that you can use to just shepherd projects in a bit more of as sensible direction and maybe start changing culture just a little bit. The only word of warning I would say is remember that they are principles and not gospels. They're not rules.

Leigh: No, they're the law.

Paul: Oh, they're the law.

Leigh: You have to do it.

Paul: Oh, okay.

Marcus: You often end up in a situation, think of with clients, when you're discussing designs or layouts or whatever, and you might be lost for a kind of hard and fast these are the principles we're working too, and you can end up just sounding a bit whiny. Oh, we need to consider the user, and oh, and data and stuff, and it's like, having something that's written down that you discussed in the first place just makes it that much more powerful, and you're more likely to remember it as well, so great. I love it.

Paul: Good. Good. And we are agreed, we shall do these hence forth and forth with.

Right. Let's talk about our second sponsor before I give you a little bit of reading to inspire you on design principles and then some next steps that you can take on it. But our next sponsor is Fullstory, who's also supporting this show for the entire season, which is really nice of them, and in short, Fullstory, the best session recorder out there. So, if you use other session recorders that sound like a piece of kitchenware that becomes incredibly heated … That's a bit cryptic, but if you know the one I'm talking about, then dump it. Dump it like the hot jar that it is. See what I did there? See what I did? Yeah, that was good there, because honestly, Fullstory is loads better.

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Whew. All right. Further reading. Okay, so we've got some further reading for you on the idea of design principles. Now, it is possible that you found our conversation and description of design principles maybe slightly disjointed, maybe not quite as-

Marcus: No.

Paul: Not quite as clear as it could have been because it's in a podcast setting, and not because Leigh's on the show. There is a great article that you can read. It's at It kind of talks you through what design principles are, why you want to use them, how to go about making them, what makes good design principles. We've got lots of examples in there. That's a nice summary of where you can find out more about the principles behind your design principles, so check that one out. Then I've got two places you can look to get some inspiration for design principles, because good though Leigh's list was, there may possibly be better examples out there.

Leigh: And different, and more.

Paul: Exactly. So, one is that you can go to Jeremy Keith, who we've had on the show a number of times, has created a list of design principles at, and he's got a whole load of different kinds of principles. So, these are people's personal principles, like for example, Tim Berners-Lee principles, all the way through to organizations like the W3C, but also big organizations like Google. All kinds of people, how they kind of approach things, and you might want to check those out because they are very, very good. There are some great ones in the list. There's also another collection at

Leigh: I really like this one.

Paul: You just like this one because it's prettier.

Leigh: I like it because it's yellow. Look at that, and there's like 1,122 principles in here. I didn't know there were so many principles in the world. Thousands.

Paul: Yeah, see? It's a very popular thing. And you can add your own principles. You can submit your principles, Leigh.

Leigh: I'm going to submit my principles.

Paul: Exactly. There you go.

Leigh: Wow. There it is. Yeah. Ooh, it's a Git Hub.

Paul: Oh, that just confuses you.

Leigh: A little bit. I just made it a little bit more complicated.

Paul: That's pathetic.

Leigh: That's to put people off, isn't it?

Paul: So, they're great resources, because to be honest, the best way of starting to create a set of design principles is to give people something to shoot down, exactly like we were saying right at the top of the show, when we were talking about why you want to wire frame, why you want to do stuff. Produce something rather than talk about it. So, good starting point is actually to go along to something like and get people to start clicking through on all these different principles, and if they see one that they like, print it out or write it out onto a different card, all right? Then, lots of different people can all do that at the same time, so you'll end up with a whole load of cards on the table with different principles, and then you can start sorting those cards into similar ones or ones that overlap with one another, and then you could maybe try voting on those different cards of which ones you like more and which ones work better for you. Then you can maybe reword and relabel those piles of cards, et cetera.

Make it an interactive, rich process rather than all sit down at a table with a blank sheet and going, "Okay, so what are our design principles?"

Leigh: We've got some already. We can start going, what are my design principles? I don't know.

Paul: Exactly. Yeah, so some next steps. I would suggest you start, as I said … I've just said this basically. Have a look at other people's examples. Learn what other companies are doing. Draft an initial set of principles from that, and then open up for discussion and refinement and working on it together before eventually finalizing it. Marcus, do you have a joke to wrap us up with?

Marcus: I do. Seeing as Leigh was on, I felt like I had to have a really silly joke.

Leigh: Oh, I've got a silly joke as well.

Paul: There we go. Two for the price of one.

Marcus: Okay, here we go. I went to the pet shop yesterday to buy a gold fish. The guy said, "Do you want an aquarium?" I said, I don't really care what [inaudible 00:51:33] is. It's quite silly.

Paul: Yes, yes.

Leigh: This is kind of nerdy. Okay, so, what is Yoda's favorite dinosaur?

Paul: Go on.

Leigh: A do-ceratops. There is not tri.

Paul: Oh, no.

Leigh: I would've done a Yoda voice, but I don't think it would've come across very well.

Paul: That is very good, or very bad. I'm not sure which at this exact moment.

Leigh: I couldn't decide either. First of all, what? Oh, yeah. Is that funny? I don't know. Maybe.

Paul: So, that is it for this week's show. On next week's show, we're going to talk about are you confident you have the right design work flow, so we're going to talk about ways of working in design and how people go about doing it, and we are being joined by somebody from the Slack channel. I can't remember who it is. That's really bad, isn't it?

Leigh: It's not me. I won't be here next week. I'm out breaking things on the snow.

Paul: Good.

Leigh: No, I'm going to stick to the very, very nice gentle slopes.

Paul: Good. Good for you.

Leigh: And have a nice time.

Paul: But I do want to encourage people, talking about the Slack channel, come join our Slack channel. It's turning into a great little place. I've spent too much time in our Slack channel these days, and it's really helpful, everybody's really friendly, lots of people answering questions, and talking about everyday carrier bags, and other important features.

Marcus: I missed that, obviously because I had no idea what they were.

Paul: Exactly. So …

Marcus: I forgot my log-in. I need to get a new log-in.

Paul: The most exciting recent conversation has been all around the fascinating subject of Cloudflare CDN caching. We live on the edge. We really do. So, to join, you can go to, and we would love to see you there. But until then, or until next time, thank you very much for listening. Bye-bye.

Marcus: Bye.

Leigh: Bye-bye.