What are your design principles?

Paul Boag

Whether considering your own site or somebody else’s, how do you make decisions about its development? What are the underlying principles that inform your entire approach to web design?

Don’t you just hate companies that post their mission statements on their website. I mean, who cares? Mission statements do have a role to play but that is as an internal tool, not something that the whole world needs to know about.

Such is my loathing for things like mission statements that for the longest time I sneered at anything even remotely like them. Headscape seemed to run quite happily without such trappings.

More recently I have begun to see things differently. I have begun to become interested in the idea of design principles. This is partly because of the design principles adopted by the Government Digital Service and the brilliant list compiled by Jeremy Keith. But, it is also a desire to more clearly define what lies at the heart of Headscape’s approach to web design.

I think I like the idea of design principles for two reasons.

First, they are a useful tool to present to clients (especially at the pitch stage). It makes it clear how we work and what we stand for. It helps weed out clients that don’t think in that way and gives us more credibility with those that do.

Second, it is a great way of getting everybody thinking in the same way. They act as a yardstick that we can measure our work against. They are also useful for new people joining the company. Shorthand if you like, to the way we think and operate.

So what are our design principles? I am not sure yet. I certainly haven’t discussed them with anybody else in Headscape. However, here are a few possible candidates some of which are more aspirational rather than current practice:

Work collaboratively

At Headscape we work collaboratively, both with the client and each other. Designer, developer, project manager, client and other stakeholders in a project should be actively engaged with each other and the project. Effective websites cannot be produced in isolation.

Design with data

Design is subjective. What one person loves, another hates. Therefore the only way of being sure of the most effective design is to test and test often.

We should be gathering data at every step of the web design process, from initial research through to design and usability testing. This data should be informing our design, rather than it being at the whim of personal opinion or company politics.

Build through iteration

Developing a website should be an iterative process. A website should pass through a cycle of development, testing and refinement many times before launch. Where possible we should launch early with a minimal viable product and refine that as we observe real users interacting with the site.

Work from user needs

The design process should always begin with identifying users and their needs. Early in the process user stories should be created and customer journeys explored. These should be used as the basis for all decisions about the direction of the final deliverable. If a feature or piece of content does not meet a users need, a strong case needs to be made for its inclusion.

Business objectives focused

Although user needs should drive a project, this needs to be within the context of the business objectives. Clearly defined business objectives should be established up front. These should be translated into measurable key performance indicators that are continually tracked. If a feature cannot be justified in terms of return on investment, it shouldn’t be built just because there is a user desire for it.

User experience extends beyond the website

Headscape recognises that the user experience extends beyond the website. We therefore consider it important to map the entire user journey and consider the website within the context of social media, mobile and offline touch points.

Our work should be accessible

We believe that websites should be accessible to the broadest possible audience. This means websites should be accessible to users with physical or cognitive impairments, but also users on older technology, with poor connectivity or using alternative devices. We believe this should be achieved not through multiple sites or applications, but using progressive enhancements and techniques such as responsive design.

We are client centric

We believe it is not enough to provide our clients with an effective website. We also need to create a website that the client loves. The client has to work with the website long term and so it is important that they are passionate about it. We achieve this by ensuring the process of creating that website is enjoyable for the client and that they feel a sense of ownership over the final result. The website must be as much the clients as it is ours.

Always educating

Our role is not just to build websites. It is also to educate our clients about digital best practice. It is our job to empower clients through education and equip them to run their own online presence. Alongside this we are also committed to educating the broader web community and promoting best practice whenever possible.

Keep looking ahead

Finally, Headscape is committed to keeping our clients informed about new innovations. There are continually new developments in best practice and we see it as our role to remain at the forefront of these changes.

That said, Headscape does not believe in applying cutting edge techniques to client projects. New techniques need time to mature before being applied to business critical systems. Although we look to the horizon we are focused on what is safely implemented today.

So that is my preliminary list for Headscape. But, what about you? What are the underlying principles for your approach to web design?

“Blank Stone In Coliseum” image courtesy of Bigstock.com