35 000 coin tosses a day
How many decisions do you make each day? New York Cornell University researchers estimate that an adult makes 35 000 conscious decisions daily. That makes for about 1,6 decisions per second (if you sleep 8 hours a day). For a person to deal with such a mental load, different strategies are being used. The most used and best working patterns become the internal guidelines that help us make reasonable decisions without losing time with analysis.
The job of a designer is luckily very diverse, and we encounter many tasks that we need to address quickly and reasonably during the day. All that somehow influences the design of the product is a design decision. As reminded by Jared Spool, one of the founders of UX as a discipline, "anyone who influences what the design becomes is the designer. It includes developers, PMs, and even corporate legal. All are the designers."
That is even more true for a development agency such as Ackee, where many people participate in a project, from developers through copywriters to testers. To make consistent everyday design decisions and move the project towards the right direction, they must share the same principles. And that is why we created our Ackee design principles a couple of years ago.
Design principles? What are they?
Design principles represent a set of values that the collective agreed on that represents the vision of what the product should look like in the end and how it should work. They do not describe specific rules but a methodology that ensures good and consistent results. It is a compass that points towards the right direction. The road is just a technical detail.
Design principles can exist at different levels of abstraction. At the highest levels, we can encounter them, for example, in the form of general commandments that define what is universally "good design" by one of the most influential designers of the 20th century Dieter Rams (10 principles for good design – by Dieter Rams). There can be design principles for specific industries, organizations, or products and projects.
Design principles as a concept are nothing new, but it is a relatively new trend for well-known companies to start creating their own principles for specific services. It won't come as a surprise that such companies as Apple, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, BBC, Pinterest and many others have their own design principles.
Formulating the design principles might seem too self-evident for some. Still, as in most complicated life situations, it helps to speak out the obvious truth, and the solution is quickly found.
How are design principles created
As I already mentioned, Ackee is an agency where we work on many different projects. One day we are trying to find a way to easily show fishermen and tourists in a boat where they can and cannot go in order not to scare coupling birds. The next day we are helping sports fans to deliver news about their favorite team as quickly as possible through the never-ending flood of information on the modern internet. Every project has its specifics, target group and technological limitations, scope and goals. That is why it would not make sense in our case to have universal product principles that we would apply to everything we do. It would not work.
Design principles in Ackee do not say what the design should look like but how we should work on it. To keep a stable high level of services, everybody in the design team (and the whole company) should know our design processes. In the first workshop dedicated to the design principles, we defined a set of situations and problems that we regularly encounter during our design process. Apart from designers, we also got much valuable insight from colleagues from other teams. After that, we shared our experiences and best practices that helped us solve the situations and wrote down the most efficient ones. The second workshop was focused on collecting issues and sorting them into clusters based on what aspect of work they were connected to. We created a summary for each cluster, including recommendations. And that is how Ackee design principles came into existence.
When it is about principle: Our holy pentad
The more information you get, the better
Our designs have their purpose. They need to work. For them to work correctly, we need to know exactly who we are preparing the design for, what kind of business goals we are helping them achieve, what are our technological possibilities and limitations, what content we offer to the users, what are short and long-term plans of the client, how much time we have and more. Invest time into research.
In Ackee, you are not alone
We are a team of professionals with a common goal: creating digital products of the highest quality. To achieve that, we have to use our best abilities of each of us. Developers, copywriters, marketing people, project managers, product owners, colleagues designers - each of them has some unique knowledge. They all cooperate with their teammates and people from different teams. Share your ideas and thoughts, gather information, exchange feedback and communicate at all times.
Your design is your baby
Design is very visible. It is the first thing that people notice, and users judge. That is why it cannot be created lightly. You are responsible for the resulting product. Be there when the research is done, the concept is being created, when programming is going on, and the product is launched. Validate your design, iterate, explain how it should work and check how it is implemented. Think about the future of your product and how you can contribute to its growth. You have to be proud of your work.
Be brave, but also stay rational
Design by Ackee is world-class. However, the design and technology world is changing fast, and we must always keep up, just like our developers. You make design decisions for the client and the user – make sure your decision is right and stand behind it. If you do not have enough information, be ready to act. Use heuristics to come up with unexpected solutions. Try it out and verify whether it works as expected.
Smart designers are efficient
We do not have all the time in the world, so we must work smart. Compare the time necessary to implement some design feature and balance it with the benefits that it would bring users. Be realistic – do not invest too much time into something with a low chance of success, and do not reinvent the wheel. Work efficiently. Create re-usable elements, design systems and templates. But make sure at all times that you are consistent but not homogeneous. That would be boring.
And so? Did it help?
Almost immediately after we introduced and implemented our design principles within Ackee, change started to follow. Formulated and carved principles helped us synchronize how our designers think and organize their design process. Personally, I am continuously supporting the approach "trust the process" because if the processes are set up correctly, they bring high-quality, consistent results and help prevent a creative crisis.
The formulation of design principles contributed to better cooperation with colleagues from different teams who now know how we work and what they can expect from us. That has, of course, helped us improve our handoff process and introduce design versioning. Last but not least, design principles are a good tool for quick onboarding new people because they help them understand our way of work and company culture.
The definition of design principles does not mean our work is done. After some time, we will come back to them and reevaluate whether they still correspond to our expectations for our work and correctly express our views. As much as the company's identity should always correspond to the current state, the principles need to remain relevant.