Inspiration

How to Embody the Top Principles of Good Design

April 12, 2018

Here at Proto.io, we’ve discussed what “bad design” is and how complex and personal the definition is. If bad design is something that inherently doesn’t fit user needs, then good design is exactly the opposite. It defines design that understands users and continues to cater to their needs over time.

Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer, coined the 10 principles of good design back in the mid to late 20th century. While that might seem like a long time ago, his principles are ageless, as they range from defining effective design as innovative to minimal. Looking around at design that we revere today, like just about every product Apple release, it’s clear that Rams’ principles are alive and well far his initially intended realm of industrial design.

Instead of reiterating Rams’ principles, we’re going to cover what we think good design is in the modern era and how designers can work towards it.

Good Design Is Simply Intuitive

When we dissected bad design, we came to the conclusion that while a design might go against all design conventions and have terrible aesthetics, if it functions perfectly and accomplishes what users set out to use it for, then it can be considered good design. After all, Amazon dominates online retail and yet their website looks rather antiquated, compared to the sleek designs we’ve come to enjoy. Their website and mobile app design are so simple and consistent that shoppers understand how to browse and buy products without any potential moments of confusion. Therefore, Amazon counts as good design because the way their product is laid out accomplishes customers’ goals of buying what they want and need. From Amazon’s perspective, this also helps them achieve their goal of generating astronomical revenue.

New product slide displayed on a laptop
When it’s time to design something new, where do you find your inspiration?

Good Design Changes with User Needs and Expectations

Ten years ago, excellent web design featured an easy to use desktop site, but then responsive design and sleek mobile web versions became standard as well. Clicking over to websites on our smartphones that offer a poor mobile experience is now a major detractor from our perception of that company. If a website design is so outdated, it is easy to take a leap and think that the company’s product features might be ancient as well. Effective design incorporates how users interact with the product and changes to meet their evolving standards.

Good Design Never Puts Form Over Function

We love good design quite a bit more than the average person, but we still understand that it comes second. When designing a product, it must be useful and intuitive before adding in modern and innovative design components that make it pop. If you have all the functional basics covered, then by all means start delighting your customers with exciting design features. With that said, good design can be ingrained in product design, as long as the nuts and bolts of the product take priority. Just remember to never put form over function because a great design might encourage users to download your app, but its functionality will keep them coming back and get them to suggest it to others.

Good Design Considers Its Effect on the Greater Population

If you’re designing a new social networking app, you must consider the impact it will have on users. Facebook may help users stay in touch with friends and family around the world, but what about when it leads to depression-induced FOMO (fear of missing out) when a user sees photos of friends reaching milestones they haven’t yet? What about when teenagers use a chat app to bully one of their classmates mercilessly? Designers must consider the benefits of their products, but also the negatives that users and society at large could potentially experience because of them. Good design works hard to counteract those negatives so that users won’t experience any unintended consequences of using that specific product.

Google’s old motto was “do no evil,” which they recently changed to “do the right thing.” And their motto should translate into all companies and products. Making life easier for users or bringing them enjoyment are valid goals, but if a product encourages users to spend more money than they have, spend countless hours on a website that will not ultimately gain them anything, or encourage them to portray a false identity to fit in, then that product has missed the mark. To sum up, good design is ethical and addresses any negative components head-on to ensure a healthy user experience.

A team working together, wearing green team shirts
When you have the right team behind you, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.

Good Design Is Collaborative

Design is not a siloed process. Copywriters, developers, product managers, and more can all be involved in the creation of a new product. Communication is vital across these different roles to make sure that everyone understands key objectives and works towards the mission of the project. Meeting periodically with different members of the team helps the project move along seamlessly. No designer wants to create sketches, then wireframes, and prototypes to have developers tell them that what they envisioned would take weeks beyond the project timeline to code. When the whole team is in the loop and able to pitch ideas for improving the product, process, and company, everyone can work together better to create the best possible version.  

Good Design Navigates Smoothly Within Constraints

No matter how long you have to perfect your product design, it is never going to have every possible feature you’ve ever dreamed of. For one, a design that takes on too much could easily become crowded and cluttered. As a result, users might get overwhelmed and abandon it. Good design is simple. It distills the essential features and goes all-in on presenting them in a logical way. Designers must be aware they can’t accomplish everything in the first version. Instead, prioritizing features will help the team stay on track.

Good Design Is Accessible

Above, we mentioned that good design works seamlessly and this should be true across the board. Whether there are folks who frequently explore your website using a screen reader or your smartwatch app is a new favorite among the deaf due to useful haptic technology, your design needs to be accessible to everyone in your target market. Designing equitably shows that you are mindful of a wide range of needs, while also increasing your potential pool of users.

Good Design Adds Value

A mobile game might come in handy while your train is delayed and a running app might help keep track of fitness progress. The value that apps add to a user’s life can be quite different, but they must add something worthwhile to keep users coming back. If you’re just starting out on a new design project, sit down with your team to map out your unique value proposition to gain a competitive advantage in the market. However, this value proposition can change over time as users tell you what their favorite features and use cases are. Keep your ears open to hear unexpected aspects users value about the product.

A person giving a thumbs up hand signal
Making someone’s life a bit more positive—mission accomplished!

Good Design Is Worth Sharing

Word of mouth marketing is the best (and cheapest!) marketing tool you can take advantage of. You might design an app or product that encourages users to invite friends, but even if it doesn’t logically lend itself to sharing in-app, get a pulse on your net promoter score. During user research ask how many participants have shared it with others and how many would be willing to share your product with people they know. With all the paid advertising channels out there, word of mouth is a simple outreach tool that carries the most weight due to its authenticity. A design worth sharing is one that embodies all of the aspects here, as it meets user needs consistently and makes it impossible not to let friends and family know about the game changing product.

Good Design Is Never Finished

Updates are a requirement as user needs change. This is why user research needs to be an ongoing and integral process. Ask potential users to try your prototype and ask them again once you have a few versions ready for the market. Make tweaks as needed and never stop asking for feedback. This iteration phase is crucial to keep your product out of the “decline” stage of the product lifecycle. Test new features frequently to stay one step ahead of user needs.

How do you embody good design in the apps and products you release? Reach out on Twitter to join the discussion.

Proto.io lets anyone build mobile app prototypes that feel real. No coding or design skills required. Bring your ideas to life quickly! Sign up for a free 15-day trial of Proto.io today and get started on your next mobile app design.

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