What are your Principles of Good Design?

Edit: As this is meant to be a living document, I have updated it to reflect my most recent thinking. The original was published on 26th March 2008, just over 2 years ago.

principles of good design

I used to see myself as a person who has an aesthetic that flows with the different trends of the time. Thus I never really thought of generating something holistic like this. Recently, I am starting to realize there is a lot of value in having some kind of personal design philosophy tucked away somewhere.

Similar to a mission statement, a personal design philosophy defines a designer’s view on life. Along the same lines of thinking, Dieter Rams’ 10 Design Commandments helped define him as a designer, and perhaps by identifying my own principles or laws, I could better define myself as well.

The other reason why I think this blog is a great place to put up my design principles, is that it allows this to be a living document that is constantly in Beta. So here we go, and please be gentle as this list is by no means final?

[ Good Design ] ~

1. is a good investment.
This originally started as “Good Design is Good Business” courtesy of Mr. Watson. However in today’s commercial environment, I belief most people understand this concept. Unfortunately not many actually see it as an investment that has tangible returns. Therefore most Return on Investment (ROI) calculations can be applied here. This means there has to be risk assessments, planning, budget controls, and long term goals set out. Design should never be just about making something look good and flogging it for extra cash.

2. is all encompassing.
Good design is all encompassing and unifying. It should not just be about the product or look. It should include every single aspect that revolves around a product, including things like user interface, packaging and branding etc.

3. does not exist in vacuum.
Nothing comes from nothing. I find the best designs works best for the context it was developed in. Good understanding of user needs, a critical insight on a problem, and a well-defined brief is important for producing the good design.

4. satisfies all requirements.
A design solution cannot be successful if it does not satisfy all the requirements of the user, business and development constraints. This is more about prioritizing rather than about compromise. Pick your fights, learn to negotiate, and make sure you win the war not the battle.

5. is beautiful.
I don’t think too much needs to be said here, except our visual sense is one of the strongest of our 5 senses. There is no justification for ugly and over styled products. In other words you cannot polish crap. So it is better to be self-critical always, rather than face the consequences when the market tells you otherwise.

6. is innovative, logical and clever.
Good design does not stop at being beautiful. Good design goes beyond aesthetics, as it also needs to be an innovative and clever solution that evokes an emotional response from the user. Good design just makes sense.

7. is intuitive and uncomplicated.
This is my latest addition. Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Making a product simple to use, intuitive and uncomplicated is probably one of the hardest things for a designer to do. It requires passion and dedication at every stage of the products’ development cycle.

8. is strategic.
This last one, I think is the most important. Design can and should be applied in all aspects of an organization. My favorite thought is that, Design should be a vital function in any organization, just like finance, accounting or logistics etc. This way Design is involved at the highest level of decision-making, and part of why an organization exists.


So what do you think of my Principles of Good Design? I think it still needs some work, and can be made a lot simpler. I will leave it like this for now as I do intend to update this post from time to time. Also why not have your say by sharing your own Principles of Good Design for discussion? I look forward to hearing from you soon.

. . . . . .

Brian Ling

Brian is the Founder and Design Director at Design Sojourn, a Design Led Innovation Consultancy. He is a multi-award winning design leader, and specialises in strategic design and innovation programs that drive successful organisations. Brian’s 20-year career in design, driven through a deep understanding of human behavior, spans over multiple domains such as consumer electronics, government, healthcare, non-profit agencies, hospitality, F&B, retail, online solutions and best in class service experiences.

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28 Comments on "What are your Principles of Good Design?"

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what is bad design?? example please?


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[…] strategic. What are your Principles of Good Design? | Design SojournGood design: Good Design is […]


@Danny: Are you referring to my principles of good design in this post? If I assume you mean my principles, then I certainly do my best to adhere to them. Wouldn’t you?


Ironically, does the principle of Good Design applies when you design the Sketchbook?


Good design should be adaptable/flexile, truly good design will function well and look good even when it’s being used for something it was never intended for. Good design also decays with grace, some things might look great as you pull it out of the box but truly well designed things are intercepted by those dudes that go through your trailer when you go to the tip.

Sorry for the late replies! @Adiel: I think sustainability should be in there somewhere, or perhaps a “hygiene” factor instead. Meaning a must have. I personally would like to leave it out, as you can have bad sustainable designs as well. @Martin: Ethical, is to me another “hygiene” factor and not key to crafting a good design. @Arnomat: This strategic level thinking has many applications, and you are right to say clients need to operate on the same level as we do. @Peter: Pragmatism is one key attribute many designers lack, and this results in design/products getting killed even before… Read more »

I’d throw “communicates” or “wins” into the mix. A client who cant see a good design is one of the arbiters and metersticks. So acknowledgement of where the client is and how far he can be taken on the journey to ‘ultimate good’ is what gets the bread on the table. Does pragmatism rate in the lexicon?


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