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.


    March 31, 2014 at 10:01 pm Reply

    what is bad design?? example please?

  • yujiayao

    December 6, 2010 at 1:47 pm Reply

    You can be confident in your purchase as each item comes with a no hassle 30 day return privilege.

  • DT

    April 14, 2010 at 6:54 pm Reply

    @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?

  • Danny

    April 14, 2010 at 6:25 pm Reply

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

  • Pauly

    September 20, 2008 at 2:31 am Reply

    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.

  • DT

    September 18, 2008 at 6:20 pm Reply

    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 they leave the table. This is a result of designers pushing their way and not compromising.
    Thanks for all your advice and comments, I will see if I can update these principles!

  • Peter

    September 18, 2008 at 2:37 pm Reply

    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?

  • Arnomat

    September 5, 2008 at 5:24 pm Reply

    …agree fully with #8 and like to add that here lies one of the most important keys for truly successful design. No matter how skilled I am as a designer, no matter how thorough and well argued I present my designs, my client needs to have the right understanding of design.
    More and more I need to convince clients on the importance of all that surrounds the beautiful drawings. That our process needs backup from user tests or other… Design has advanced but the understanding of it (by clients) still needs work!

  • Martin Owen

    June 10, 2008 at 4:44 am Reply

    I think we can have an ethical design practice as well as design ethical products. Whereas I do not think that use co-design is right for all circumstances, it is a choice that needs to be evaluated. Design practice should address inclusion (addressing disability for instance). Conflicts between client and end-user are questions of ethics….

  • Adiel Gavish

    June 9, 2008 at 11:51 pm Reply

    I would also add that “good” design includes the principles of sustainability. The blueprints for sustainable design can be found the moment you step outside, in the natural world.
    We have designed our products, services and systems to be un-sustainable for too long, and are feeling the negative impacts today.
    Everything can be made to be earth and human friendly, we simply have to integrate these design elements into all of our innovations. By unlocking the secrets to nature’s success, we can also create innovative, sustainable, self-balancing systems, products and services.
    Sustainable design is a choice to make things in a way that is life friendly.

  • DT

    June 9, 2008 at 4:32 pm Reply

    @Aen Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.
    @Martin I think that is a great point. But should we consider ethical more in the realms of the choice of projects or product rather then the design?
    True it is arguable on that beauty of design is subjective. However personally, I find that falls into the realm of a student trying to justify their work. The reality is a beautiful designs are often seen as beautiful almost immediately no ifs and buts, but whether it is a good design is another question.
    I think “form follows function” is a serious problem in our design circles today. Particularly as now we are talking about convergence and products losing its meaning as it becomes more complicated. In general people seem to have evolved into another level where they can deal with a certain complexity. But you might be surprised to know, that there are people who do find the ipod complicated and THE best selling Mp3 player is the dumb/drag-drop players that have no screen.
    I personally long for the products that people just “get” and that is sorely lacking in today’s consumer electronics scene. This is often a matter of costs vs. margins and the justification of selling prices when every a additional feature is added to a product.
    I might be wrong on this, but hey I rather use a single bladed Jack Knife than the Swiss army one.
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments. Please do keep in touch.

  • Martin Owen

    June 6, 2008 at 11:21 pm Reply

    Design should be ethical?
    Do the messages in Papernik’s “Design for the real world count”? I do not think @2 and @4 are enough.
    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Are there good designs that are ugly? or invisible? Or is this beauty in the way mathematicians think their equations are beautiful?
    And does “form follows function” have any residual meaning in our post-modernist age. When we now make promethean multiple meanings out of computational forms? Or is the iPhone the Swiss army knife – a joy on a camping trip but each function is best done by a purpose designed tool?

  • Aen

    June 2, 2008 at 3:24 am Reply

    Good design is design that does not get in the way of what it is designed for.
    >> Aen last wrote: In Search of Better Search

  • Jim Rait

    May 24, 2008 at 4:01 am Reply

    I have written about the Design journey here: http://snipurl.com/2abhc [ic-pod_typepad_com] I believe that the four principles that drive innovation and therefore design are:
    1.Simplicity- to reduce unnecessary complexity and to focus on delivering excellent consumer experiences.
    2.Space- to expand our thinking leading across a broader range of opportunities.
    3.Self-confidence- to believe in our insights and to lead the market
    4.Speed- of decision making and of time to market
    Everything else flows from this …it is the interactions of people in business, technology and cultural roles (link: http://snipurl.com/2abig [ic-pod_typepad_com]) that determine the success of the venture- otherwise known as the project.
    >> Jim Rait last wrote: Underarm balling

  • Niels

    May 21, 2008 at 10:33 pm Reply

    Hi DT,
    You are right, if you consider it as one of the requirements it is covered. But maybe it is important enough to mention it separately. I think the true power of successful companies is that they succeeded to create a product that fits well to the needs of the costumers.
    Let me know when the V2 of the list comes out 🙂
    >> Niels last wrote: Usability of parkingmeters

  • DT

    May 21, 2008 at 9:01 pm Reply

    Hi Niels,
    Thanks for taking the time to leave your comments.
    I had hoped point 4 and 6 covers this, though it is not implicit. I will think on this and make this point perhaps clearer in the future.
    This is always in BETA!

  • Niels

    May 21, 2008 at 6:31 am Reply

    Good list, I like it. One question though; were is the end user in this list?
    I think it happens often that a design fulfills all requirements but still leaves users frustrated or unhappy with their purchase. So what about adding this one?:
    Makes costumers happy and contributes to brand loyalty?
    >> Niels last wrote: Samsung MP3 player

  • Kojo

    April 20, 2008 at 8:23 pm Reply

    Good points… I was explaining design this week and i talked abt the vacuum bit 🙂 and I am pleased to see it here too.

  • DT

    March 28, 2008 at 9:10 am Reply

    Hi Nithin David,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments. Please keep in touch.
    @Jim, I’ve seen Bruce’s manifesto, and was wondering if I should do something like that. I have not quite decided, but unlike Bruce’s and Medea’s I would like to make it a design community discussion instead. Thanks again for your points.

  • Nithin David

    March 28, 2008 at 1:45 am Reply

    8 is a my favorite too.. Being strategic is what design deserves to be and is meant to be. Industries from emerging markets is slowly but surely taking note of the strategic importance.

    There is no justification for bad design or idea. In other words you cannot polish crap. So be self critical instead of letting the market tell you otherwise.

    Very very well said

  • Jim Rait

    March 27, 2008 at 5:22 pm Reply

    ….and another link… Bruce Mau wrote an incomplete manifesto for growth at: http://www.brucemaudesign.com/manifesto.html

  • Jim Rait

    March 27, 2008 at 5:14 pm Reply

    If we think of the degree to which design strategy is embedded in an organisation as a continuum then a principle and yardstick (metrestick?) of how well we are doing in embedding design in the culture would perhaps be:
    “measure of overall approach to opportunity and solution finding”.
    At one end we would have “perceives problems and buys in the cheapest stock solution” and at the other “explores trends and invents new combinations of aesthetics and technologies to ride that trend”

  • DT

    March 27, 2008 at 10:22 am Reply

    Hi Jim and Mario,
    Thanks for your comments…very enlightening. I will be updating my principles shortly!

  • Mario Vellandi

    March 27, 2008 at 2:08 am Reply

    Ha, I think you’ve covered most if not all bases. I’d of course like to add that good design allows for a form/object that’s competitive and market/user-oriented (covered by #4), sprinkled along with some sustainable/innovative materials and processes (I suppose covered by #6).

  • Jim Rait

    March 26, 2008 at 10:32 pm Reply

    Great creative provocation…My comment got out of hand and I haven’t the time to make it more simple so it is on my blog here…http://snipurl.com/22nox [ic-pod_typepad_com]

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