On Creating Design Principles

First up, we should get one thing straight.

There are vast numbers of people far more well-versed in design principles and practise than I, a web developer who fell into design just because he began to care a little more about the things he made.

If you care about what you make, you will likely follow a set of rules when you go about your day-to-day work.

I know that I have these rules, but no-one else knows what they are. They’re tucked away in the corners of my mind.

Occasionally they have surfaced. I have conveyed many, if not all of them to multiple people across multiple projects, here and there, when needed, and occasionally to an audience. I have no doubt that I have repeated at least one of them multiple times to the same people (which is just one of the reasons that I know I’m annoying).

The simple fact that this has happened, and continues to happen, is evidence enough that there is a problem. One that should have been obvious to me quite some time ago.

We are all working to our own principles. Some of these may be shared, but how do we know if we’re not bringing them into the open and discussing them?

Without this communication, each individual within a team working on a given project will likely be singing from a different hymn sheet, creating a shocking cacophony of clashing opinions and driving forces.

Without a common set of guiding principles, we, as a whole, are directionless.

And that is only in consideration of the present. Extend your thoughts into the future. A project changes hands, new employees come aboard, the original crew have slowly ebbed away over time, what remains to keep the ship on course?


There are no instructions, no guidelines, no stone tablets of commandments.

If you now realise that these don’t yet exist for you, now is the time to create them.

The events that occurred for me to arrive at this epiphany were far from enjoyable to endure, and make no mistake, this next part was (for me, at least) far more difficult.

I realised that I had to translate the knowledge and opinions on how things should be done into actual words. Not only that, but other people need to be able to read and understand those words if they were form a set of fundamental guidelines which were to be abided from this point onwards.

I began typing out what would eventually result in 6 core principles of web design.

As the message I was trying to communicate from the shadowy depths of my cerebrum filled up the screen in front of me, I felt like a pretentious arsehole.

It felt like what I was writing was communicating far greater importance than was actually possessed in its meaning, which is the very definition of pretentious.

I went over and over the wording, trying to reduce the level of perceived pomposity, but every change devalued the message that was being communicated.

This process lasted days.

Eventually admitting to partial defeat, I shared an early draft of the principles on Twitter. What came back were useful pointers on what could be added and amended, but nothing negative. Which is when I realised…

It is not possible for the principles themselves to be pretentious.

They are meant to be grand ideals against which the quality of your future work — and that of others — is measured.

And so, here are the principles that will drive my work, and that of others in the business, for the foreseeable future:

Be inclusive

Everything that is built for the web should be accessible to anyone by any available means.

Be progressive

Start with solid foundations, then build upon this with enhanced interactions and features for those who can utilise them.

Be flexible

Utilise responsive and mobile first methodologies to deliver a coherent experience across any conceivable device.

Be consistent

Create a cohesive visual language to facilitate clear communication that compliments our tone of voice.

Be efficient

Create tried and tested components that can be reused, augmented, and updated, with the consideration of performance being paramount.

Be concise

Clarity and simplicity is core to creating interfaces – digital or otherwise – to enable interactions between people and our products and services.

So there we have it. A set of guiding web design principles, now shared with a team of people, to ensure that we are all creating something that adheres to these core concepts.

If reading this has made you realise that you’re lacking a set of guiding principles to keep those in your organisation or team pulling in the same direction, feel free to unashamedly plagiarise these, amend and update where needed, and get everyone you work with on the same page.

Believe me, it’s worthwhile.