At it’s core, design is about solving problems. It’s about finding creative solutions to every day challenges and needs. The solutions can come in any form and shape. Be it a graphic solution to communicate a message, a service that will make an aspect of its users’ life easier, or a storage unit to organize your clutter. At one point or the other everyone needs to be a designer to solve something they are facing. Professional designers have learned and practiced skills and processes that help them. And over time certain ideas and practices proved to lead to more successful solution and thus became general principles that are encouraged to be followed.
As I learned to follow and improve on the use of those principles, I noticed how some of them can be applied to more than design solutions, and I wanted to try and express how I thought some important design principles can be used to design life.. at least some aspects of it
This might be one of the first things we learn at design school. How to balance colours or the layout. It’s not easy but it’s the only way to make a design appealing, comfortable or even engaging.
Balancing parts of our lives is often like balancing elements on a screen or a page. Whether it’s work life balance or your spending, it all needs to be weighed carefully in comparison to all other things. And just like with the design you focus on the purpose or the message and decide where each part should go accordingly.
2. Understand the Big Picture
Context is everything. As designers we need to understand a product’s use scenarios, the users’ background and above all their motivations, and not just for using the product needs. Our interaction and perception of almost any experience is rarely isolated from everything happening around us. Starting from our mood and current emotions, to other people around us, to short and long term goals, if you think about it our experiences are all extremely complex.
Just like designers need to dig deeper around the experience they’re designing, we’d learn so much if we look beyond isolated incidents and behaviours to understand the whys and motivations of behind what we as well as other people do.
3. Make things open it makes things better
“One of the most beautiful things about the web is its accessibility.
You can view any website from almost anywhere and using any browser”
My favourite from the gov.uk digital services design principles. Think about how amazing it is that you can get inspired from the designs from the portfolio of a web designer in Hong Kong, or read the cooking blog of a stay home mom in Poland.
We have amazing tools to share, discuss and learn from each others ideas, it’s mind boggling to think about the collective human knowledge and creativity, and you have a part of it. It’s almost like a responsibility to share and let others get inspired from it and build on it.
Unless bound by a contract, I love sharing my designs, not just for promotion, but also in the hope that maybe somewhere someone might have them inspire their next idea or project.
Discussions, criticisms and collective development of ideas is what makes them better. Use the great knowledge out there and make sure to contribute to it. Lose the attachment — share your ideas with the world and see what happens.
Iteration has become a core process for design and development and one of its main advantages is that it helps break down an ambitious goal or decision that is not easily reachable and more importantly revocable.
The idea is to get closer to the desired end result or decision with each iteration. The end result might even be a bit fuzzy at the beginning, but it will get clearer through stepping back and evaluating every step.
5. Make incremental changes
I considered including this within number 4, and I’m sure it might still sounds like it should have been there, but I wanted to focus on change.
Change can be a scary thing. Designers know how users almost always hate it; why would you change what they’re used to and finally learned, even when the change will likely improve their experience.. once they get used to it of course.
But the truth is even designers in their life are likely to also feel the same. And a good trick is to do it bit by bit. So don’t attempt to do everything from the beginning. You can start with smaller steps and keep improving, always. Attempting everything at the same time will likely be overwhelming and scary. But making smaller changes is easier. It also gives the chance to evaluate the change better.
Of course there are clear exceptions where the change aims to communicate a fresh look or a new beginning. But if you’re goal is to follow through with that new year’s resolution, I’d recommend you start with smaller steps and take your time to reach your goal.
6. Don’t settle
In the excitement about something new, we’re often easily satisfied with the first design we create or the first achievement we get to and slowly we get lazy about pushing it further.
However most of the time we can do better or more. Most of the time an added push could lead to extra details to the experience that would make it even better.. Digging deeper and asking more questions can help us get a lot further than we initially thought we can.
Other people’s input could help with that. Fresh eyes, new perspectives will help us see what we’ve done in a different way and notice things we might have missed, and hopefully find the motivation to get somewhere even better.
However the second part to this is to know when to stop. At some point you have to move on. Sometimes an external factor like a deadline or a life event helps us stop but most of the time you have to figure that out on your own.
7. Do the hard work to make it simple
Another one from the gov.uk principles. You can easily get people to agree that simplicity is good. But achieving it is almost never as easy, most likely you can’t even get people to agree on what simplicity would actually be.
It takes hard work to keep things clear and to the point and to focus on the main purposes, tuning out noise and distractions. It takes constant attention to stay on track and continuous cleaning up of clutter. It takes deeper understanding and research to find the simple language.
It wouldn’t be too outrageous to assume that if something seems too complex, there’s a good chance it will go wrong. And sometimes making it simple requires the courage to lose it all together and start again.
Other posts about design principles: