Digital Design Principles

Setting the right design principles for your digital strategy is important

What are Design Principles?

I think Design Principles are interpreted in many different ways. At Heavy Penguin we see them as a set of principles that help you build and deliver Digital Services.

All too often companies struggle to design and delivering Digital Services, (whether that's a website, application or newsletter). Decisions are made on guesswork or hunches. Having good Digital Principles help this process. They are used as a framework to work within, leading to faster and better decision making.

Very similar to a company's values - they are a high-level list of rules to provide governance and guidance.

What are they not?

Digital Principles should not be a definitive roadmap. Keep them high level as they have to be adaptable. The principles will be ever-changing, just as the Digital world of today is. You should not go into too much specific detail.

Why use Digital Principles?

How many times have you seen heard this in a company?

"(insert department name) would like a new page built on the website to push a campaign we have running.."

Often a "No we are too busy..." response from the Digital team does not go down well and causes internal conflict. If you had a set of digital principles to refer to, the conversation could be very different...

"Ok, no problem. Let's sit down and look at our Digital Principles and see if this request fits in. If so, we will get it scheduled in. If not, I'm afraid it will have to be put on backlog..."

Already, it's a different feel. The department has not been told "No" outright. That's one of the many benefits that Digital Principles provide. They also help educate people in the business on best practice. If, for example, you had a principle that was...

"We will release MVP and then test and iterate.."

This is educating those that may not know about this approach to software development.

What is a Good Design Principle?

There are lots of generic Design Principles that are kicked around, but in our opinion, your Digital Principle should be relevant to your company. They should be a differentiator and separate you from the competition.

Your Design Principle should change the way something is done currently. If you say

We will make decisions based on data

That means you will no longer just build Digital Services based on a hunch or Department request. That's a change in company culture. They should also reassure people that decisions are being made against a well thought out set of principles and therefore giving confidence to the project.

Examples of good Design Principles

There are some great resources out there. collates many different Design Principles all in one handy website. The Government Digital Service spent a huge amount of hard work and effort on getting their principles together.

Take a look, any principle can be taken and adapted to fit your company or organisation.

A Digital Principle Workshop

You can run this however you see appropriate. Usually, we would gather anyone within the company that deals with digital decisions, including senior stakeholders, and run through a 2-hour workshop (break halfway). We would start by outlining most of what we have said above in this article and then give the participants many examples.

Ask each participant to write their Digital Principle on a post-it and put it on the wall. Do this for about 30 mins. It doesn't matter at this stage if they are perfect principles, just ideas are fine.

Then we would group common ones and ask participants to vote for their favourite. This is done with 'dot voting' where each participant has a set amount of dots (e.g - 10) and they can place a dot next to the principle they wish to vote on. They can use more than one dot if they feel particularly strong about one.

This is then discussed and refined down to the final list. About 10 is a good number but more or less is fine.

What to do with the Digital Principles

Don't let them get lost in a sea of paperwork of rules and guidelines. Equally, don't put the on a company intranet to die a slow and lonely death. Get them visible. Get creative.

One great idea is to turn each one into a bold poster and have it displayed around the company or Digital team. Turn them into mouse mats or hijack people's screensavers. Whatever you decide to do, make sure the company are aware of them and see them regularly.

Digital Principles will only make a difference when people are unable to ignore them.

Contact us today to see if we can help with your Digital Strategy.

This article draws on advice from Paul Boag and Matthew Strom.