Applying my life principles to my design process
How my new outlook to life can be incorporated into my professional domain
I’ve been fortunate to work on and produce several design libraries or design systems in my career to date. Each new system is an evolution of a previous, incorporating growing experience, trends and new business requirements. Common themes run throughout each system. All encompass common user interface elements, such as buttons, input fields and so on, and they all communicate design principles. They all adhere to business brand guidance and they include reference to an underlying grid system.
With all design systems, I’ve communicated a design approach inspired by the findings from the Nielsen Norman Group. The NN Group have identified user interface principles that are key to delivering an accessible, easy to use and efficient interface. These principles include, but are not limited to, discoverability, robustness, clarity, consistency and responsiveness. Although qualitative, they’re practical. They’re “hands-on” principles that are in the mind of the designer at the point of component and design implementation. Design implementation meaning both mock-up and high-fidelity design aesthetic.
Until recently, my approach to design systems (as briefly described above) has been a successful one. It’s an approach I will continue to refine and evolve, however largely the approach will remain the same. There’s nothing unique or special in my approach to design system creation. It’s a common design blueprint that’s served our domain incredibly well and will continue to do so in future years.
Within the past six-month I’ve began my minimalism journey and subsequently my life has changed remarkably. To those closest, I’m becoming unrecognisable as my views, values and beliefs have transformed. During this journey I’ve encountered many new life principles, some of which I believe can be used in my professional domain. These principles are less focused on implementation detail and are a more mindful approach to design, yet I feel they add great value to any design system.
So, what are these principles?
Life principle. Each and every action in my life is now intentional. For every purchase I ask myself “will I benefit from having this thing in my life?”. This principle ensures I consider all aspects, good and bad, of the potential purchase before bringing it into our home and into our life. Being deliberate does not only apply to consumption, it also applies to how I conduct myself and the activities within which I participate. It maximises my output and enjoyment if I’m 100% confident of activity commitment.
Design process. Every design decision or design addition to an interface must be conscious, intentional and deliberate. We must avoid adding elements that are without thought and meaning. Every interface addition must enhance customer experience and not diminish it. Being deliberate ensures all design implementation is undertaken with full rationale and understanding of one’s action, nothing is left to chance.
Life principle. My old self was surrounded by many. Many gadgets, many clothes, many technologies. The volume of my consumption devalued those items that were specifically purchased to add greater value to my life. Just as I ask myself “is this purchase deliberate?” I also ask myself “will this item add genuine value?” My intentions are to ensure all of my possessions are valuable, whether in a functional or meaningful way.
Design process. For each design element that is added to a page, we risk detracting value of existing items. Value is not defined by the total number of design elements. We must always strive to increase value to the customer experience. Value can be added by the removal of the unnecessary. Value can be added by placing greater emphasis on function.
Life principle. I want my life to be meaningful. I don’t want my life to be a facade. There is genuine intent and honesty behind my every action.
Design process. Design components that do not add value or aren’t a deliberate action will reduce meaning. It will demote design intent. Design is descriptive. It should define function. There should never be a confusion between user perception of design intent and the what is actually delivered.
Dieter Rams, one of the world’s most influential designers created the 10 commandments of industrial design, many of which can be applied to the digital design space. In 1956 Dieter Rams produced one of many design icons; the Phonosuper SK4.
The SK4 was unlike no other record player of its time. In the 1950s, industrial products were lavished with decorative items. They were built for furniture, not for function. The Phonosuper removed all unnecessary clutter. It focused on what was important.
Another significant design element of the SK4 is its perspex lid. Record players of this generation adopted metal or steel lids which typically vibrated and disturbed sound quality at higher volumes. To add functional value, Dieter Rams opted for a perspex lid due to perspex being better equipped of handling sound vibrations. Adopting perspex did not only improve sound quality, it proudly displayed the simplicity and uniform arrangement of the player’s functional interface. The decision to use perspex makes the Phonosuper SK4 one of Dieter Rams most iconic designs.
The Phonosuper SK4 is design in its purest form. Simple, functional, void of confusion. Each element describes design intent. Every element adds value and has a place. The design is meaningful.
Good interface design is as little design as possible. Less but more valuable. Good design promotes the essential and is not burdened by non-essentials. This metaphor mirrors values of living a minimal lifestyle. Back to purity, to what’s important. Back to simplicity.