Design principles help you to establish and maintain good design practice and ensure consistency. They enable you to communicate and establish a collective understanding of the approach and the guiding principles to be applied throughout the design lifecycle.
It’s worth noting that the term “design principle” is also used by others to refer to how a particular solution should work and/or what outcomes it should achieve – what I would refer to as ‘high level requirements’, or capabilities. Whatever terminology you choose to use, the key thing is to maintain a distinction between the two usages. The term, as used here, relates to the ‘how’, rather than the ‘what’.
Ideally, design principles should be established corporately and then tailored and supplemented for an individual design exercise, e.g. reflecting a given market, strategic direction and/or service environment.
- Services will be designed against an understanding of PURPOSE, demand and the current capability of the organisation to deliver the service
- Services will be designed ‘outside-in’ (customer focused), ‘not in-side out’ (internally focused)
- Services will be designed within the context of the system, not in isolation, e.g. by focusing on the optimisation of the system as a whole, rather than on individual components
- Services will be designed around an understanding of value and efficiency of flow
- The design will not treat a special cause of variation as if it was a common cause
- Services will be co-created with their users
- Service designs will be prototyped
- Against a clear business model and high level design, services will be designed, built and deployed incrementally and iteratively, to deliver value early and to inform the design
- Services will be designed and delivered collaboratively, leveraging maximum benefit from the internal and partner network
- Activities that do not add value for the customer will be minimised
- Work will be structured around processes, not functions, products or geography
- The fragmentation of work will be minimised. Where possible, a single individual will have responsibility for a process from start to finish, to minimise hand-offs, reduce errors, delays, rework and administration overhead; and encourage ownership, innovation, creativity and improve control
- Process complexity will be minimised, by reducing the number of process steps, hand-offs, rules and controls; and by empowering staff to make decisions
- Multiple versions of a process (tuned to different customer needs, markets, situations or inputs) will be developed where necessary, to ensure that the design of each process is fully aligned to customer demand
- For any given customer demand, process variation will be minimised to maximise reliability and predictability
- Linear processing will be minimised, e.g. by avoiding the artificial linear sequencing of tasks and through the use of parallel processing and variable sequencing
- Excessive process decomposition will be avoided, e.g. by replacing work instructions and call scripts with appropriate staff training and knowledge development
- Unnecessary process breaks and delays will be minimised
- The need for reconciliation will be minimised
- The need for controls will be minimised
- The need for inspection will be minimised
- We will only measure what matters
- Work groups will be organised by process and competencies
- Staff will be empowered to make decisions
- Work will be located where it can be done most efficiently and effectively
- Data will be normalised across the organisation and its partner network
- Data will be transferable and re-usable across the organisation and its partner network
- Data entry will be avoided, by using data lookup, selection and confirmation approaches
- Technology will act as an enabler, rather than as a driver
- Technology will be ‘pulled’ into a design, not ‘pushed’
- The technology design will be flexible and agile, able to be easily modified in response to changing business requirements
In defining your own design principles you are setting out your design philosophy and approach. Your design principles are an expression of ‘how we do things around here’. Design principles have to connect. Make them your own.
Design principles are not like the Ten Commandments. They guide rather than dictate. Service designers are always faced with system constraints, or conditions, some of which are difficult to change, at least in the short term. Also, we always have to remember that the optimisation of any system requires a trade-off between the various parts of the system. Compromises inevitably have to be made.
TOGAF provides a further (architectural) perspective on design principles. It also includes some suggested design principles in relation to (IT) enterprise architecture; and a useful template.
Here is a curated list of Design Principles that have been published on the web. No shortage of ideas here!
A set of design principles defined by the UK Government, to drive the design of public sector digital services, but applicable to any type of service. These are first order principles and I love their simplicity. A great place to start!
This article provides a more strategic take on the use of design principles as the crucial first step in designing an operating model that enables the execution of the organisation’s business strategy. These can be viewed as the high level design principles that “help align the leadership team around a set of objective criteria for designing the operating model”. Well worth a read, although as with most of the big consultancies, I don’t go with there non-architectural approach to the design of the operating model itself.
First Published: 01/06/2013 Last updated: 30/10/2021