Design Quotes As Principles (Part 2)


There’s a lot of focus recently on the value of design at companies, from start-up’s to large corporates, and how a design culture and a design process can help companies innovate and solve real problems. The thing is though…people don’t realise just how challenging it can be to get this “design thing” right.

Following on from part 1, where I shared two principles that played a big role in my life as a designer, it seemed fitting that I shared principles that I think can help you get this “design thing” right. I’m not going to try to tell you how to get it right – I simply hope you will feel inspired by these quotes/principles to make better design decisions.

Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.

When you work with UI design for years you are bound to hear phrases like “good design gets out of the way” or “the user interface needs to be invisible“. Simple concepts, but oh so difficult to achieve when we get seduced (and fall in love) with our own beautiful creations…

Who wouldn’t want to see our freakishly awesome hot sexy flash animation intro? (ugh, remember those); or the fact that our agency has won all the ‘design’ awards? … right??

We’re sometimes our own worse enemy when it comes to design, especially when designing for our own pleasure. We need to be able to objectively judge what we are creating to ensure that it serves the intended purpose. By being true to this principle we can evaluate ourselves in making sure that we’re not creating art or beauty, but rather that the design serves a purpose…aka form follows function.

Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.
– Joe Sparano

On the other hand we also need to be careful of not making the design too invisible to the point where it becomes confusing or that people aren’t able to discover it: like the famous hamburger menu icon debacle. The same applies when designing subtle animated interactions in making sure that they don’t distract the person using your product, but rather serve a purpose – e.g. an object communicating its state has changed when an action is performed with it.

Good design is as little design as possible.

The next principle impacts the previous principle in achieving invisible design. Again, I think we need to be aware of our own biases where we love creating things. This becomes even harder when we get encouraged by product managers and clients who also want more features.

As before, we need to continuously ask ourselves if the information and elements we are designing really need to be there in the first place – and – if those features solve a real problem.

Good design is as little design as possible.
– Dieter Rams

Many years ago I attended my first UX meetup in Cape Town where Phil Barrett (@philbuktoo) was speaking at the event about loss aversion and the Ikea effect (check out his slides). He said that we need to remember that when we remove features (complexity) from our products, we gain simplicity (good design). That resonated with me A LOT over the years and it emphasises the point of how important this principle is.

Simple is hard. Easy is harder. Invisible is hardest.

This principle is stating the obvious (but an important obvious worth reflecting on): Design isn’t easy and it shouldn’t be; it shouldn’t be seen as a quick fix or an added service on top of development.

Simple is hard. Easy is harder. Invisible is hardest.
– Jean-Louis Gassée

By breaking design into these three statements you can start to understand the value of what a good design process (such as UCD) brings to a product. By investing in a design process you can start to create something for people that is simple to use, easy to understand and doesn’t get in the way of what their trying to do.

Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.

If you haven’t read Don Norman’s book yet – The Design of Everyday Things – stop everything; stop reading this; go get the book and it read it!! (Yes, it really is that important and that good).


The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald A. Norman

In the book he looks at all the objects around us in the world and he shares how he thinks about these objects in terms of how well or not-so-well they are designed.

Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.
– Brian Reed

We can’t control how everything is designed in the world around us, but we can start by making sure that the things that we DO design – is designed well.

Math is easy; design is hard.

I know I’m going to get abused for adding this one 😉 but the point is important, in case you didn’t know it already…

Math is easy; design is hard.
– Jeffrey Veen


Design is hard. Deal with it. Love it. Fall in love with it. Work through it and use a design process that fits with your team and product. You won’t be sorry!

Further reading:

Design Quotes As Principles – Part 1
Design Quotes As Principles – Part 2
Design Quotes As Principles – Part 3

Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things
Phil Barrett, You’re irrational: Tips for designers, developers and business owners

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