8 Design Principles To Live And Die By, According To Facebook, IBM, Pentagram, And More


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Most designers have a set of principles upon which they loosely base their work. Dieter Rams, famously, had 10. But how often do you satisfy all of these tenets of your practice at once? Once in a while, if you’re lucky.

So we asked eight prominent designers who were either judges of or honored in the 2017 Innovation By Design Awards: What if you really had to boil it down? What is the one principle you never compromise on? What design tenet do you live and die by? These are their responses.


Ruthia He, product designer at Facebook

“Good design is invisible. Why? Because to design is to find a way to solve a problem. Ideally, the best way to solve a problem is to alleviate the negative impact of the problem, and ultimately eliminate the problem itself. At Facebook we’re not designing for the sake of design, we’re solving people problems. In fact, some of our best designed products are ones people might not even notice.

“Good design is also obvious. Good design is like a good movie–it should make people feel the story is just happening right in front of them, when in reality the character personalities, plots, phrasing, lights, and settings are all highly orchestrated to tell the story and make you forget about how it’s being told to you. Good design should also be self–explanatory, and make people feel like this is just how things should naturally work and there is no better way to do it. That’s a big part of how we think about design at Facebook–our goal is for Facebook to work exactly as people expect it to.”


Paula Scher, a partner at Pentagram

“I always want to push back at something. It’s usually an expectation that something has to be a certain way. As a graphic designer, it has to do with expectations of milieus: Why does something have to look a certain way because an audience expects it? Why can’t it look like something else? Why does a parking garage have to be ugly? Who said schools need to be beige?

“There are trends that you buck, things that become part of the norm for no given good reason. Sometimes you come at it out of ignorance, sometimes you’re just asking questions, sometimes you hate a trend and you want to buck it. Sometimes you just want to do it a different way. Otherwise, why do it?

“You want to move people just a bit. You really are trying to raise their expectations about something. Most people think things have to be a certain way, but they don’t. You talk to a corporation and they were always doing it this one way because they had it set up that way, and all of a sudden it isn’t working, and they don’t know why. It’s because of expectations. That’s what you’re pushing back on. Sometimes it can feel annoying to them because it’s disruptive. But often when they get into it they embrace it. It comes from asking a lot of questions. It’s possible do that with virtually everything. Everything has so many inherent possibilities within it.”


Brett Lovelady, founder of Astro Studios

“As a mantra, ‘fight gravity’ for us has been interesting. For us, fight gravity means to passionately and aggressively pull away from mediocrity. You’re fighting against the expected forces of mediocrity. It’s easy to do what’s expected. How do you do more than that?

“First is pursuing the unknown with energy and purpose. To do more than ‘good enough.’ It’s easy with the speed of things, to meet the expectation, but we try to exceed it wherever possible.

“It’s not just about doing the basics of good design–principles of form and function and color and materials–but to actually look for something more soulful, to give it more persona and more character. And to also look for the opportunity to create intellectual property. We’re designing products, so our client will ask us to do X, but we’re going to do X plus Y. Let’s give it a new feature, let’s solve another problem along with the one we’re being asked to look at.”


Diego Zambrano, a partner at Work & Co

“As digital designers, we often prioritize qualities like speed, clarity, and user-friendliness while creating products–all incredibly important. But I believe emotion needs to play a bigger role in design decisions. I try to be hyper-conscious of what a person feels during every stage of interacting with a website, app, digital kiosk, or e-commerce platform.

“Take a standard online shopping cart, for example. Instead of an automated message that says ‘your order is on the way,’ how can we elevate the emotional experience of buying something? Confirmation alone isn’t a feeling. But safety, gratification, happiness–these are emotions that should be felt by any shopper during part of a checkout process.

“Designing for emotion requires considering everything from a product’s framework to the typeface, colors, speed, encryption, and content types such as audio, photos, videos. And the real secret is creating high-fidelity prototypes–versus static wireframes–to play with during the design process, and during user testing. It’s this fascinating blurry line between visual and UX that really drives me in my daily work.”


Matt Rolandson, a partner at Ammunition

“Not everyone we work with is entirely comfortable with it, but I’d say we’ve become fairly insistent about putting serious time and energy into articulating the fundamental purpose of the things we’re working on beyond just making money. A lot of people initially interpret this to mean we think everything needs to play a heavy part in triggering social or environmental justice (and those things matter A LOT), but the main point here is that we are really interested in making purpose an honest and explicit part of the process pretty much regardless of what that purpose happens to be. I mean, things as simple as ‘experiencing the personal satisfaction that comes from making great beer’ or ‘taking down the jerks at Brand X’ would be totally useful examples of purpose. Useful because designing stuff and making decisions about design is freaking hard. Anchoring creativity, decision-making, and leadership in a deeply held sense of purpose can quickly help align members of diverse teams, and it definitely gives the creative process an initial boost into orbit.

“Focusing on purpose is especially helpful with the many startups and early- stage companies we work with. Founders are not only trying to give form to their product strategy, they are trying to set the tone for a great organization. Integrating existential issues into the practical act of figuring out new products and services is a great way to show that purpose is not just some nice-to-have cultural thing, but an integral and ongoing part of inventing the business itself.”


Gadi Amit, founder of New Deal Design

“The one thing that very much stands out is the understanding that design is actually for people. Not users, not business people, not strategies. It’s not about innovation, it’s not about any other hallmark of design thinking. It’s really about a very visceral personal expression or experience that a person has with design.

“Every time I’m dealing with any design problem I’m trying to personalize it. Not for me specifically but I want to place a person in front of the object or experience and feel the impact of the design on that person. You tend to forget about it in design circles. Everybody needs to promote themselves. There is a lot of media play around design. There is a lot of business considerations. And I think we also sanitize a little bit the single-person point of view in the methodologies associated with product development and design development.

“I’m really in the position of trying to fight against that and reintroduce the personal experience, the visceral experience of design (against the business skills). We need to develop a more poetic approach that is more emotional and more relatable to normal people. That’s something that’s been driving me for many years. And only in the last few years did it become really solidified as something we tend to forget. Even the word ‘users’ is somewhat derogatory to me when you’re talking about the experience of a design work.”


Todd Simmons, vice president of brand experience and design at IBM

“I always use the quote, ‘If you’re not making anything, you’re not making anything happen,’ which is really about exploration and being a designer. Design [is] about decisions that you’re leading organizations to make with your soft and hard talent. Design is a way of not just making things, but making stuff happen out the other end. The design is only complete when the intended outcome is achieved. That’s what should be given awards.

“In terms of a singular guiding principle for me, it would have to be this Buckminster Fuller quote: ‘When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty, but when I’ve finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.’

“In IBM, design is everywhere. But it’s really hard to find a designer. Because I think the discipline of design and the label of design has been stretched too thin. I see a future where if everybody has the same access to data and everyone is doing design thinking, and everyone’s design research yields the same human responses, what’s the difference in the things we make?

“The analogy I use: If you look at all other kinds of design–industrial design, architectural design, sound design, even graphic design, product design, and interior design–you can name names of individuals. There’s a difference between an Eames chair and a Saarinen chair. That’s because that’s a person. I’m looking for what that individuality is for an organization that is palpable for their products. I can’t name one software designer. I think design’s been a little too distributed. If all those things I said are true, we’re all designing the same 1993 four-door sedan by Toyota. That’s not what has made design great. I’m hoping for a renaissance of craftsmanship and character in design.

“It’s a knee-jerk reaction to design thinking. [Design thinking] can take you far. It’s not for designers, it’s for non-designers, but it doesn’t get you to the end.”


Yves Behar, founder of Fuseproject

“For me it is about finding out whether there’s a big idea in a project, concept, or a new company, and will that big idea become important in our future. This comes from a belief that design accelerates the adoption of new ideas. There’s always an opportunity for a new idea to be diminished by design, for that big idea to be lost in the wrong experience or the wrong design or the wrong price point. There’s always an opportunity for a big idea to be enhanced and accelerated by the right design, one that really puts that idea front and center at every part of the physical experience and in every element of the user experience, or the service, or the platform associated with it. For me it is about falling in love with that big idea. And then putting all of the creative energy, the technical skills, all the intelligence of the creative team toward making that big idea something that is palpable and something people will see and perceive.”


Katharine Schwab is an associate editor at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.

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