Let's start off by stating what I hope to be the obvious: design is hard work. And without certain guardrails, it can be much harder than it has to be. Every designer is different, holds different opinions, cares deeply about different aspects of design, and has a different understanding of what "good" looks like. Let's face it - despite all the standards the design community publishes, despite all the articles around "do this, not that", good design looks different depending upon who you are designing for.
As a design team, we already utilized an undefined set of principles around how we design. However, we found ourselves asking "But what is the right solution for our users?" We often found ourselves saying things like "Keep it simple", "Less is more", or "Solve the same problems with the same solutions" in design reviews. Our design system solved any inconsistencies around standardization, however, it did not help us when creating new components and identifying and aligning on new solutions. We all thought we had an understanding of what Button prioritizes when it comes to designing products for our users, but there were no documented and enforceable principles that we could refer back to help us answer those tough questions.
We wanted to spend more time defining what "good" meant to us as a design team and for our users. We wanted to create a set of design principles to help our team come to better and more consistent design decisions. We knew by defining what is right based on the needs, fears, and desires of our users, the "right" way would become a lot easier to align on as a team.
We kicked off by gathering all Button designers across brand & communications, visual, and product. We agreed on a few things immediately:
1. Research and competitive analysis
We looked to other companies to understand and analyze their design principles, connecting the similarities between the brand as a whole and the design principles they lean on. We saved and reflected on a few that resonated with us. As we have all heard from Mr. Picasso himself: "Good artists copy, great artists steal". We used other companies' principles as starting points to get our ideas flowing and sifted through what rang true to our team, and what did not.
We asked ourselves a few questions:
2. Divide and ideate
After contemplating these questions, we took time individually to think on what we believed to be strong principles representative of Button Design. Doing this individually was important because it gave each member of the team the same opportunity to share their ideas and reduced the likelihood of groupthink. Each member was tasked with coming up with as many design principles as they felt was relevant to our team and our users.
3. Come together and share
This is where the fun really began. Typically, we would have gathered in a room at Button HQ, tons of sticky notes in hand, but due to COVID-19, we were forced to be a bit more creative and rely on digital tools to help us collaborate virtually. This was new to our team, who found joy and collaboration through in-person interaction. Our approach was to get it to feel as close as possible to being in the same room.
We started by getting all of our ideas on virtual sticky notes and talked through why we found a certain idea important. If another team member had a similar thought, we discussed again and combined what made sense. Despite this task being individual, it was truly exciting to see how much consistency our designers had when thinking about what mattered to our users and our team.
Once we were sure there were no duplicates, similar principles were grouped together and each designer had a clear understanding of each suggested principle, we voted. There is nothing like an old-fashioned vote to collect some quantitative data. Each designer had 10 virtual votes (an arbitrary number that just felt right). The rules were simple - there were none. Anyone could vote on anything up to 10 times. The goal was to communicate what each designer felt was most important to move forward while comparing that importance to the other principles.
5. Gather and review
After voting, it became clear where the team was leaning. Again, we began to group stickies that had similar sentiments to create a fuller picture of what the principle encompassed. We wanted each principle to be full, clear, and actionable. When talking through the most voted-on principles we were able to use those less voted-on ones to act as supportive content to communicate the "why"
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