On the IxDA list this week, Lisa deBettencourt asks:

What are your fundamental tenets of design; those little bulleted phrases on the Design Vision slide of your Powerpoint, the signatures on your email footer, the philosophies you work by as you design?

A simple but interesting question. You can see all the answers here, but here’s my quick, stream- of- consciousness answer, below. Almost everything I’ve written below is something I’ve actually thought of or said before.

(I just want to be clear, though, that this is how I work, personally and professionally. I make no claim that working the way I do will lead to success for other designers, other design firms, or for the practice of design as a whole in a capitalist system.)

  • Do work you can be proud of.
  • Work for clients and bosses you like and can be proud of. Show sleazebags the door.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Understand that your audience is not you (and learn who they are), but always treat your audience how you would want to be treated.
  • Don’t worry about the longevity of your ideas — much of what is truly great is perfect for the moment but ultimately ephemeral, while much of what lasts is crummy and is only remembered for nostalgic reasons.
  • Generate ideas constantly. Write down every idea.
  • Design can happen first, even before a need or problem is identified.
  • But design isn’t just “a good idea”. It’s a good follow through, too.
  • Think hard and work hard: 90% of your time will be spent dreaming up your ideas. The other 90% will be spent implementing them.
  • Make ’em think: Don’t be afraid to be a snob. Some people just won’t get your idea without thinking about it. Some people just don’t want to think. But those who do will appreciate being challenged.
  • Make ’em laugh: Don’t be afraid to be a goof. Some people have no sense of humor, but you’ll be surprised who does.
  • Style is great. Fads and fashions are fun. There are plenty of design contexts where stylishness is critical — and there is no design context where a sense of style is completely inappropriate.
  • Share your design ideas. No idea is so good that keeping it secret helps you. If you don’t build it, that’s your problem.
  • Design is a funny kind of collaboration: Two designers are better than one, but only one designer can drive.
  • Design is fun.

What about you?


4 responses to “Design Rules to Live By”

  1. Don’t worry about the longevity of your ideas —much of what is truly great is perfect for the moment but ultimately ephemeral, while much of what lasts is crummy and is only remembered for nostalgic reasons.

    While I agree that ephemerality is not necessarily something to fear, I have to take issue with the suggestion that longevity is overrated. If you look at it from the perspective of Sturgeon’s Law, then sure, much of what lasts is crummy. But then so is much of what is created for the moment, and that stuff seems to have a much better chance of being wasteful and frivolous. Besides, doesn’t so much of that ephemeral stuff seem insignificant with the benefit of hindsight? Indeed, isn’t that why it faded in the first place? What of sustainability? What of timelessness?

  2. @Rob Weychert: Hm, good points, I should clarify: I’m not saying longevity isn’t a good thing, I’m just saying don’t worry about your ideas being admired forever by future designers and historians. Solve the problem you are facing now as best as you can, even if it means that it will be forgotten or even laughed at and mocked in the future.

    I also don’t know if you are right about ephemeral stuff being insignificant. It’s like saying that all the people who lived and died throughout the millennia whose names we don’t know were insignificant because they left nothing behind. In my view ephemeral design is the core substance of the design ecosystem — design icons are important landmarks, but the cruft of the world’s ephemeral products is rich in inspiration and good ideas.

    And, of course, I am talking about design in the abstract, not the concrete physical product. I’m not talking about making disposable stuff or stuff built to fall apart. I’m talking about the designer’s need to escape the world of fashion and being “of one’s time” and entering the world of timeless, historic design. Waste is waste, and I don’t advocate that.

    I guess I am saying that timelessness is not a goal in and of itself. It is, at best, a side effect of good solutions to design problems.

  3. “design is fun”
    ultimately we should love what we do because we would do so much better.

    its kinda sad but i see a quite a number of designers who have lost the drive and is just doing routine work:S

  4. Nice list. How about a couple of additions:

    *While quick inspirations have their place, learn how to develop your ideas.

    *If you know an idea still needs development, don’t share it until its formed and coherent enough to be presentable. Doing so can make the idea seem like it has less potential than it really has, thus draining it of momentum.

    *Don’t just read about your own field. Look to other subjects and disciplines outside of your own design specialty.