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Design Principles (principles.design)
361 points by vinnyglennon 71 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments

I think I will stick with the 10 principles of Dieter Rams:

  Good design is innovative
  Good design makes a product useful
  Good design is aesthetic
  Good design makes a product understandable
  Good design is unobtrusive
  Good design is honest
  Good design is long-lasting
  Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  Good design is environmentally-friendly
  Good design is as little design as possible

I agree with the last 9, but I have my quarrels with the first one. It just begs for people to make innovative designs even though the original one worked perfectly. Like a microwave oven with dozens of buttons even though the one with two dials (power, time) and the door-opener button works 99% of the time.

The first rule to me reads this way: "If your design follows the other nine rules and is not innovative it means that there is an old design that already followed the other nine rules, therefore you should stick with the old one."

Which makes sense to me, it reads like a deeper "do not reinvent the wheel".

I also agree that the first (being innovative) isn't quite right. To be innovative depends on the state of innovation of what everyone else is doing. To be innovative you have to do something new, which is different from what's already been doing. So it's implying that you have to be different to have good design. I don't agree that good design has to be different.

All the rest are spot on in my opinion.

I think we can save Rams' list by stipulating the following: design is an activity. If you don't need to innovate, you don't need design, you should be following prescribed/conventional practices. The final rule underlines the sentiment: whenever you engage in design, you should only do as much of it (innovation) as you need.

Architects, for example, are always dealing with slightly unique or novel spatial circumstances, which is why they are considered designers. Building identical suburban houses from a pattern book is not design -- and it's not innovative.

I think Rams' thoughts do all make sense if seen in this light.

But a microwave oven with dozens of buttons don't follow the other rules.

So I think you can see all ten rules as a complete set.

Yeah, but then I don't really see what purpose the first rule serves. I'd maybe put it last and rephrase it to something like "Good design is innovative when necessary".

If what you are doing is not innovative, it's not (good) design. It might be valuable but it's something else.

The comments here that disagree with Rams' first rule seem to me to be putting the cart before the horse and assuming that Rams is offering a prescriptive list for would-be designers. I think he's just describing what he thinks constitutes good design. It is not an injunction to innovate: it is an observation that "design" which does not innovate is inconsequential.

Could it be interpreted two ways?*

If the purpose of design is to solve a truly valuable problem or introduce pleasure to a process, and if these possibilities—if we're honest with ourselves—do not exist to be solved, one cannot innovate, therefore one cannot design.

A honeypot to the those who see design as surface, a challenge and call to arms to those who see it as more?

(*I'm curious if anyone knows what this type of phrase is, one that can be interpreted in two different, opposing ways. Best I can tell is _polysemy_)

It's there to fulfill the tenet that: Good design is thorough down to the last detail. Gotta cover all bases. :)

I read it as "good design is looking at a problem with new eyes": try to understand the problem and build a solution that grows from that newly acquired understanding, rather than blindly follow what has been done before.

Good design doesn’t follow necessity it leads it.. removing head phone jack as example of good (controversial) design.

Yeah, it's really good design when I cannot use my 200$ headphones with my new phone. /s

Don’t you think that’s a pretty close minded (or so it seems) perspective? See my other comment for the rest of my view! Don’t want to spam after all.

Removing the headphone jack is an example of terrible design. How does it make the product more useful?

It's implicit that "more useful" means for users - but removing the headphone jack is more useful for the manufacturer (which makes it terrible by my standards too, but not inexplicable).

See my other comment! I wasn’t necessarily talking about that (depends on what exactly you mean by that). Although that’s true too. Anything they can do to improve the product, even if it’s a trade off, can be a good thing. Shouldn’t take a narrow (or so it seems) view like that!

Removing it opens other doors, like waterproofing and more room for hardware. Thinner phone maybe too. Bruh your users into the 21st century. It’s about ditching the guys who want you to freeze in place, which I know there are many of here (not to say you in particular are one of those)

Design, as the op even says, is not just (although it definitely also is) about utilitarianism! The world of successful products should at least suggest that to you, if you won’t take it as proof.

I think you are misinterpreting 'innovative' as 'novel.' Innovative in this context means to improve on the existing state of the art, which is something Braun has historically been known for.

> Good design is unobtrusive

This one is forgotten too often. A good design brings the content forward, it doesn't hide it.

These are certainly timeless.

Good design is honest particularly catches my attention, because the design of many digital products is fundamentally about misleading the user - see for example Facebook, where users are kept in the complete dark as to why certain posts are shown to them and not others, what data about them is being collected/resold, etc.

Principles like these sound great but actually are really useless if they can't help you make decisions. Most of the day to day is trying to figure out if the design is really useful or innovative.

I find most of the Zen of Python fits well for graphical design as well as code design :)

I think you need an 11th:

Good design evolves.

What about extensibility?

The color hurts my eyes. The heading font sizes look out of place. I think this site needs some design principles.

This is the kind of design that works in print (and, I accidentally discovered, on my AMOLED display) but which a regular computer monitor turns into a weapon of eye destruction.

Another important part of design is that you have to consider the medium. At all times. (I'll have to stop here before I go on a rant about mobile apps with "color samples" people use when picking wall paint colours...

Really depends on the phone. Anything with a P3 display (iPhone>7, iPad Pro, pixel 2, galaxy 7) actually has very good color reproduction without any calibration. Even better if it has ambient white balance like apple’s TrueTone.

I'll have to accept your statement at face value because you don't provide a credible reference, but I'll remain skeptic.

Seriously, the page just copied Reclam's design used for almost every Reclam book there is:


Correction: the page just copied Reclam’s cover design used for almost every Reclam book there is

I bet that for folks who are designers and get the reference his choice makes perfect sense and it might even be nice. But for me, most importantly, after loading the page it was unclear what to do. Use the menu? Scroll? I don't think it's good design for users to have to guess where the content is or what they are expected to do.

you're not a design person you wouldn't understand (LOL)

Also looks similar to the JavaScript community style. Since JS determines behaviour on the web, they're likely to have the same audience.

I don't understand why designers have started with those huge fonts. Seriously not everyone visits your site from some mobile device ffs!

Because they don't have a lot of text and it doesn't make sense to leave most of the page blank?

But then make the user scroll through it?

well, yes, actually. use the viewframe to your advantage. understand the reader's scope of interest. whatever part they're focused on now can fill the canvas... anything else is visual noise until the reader is ready for it.

This might work will for Kindle books, but this is anti-skimmer though. And on the web you need to appeal to the skimmer who is trying to decide if your article is even worth reading.

The fact that you don't like how it looks means only that you don't like how it looks. I'm sure most of the people don't mind or like it (me included).

you called out a fallacy and then fell straight into it yourself. All we know from your two comments is that one of you likes the design and one of you doesn't.

Second part of my comment is just proof that personal opinion is irrelevant.

When I open that page full screen I can see 6 words and an icon and I have to scroll down to actually read anything...

It depends. I viewed this on a regular computer monitor and didn't find it unpleasant. I acknowledge that black-on-bright-yellow is a matter of taste, but it was nowhere near eye-hurting.

No, but there's always somebody with some combination of equipment and physical attributes that means a good design isn't universal.

This. They should have used something more towards orange, and a bit less saturated.

Genuine question: Is there an applicable takeaway from principles this vague?

"Tolerant: Handle errors respectfully.

Effortless: Don’t make demands or place restrictions on your users.

Accommodating: Be approachable, uncluttered and give people room to manoeuvre.

Consistent: Follow standards, guidelines, conventions and best practices."

This is a great point. "Principles" should be about taking a stand about the trade-offs between two desirable things. They can then be used to help guide you when these things come into conflict. Who is trying to make a product that is intolerant, burdensome, aloof, and inconsistent?

A framework I usually use is a "this over that", where both "this" and "that" represent things generally considered "good". The Agile Manifesto contains a brilliant example of this:

- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

- Working software over comprehensive documentation

- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

- Responding to change over following a plan

Notice how everything on the right is also a "good" thing, but the manifesto is making you CHOOSE.

I've seen #1 used many times to solve the problem of "too many regressions" with "the team just needs to communicate more" or "we should set up regular meetings to deal with this issue".

It was hard to argue that those teams weren't following both the message and spirit of the agile manifesto, as individuals and interactions were plainly taking precedence over tools and processes.

It doesn't, after all, say "individuals and interactions over tools and processes, except when tools and processes make more sense".

I think the proper understanding of those principles is "when in doubt, choose this over that", and not "always choose this over that".

That said, the problem you described isn't really with the manifesto, but with people refusing to use common sense - or even more likely, with incentives within the organization being so aligned that decisionmakers benefit from making bad calls. It's something that happens surprisingly often.

>I think the proper understanding of those principles is "when in doubt, choose this over that", and not "always choose this over that".

That's exactly how the teams I worked with applied it. They were in doubt and they decided on individuals and interactions.

>That said, the problem you described isn't really with the manifesto, but with people refusing to use common sense

It absolutely is a problem with the manifesto and it isn't a common sense decision.

Expending a not insignificant level of resources on automated regression testing and CI, or indeed, any other kind of tooling or process is far from a common sense decision - it's a pretty delicate trade off, in fact. Some tooling is worth it, some isn't.

If the manifesto said "think carefully about tooling and recognize the delicate trade offs involved" then maybe the problem wouldn't be with the manifesto. It doesn't. It says "individuals and interactions over tools and processes". Ergo meetings > tools.

No. Unfortunately, much of the design industry's exports as of late have become by-and-large impractical fluff. I say this as a designer. If these ideas were expanded upon and articulated with case studies or practical advice then absolutely.

If you're curious about principles backed with implementation details, check out https://cadence.cc. Looks unassuming but one of the best books on design I've ever read.

Designer here as well, similarly frustrated with the lack of analytical rigor in the discipline.

Cadence & Slang did not impress me. I read it a few years ago now so I can’t quote exact examples, but at the time it felt like more fluff to be honest. Well written fluff, but still fluff (ie will design students in 20 years, or even now, benefit from reading it like they would a classic such as “Grid systems for visual design”? My money is on no). Would be curious to hear what aspects of it you particularly enjoyed.

Sadly enough, I find that the best books on designing for interactive media are from the 80s/90s. Examples include Raskin’s “The Humane Interface”, Togazzini’s compendiums, etc.

I do design research. My papers always provide principles with examples and evidence. They are generally very specific though (unlike this article). I agree that it is rare outside of the research community to find evidence (the why) and implementation details (the how) though.

An example paper of mine: Toward Principles for the Design of Navigation Affordances in Code Editors: An Empirical Investigation http://dl.acm.org/authorize?N37917

>I do design research. My papers always provide principles with examples and evidence.

From what I remember of studying Human Computer Interaction (HCI) as an undergrad in the 90s, the evidence was derived from learnability studies. This meant that research favoured point and click interfaces (which are the equivalent of caveperson grunting, IMO) over command line interfaces which allow much deeper expressivity. There was basically no affordance to systems that people use day-in day-out and are happy with the trade offs in the learning curve (vi, emacs, blender, lighting desks, audio controllers, Bloomberg terminal).

I like that your example paper is about trying out different interactions in a small part of a daily-driver piece of software. But it's still trying a 'new' thing for some of the experimental users which means learnability is core. How do you manage the balance?

Where is the best place/s to find design research?

There are a few human-computer interaction conference proceedings that I would recommend.

CHI is the biggest and most prestigious, but also most general. It will include a lot of irrelevant papers too. UIST is smaller and focuses on novel interactions. CSCW is about collaboration. IUI is about intelligent user interfaces. VLHCC publishes work on developer tools from a human perspective.

The easiest way to find these papers is through scholar.google.com. Just search for what topic you want, and it will try to find relevant research papers.

CHI, UIST, CSCW, and TEI are my personal favorite academic conferences for interactive media related design. (The paper posted by GP was published at CHI)

Hadn't heard of The Humane Interface, I'll have to check it out :)

Re: C&C, a couple of things (just picking from my highlights).

Chapter 2 - Consistency & Character

This informed my own work quite a bit. Especially notes about how consistency aids clarity in the product. Also nice "hmm, now there's an idea" type of stuff like "a designer creates an architecture of information within the mind of the recipient of his work." This triggered a bit of a waterfall, leading to stuff like reading Christopher Alexander's _Notes on the Synthesis of Form_.

Also from this chapter is the point about how having a consistent behavioral language. Meaning, if two elements perform similar tasks, they should look similar to one another.

Lots of great little beats like this that have wedged themselves into my thinking.

Chapter 3 - Simplicity

The one about only forcing a user to create an account when it provides value really informed my ability to design solid onboarding experiences. Taught me to build gradually invasive products that speak to the user like you would a new acquaintance. Over time, you slowly get comfortable asking them for more and more (e.g., use things like local storage to persist data temporarily to give the feel of hitting a DB).


Man, is there a place to talk about stuff like this? You got my hamsters spinning.

Grid Systems for Visual Design is on my list. I have Design Elements on there too.

Are there any other books you recommend?

Yes, you just listed 4 of the 8 golden rules by Shneiderman.

This feels more like corporate mission statements and unique selling propositions than 'design principles' to me, am I missing something?

It's probably the context. These examples are mostly (not all) for corporate contexts, complete with highly generalized wording to reduce individual responsibility and promote selective enforcement, as opposed to design principles for democracy or managing physical disabilities.

These read like brand attributes to me. They are too general to be design principles. It’s not clear if the interaction design principles are intended to be universal or specific to Airbnb? If the former I must call shenanigans. There are no universal design principles.

Man, I like the idea, but these typos are seriously bugging me. On the main page it says "Who use them?". In Tim Berners Lee's page, it says "They look simple, [...], but the complicate what was a very clean design of elements and attributes". It's "but they complicate", right?

Both of those typos pass spell check ;) The "Who use them?" one bothered me too!

The first few words on the Tim Berners-Lee page I saw were: “Simplicity is easily to quote but often ignored in strange ways.” which is another typo that passes spell check, but makes no sense as-written.

Looks like this site put more effort into the "Design" part than the "Principles".

It's funny Asana is somehow the 2nd design principle example, as they're an utter mess.

I've used Asana on and off since it started. Because I'm an occasional user, it feels as if every time I come back to it, something seems to have changed and I lose all reference to where my tasks are.

Right now, whenever I go there every few months, I have to remember that my client's tasks are buried in a dropdown in the top right.

Worst part is, it doesn't look like a dropdown, it doesn't look like a menu, it doesn't look like a link. It's just black text saying "Overview" next to my picture.

Also, for some reason the default task list I land on is completely empty. I have no idea why. At one point I was using it for quite a lot of stuff and there are a load of unfinished tasks in it when I start clicking in categories in the right. But there is no indication anywhere on the screen of what lists might actually contain something.

It's a bloody awful design.

Their design principle no. 6:

Be consistent and standard, and innovate when it’s worth it.

So you can have design standards all you want, but when your designers think "consistent and standard" means something completely different than your users, it turns out they're not really meaningful.

Good design does not hurt your eyes ;)

> Malcolm Wells, the father of underground building, wrote an article that appeared in the "Next Whole Earth Catalog" about, among other things, this simple and ingenious device for rating the desirability of a building. It's a form that you fill out by rating a building or site according to a bunch of common-sense criteria about what makes it good, healthy, and sustainable.


I appreciate what this site is doing, however, it's missing one of the major benefits of Design Principles; they are also guidelines for evaluating a design. This is important because it creates a framework for stakeholders to understand what they are judging.

Always hard to use these when they often can't be translated into day to day tradeoffs.

100% of the people interviewed work @ microsoft... and that's where I stopped reading

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