Design principles

Decide

What it is

Written statements, generally in the form of imperatives like “Earn people’s trust,” that serve as guiding lights during decision-making.

Reasons to use it

To give the team and the stakeholders a shared point of reference when negotiating next steps. Good design principles are specific to the project, not general truths, and should help teams say “no” to otherwise interesting proposals or generate ideas when they're stuck.

Time required

Large: 1 week, plus occasional refresher meetings

How to do it

  1. Using internal documents and kickoff activities, gather terms or concepts that seem significant to project goals and organizational culture.

  2. Using existing research, list terms or concepts that seem particularly important to customers or user groups.

  3. Cluster similar terms and concepts together on a whiteboard or other writing space open to everyone in the project. Name the clusters.

  4. Ask the team and stakeholders if they would like to add, change, or edit any concepts or groups.

  5. From the groups on the board, create three to five final principles. Using evidence from partner or user research, write one to two sentences in support of each principle.

  6. Share the principles in a place accessible to the team throughout the project, and refer to them often while making decisions.

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. Generally, no information is collected from members of the public. Even when stakeholders are members of the public, the PRA explicitly exempts direct observation and non-standardized conversation (e.g., not a survey), 5 CFR 1320.3(h)3. See the methods for Recruiting and Privacy for more tips on taking input from the public.

Examples from 18F

Additional resources

“Design Principles: Dominance, Focal Points And Hierarchy.” Steven Bradley.