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I was genuinely blown away by the simplicity and usability of the government's GOV.UK website, when it relaunched last year. The new site was underpinned by 10 design principles, which the web team created to make their websites more consistent and user-friendly.

What are design principles, exactly? I rather like Henk Wijnholds' description

Design principles describe the experience core values of a product or a service. They should be written in a short and memorable way. As a designer you should know them by heart while doing a project. Good design principles are cross-feature but specific. Therefore we should always try harder than ‘Easy-to-use’. Design principles are non-conflicting.

Many companies - especially tech firms - have their own design principles, and I thought I'd compile some of the best ones in a handy cut-out-and-keep list. I've also dropped in a few sage quotes from the great and good in the world of design and user experience.

A = Attention

"Manage to focus users’ attention. Focusing users’ attention to specific areas of the site with a moderate use of visual elements can help your visitors to get from point A to point B without thinking of how it actually is supposed to be done. The less question marks visitors have, the better sense of orientation they have and the more trust they can develop towards the company the site represents."Vitaly Friedman

B = Bugs

"Fix the small bugs. As far as user experience is concerned, the little things matter." - Microsoft

C = Consistency

"Things that look the same should behave in the same way, and an action should always produce the same result." - IBM

D = Design with data, and for data 

"Use real world behaviour and user testing to aid the development process." - GOV.UK

"Learn peoples' preferences over time. Rather than asking them to make the same choices over and over, place previous choices within easy reach." - Google Android

E = Effective writing

"Make use of effective writing. As the web is different from print, it’s necessary to adjust the writing style to users’ preferences and browsing habits. Promotional writing won’t be read. Long text blocks without images and keywords marked in bold or italics will be skipped. Exaggerated language will be ignored." - Vitaly Friedman

F = Flexible

"Let users customize the application to meet their unique needs. For example, specialized users could be given a way to make secondary choices more prominent in the product. Also, don't limit users by artificially restricting their choices to a "correct" sequence. Flexibility is also enhanced by letting users select options in various sequences and in letting them modify default values." - IBM

G = Grouping

"Group related objects near each other." - Whitney Hess

H = Hardware

"Design for one hand whenever possible. Take advantage of hardware buttons (start, back, and search). Gestures available: tap, double tap, touch & hold, pan, flick, pinch & stretch. Touch: recommended touch target size is 9mm. Minimum touch target size if 7mm. Minimum spacing between targets is 2mm. Visual size is 60-100% of the touch target size." - Microsoft, via Luke Wroblewski 

I = Iteration

"Iterate. Then iterate again. The best way to build effective services is to start small and iterate wildly." - GOV.UK 

J = Joy

"The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features." - Nielsen Norman Group

K = Keep It Simple

"With great power comes great responsibility - very often people have no choice but to use our services. If we don’t work hard to make them simple and usable we’re abusing that power." - GOV.UK

"Don't make users think." - Steve Krug

"Delight the eye without distracting the mind." - Google

"Fiercely reduce unnecessary elements." - Microsoft

credit: http://jayce-o.blogspot.com/2011/05/graphic-design-principles.html

L = Load Time

"Every millisecond counts." - Google

"Your website / app should feels fast and responsive. Focus on primary tasks." - Microsoft

"Make important things fast: Not all actions are equal. Decide what's most important in your app and make it easy to find and fast to use, like the shutter button in a camera, or the pause button in a music player." - Google Android

M = Make your application predictable

"Use industry standard user interface conventions wherever possible. For example, users should be able to use standard selection models and keyboard equivalents like Ctrl+C and Shift+→ (to copy the currently selected object and extend the current selection one unit to the right, respectively) everywhere they work with data. Use a common set of design patterns and guidelines so that users don't have to relearn how to perform common tasks." - IBM 

N = Needs

"Start with needs. Use data to identify real user needs and design around those." - GOV.UK

O = Open

"Make things open: it makes things better. We should share what we’re doing whenever we can. With colleagues, with users, with the world." - GOV.UK

P = People & Personalisation

"Focus on people their lives, their work, their dreams." - Google

"Allow users to personalise their experience. People love to add personal touches because it helps them feel at home and in control. Provide sensible, beautiful defaults, but also consider fun, optional customisations that don't hinder primary tasks." - Google Android

Q = Quality 

"Good design is thorough to the last detail. Thoroughness and accuracy of design are synonymous with the product and its functions, as seen through the eyes of the user." - Dieter Rams

"When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood in the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through." - Steve Jobs

R = Reverse & redo

"Provide the ability to undo and redo actions. Applications must provide users with the ability to freely explore applications (which includes the ability to make mistakes) without fearing permanent damage." - IBM

S = Services

"Build digital services, not websites. Our service doesn’t begin and end at our website. It might start with a search engine and end at the post office. We need to design for that." - GOV.UK

T = Typography

"Celebrate typography. Type is beautiful, not just legible. Clear, straightforward information design. Uncompromising sensitivity to weight, balance, and scale." - Microsoft

U = Universality 

"Our mission is to make the entire world more open, and this means reaching every corner, every person. So our design needs to work for everyone, every culture, every language, every device, every stage of life. This is why we build products that work for 90% of users and cut away features that only work for just a minority, even if we step back in the short term." - Facebook

V = Visual Hierarchy

"Understand the importance of users' tasks and establish a visual hierarchy of these tasks. An important object can be given visual prominence. Relative position and contrast in color and size can be used to convey task importance."  - IBM

"Create a visual hierarchy that matches the user's needs." - Whitney Hess


W = White Space

"Don’t be afraid of it." - Vitaly Friedman

X = The X-Factor

"Delight me in surprising ways: A beautiful surface, a carefully-placed animation, or a well-timed sound effect is a joy to experience. Subtle effects contribute to a feeling of effortlessness and a sense that a powerful force is at hand." - Google Android

Y = You shalt entertain

"Have fun. We spend a lot of time thinking about accessibility, usability, performance, all that good stuff… but we sometimes forget about making it delightful and entertaining - the kind of thing that TV people have to think of all the time." - Jeffrey Zeldman, via Jeremy Keith

Z = Zzzzzz...

"What happens when the user / user's device goes to sleep? Be interruptible. Account for starting and stopping (fast return, and do not get in the way of other UX). Account for getting and losing connectivity." - Microsoft


What other design principles are worth taking notice of? What did I miss? Do leave a comment below with your own thoughts / pointers...

Chris Lake

Published 11 June, 2013 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (5)


Bridie Pritchard, Senior Editor at Sticky Content

Think U should have been for Users. The true real design principle is to create a design that works for users. They should be at the heart of all great design - and the reason for what you do in terms of design.

Although you could still use the same quote....

over 3 years ago



We have just uploaded our re-designed online casino gaming website. In re-designing we had in mind most of these principles. I apologize if you'd consider this inappropriate, but I would like to get some feedback on whether our new design does indeed correspond to any of those principles :)

Please check our site at:

Thanks in advance!

over 3 years ago

Gemma Holloway

Gemma Holloway, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Nice post Chris! I liked that you used quotes for each point. All very valid points when considering the design of a website.

Consistency is a big one for me, so many websites have some links looking one way and others as a different format. And don't even get me started on clickable navigation tabs..

over 3 years ago


MJ Villafana

This is excellent. I love the quote from Steve Jobs in "Q = Quality." It reminds me of an example I have:
I am always annoyed when people say you don't need to decorate the back of a Christmas tree because it will be in the corner. The tree's branches have spaces, so if you put ornaments and lights in the back, it gives the tree a more full and better overall effect.

Oh and also, relating back to the quote, what about the person who is moving the dresser? They will see the back of it and if it doesn't match the rest, there goes their vision of the quality dresser. It matters! Thanks for that reminder. Excellent article.

over 3 years ago


Alessandro Piana Bianco, Experience Designer at Piana Bianco

I think some mentioning of Tim Brown's (IDEO) Design Thinking, as well as Bruce 'Tog' Toganizzini, Ben Shneiderman, Edward Tufte, Bill Buxton, and finally Bruno Munari, should really have made the cut.

I recently wrote a post, on my approach in designing experiences, Designing Experience Design > https://medium.com/design-ux/24b18a670cbc - which is largely based on some the people mentioned here, as well as the ones left out from this article.

almost 3 years ago

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