7 Design Principles

Published: 28 August, 2017

Categories: General

7 Design Principles

According to his website (jnd.org, nd), Don Norman is the director of the newly established, The Design Lab, at University of California in San Diego. He is probably best known for his books on design, especially The Design of Everyday Things.

In his book ”The design of everyday things” he highlights seven design principles that industrial and product designers can use, but these principles are also applicable to designers of all disciplines.

1. Provide the Necessary Knowledge

Gyömrei, A. (2014) VitaPack https://www.behance.net/gallery/17793529/VitaPack-

Norman points out in his first step that when you create something you should make the usage or function of that product or design is known or even obvious. Your design should not hide its function but make it obvious.

“Well-designed objects are easy to interpret and understand. They contain visible clues to their operation” (Norman,1988).

Norman (1988) claims that knowledge comes from two places the “world” and the “head”. Either the product is something you know, like opening a bottle  or it has clear instructions on how to use the product, tear here to open the packet.

When you design packaging for example, always make sure that you provide the knowledge or instructions but be careful not to make the instructions to complicated. Mark on the packaging if it should be cut open, tear open or if there is a flap and a perforation that needs to be punched.

2. Simplify

Naked waitresses:Now that we’ve got your attention (Picture: Murpheister75/Imgur).http://metro.co.uk/2014/03/09/the-best-sign-outside-a-pub-you-will-see-today-4497127/?ITO=facebook

Norman (1988) suggests you keep your instructions simple and to the point. No one needs a user manual to know how to open a box of cereal or how to apply a hair product. Consider short step by step instructions or a simple infographic to inform the consumer how to use the product.

On sale promotion, banners or point of purchase sales make sure the message of the promotion is clear, the date, how long the sale or promotion is on and mention the terms or conditions.

Norman (1988) points out how the digital clock was a design solution to the analogue clock because it is simple to read. The same with Velcro shoe fasteners that are the answer to the difficulty of tying shoelaces.

3. Show How to Use a Tool and Explain its State

Juice Penny (2002) http://www.pennyjuice.com/htmlversion/whoispj.htm

There is nothing worse than a badly designed website that is difficult to navigate and even worse to understand. According to Norman (1988), users want to know how to make something, in this case, a website, do what they want it to do.

If you are in a website wanting to book concert tickets, there is nothing more annoying than not knowing how or when to pay for your tickets. You need to understand the purpose of every tab on the website and make sure it does exactly what the viewer expects it to do.

It is also important to understand the state the user finds him or herself in. Does your website indicate where you are by a change of tab colour, or maybe the words became bold? No one likes being lost, especially on a website, prevent this by indicating the state your viewer finds themselves in.

4. Map Correctly

New York Times documentary, Obit (2016)http://www.avclub.com/article/here-are-10-most-beautiful-movie-posters-year-one–247308?utm_content=Main&utm_campaign=SF&utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialMarketing

Our human minds naturally map things out or follow an implied path. In graphic design, we call these implied lines or visual cues.

When you are in charge of doing the layout for a newspaper you would always put the most important advert or news article on the 3 rd page. Our natural instinct is for your eye to shoot to that page automatically. This page needs to be bold and eye catching to help the reader along.

The same rule goes for article layout or any designs with heavy text. Type hierarchy leads your reader through the article; your type hierarchy maps out the order in which the reader will read the text and receive the information.

5. Use Constraints

Ward, C. (2011) Good Typography is invisible. http://www.typetoken.net/typeface/good-typography-is-invisible/

Just because we have an amazing colourful colour wheel with any colour under the sun to choose from does not mean you should use every single colour. The same rules go for typefaces. Be selective, and make sure you choose the correct typeface and colour for your design to ensure you send the correct message.

Constraints become significantly useful when designing for a business with existing branding. The company would have their design manual in place, and you as a designer would have to implement these constraints to create designs that speak to the company’s target market.

6. Expect Errors

O’Rourke, A. (ND) http://articles.bplans.com/10-tools-design-best-product-yet-giveaway/

No matter how detailed or well designed your product is some people will fail in using or reading it in an intended way.

There will always be someone who will open the box upside down, or will force open packaging. According to Norman (1988), most errors are either “slips” or “mistakes.” Slips are automatic, unconscious errors. Mistakes, in contrast, are conscious actions, usually involving having the wrong goal, or having incomplete or misleading information.

7. Consider Standardisation

Zahnzinger, M. (2015) http://refrigerators.reviewed.com/news/coca-cola-tests-out-a-new-unified-look-for-cans

Having a standard brand user manual enables the designer to design anything under the sun and still stay true to the look and feel of the brand. Standardising your design leaves no or very little room for error. Magazines and newspapers usually have a standard layout or a standard template they use.

In web design, designers use a standard width for their websites and a custom length to allow for scrolling. Type and colours are also standardised for the internet.

Using these seven principles of good design as your philosophy, will enable you to create better and more effective products and designs. 

Hein Liebenberg is a Graphic Designer and all round DIY fanatic. He is currently a full time lecturer at Inscape Midrand Campus where he lectures Graphic Design. Hein enjoys twitter, anything that shines and architecture.