Illustrations by Ryan Weaver

Shaping Our Design Principles

Gerren Lamson
Apr 5, 2017 · 9 min read

I’ve been working on Creative Market for 5 years now. Where did the time go? I thought it was finally time for us to shape our design principles and design team’s mission and vision. Surely after this much time we should have these strategic pieces in place, right?

I decided that we shape our design principles first. I hoped that they could make it easier to craft our design team’s vision and mission afterwards. I began this strategic project like most others by combining external education and internal context. I went digging online to learn about what design principles are, how to shape them, and why they matter. At the same time, I started actively discussing the idea of design principles with the design team.

Here’s how I merged these two sources of input into a meaningful outcome.

The Rabbit Hole of Online Research

When I first searched for design principles on Google, Medium, and other places, I was surprised by what I found. The topic is misleading, complex, and misused. There are an overwhelming amount of principles out there. They come in different shapes, sizes, use cases, and business scales. There’s no clear pattern or practice on how to create and implement them.

Take a look at these two archives: Design Principles FTW and Adactio Design Principles Archive. A bit overwhelming, no? Sometimes it’s best not to start with research (or at least to limit the amount of digging you allow yourself to).

Nonetheless, here’s a summary of what I found. It’s common to define design principles for:

  • A single product’s design system
  • A single product’s user interface
  • A brand identity’s visual system
  • The team’s design processes & decision-making
  • The team’s user testing and accessibility mantras
  • A unified experience across many products
  • Anything else you want

I opted to create one set of design principles that captured the best of these diverse intentions. While it’s not typical to do this, I wanted our principles to cover product design, brand design, and team processes holistically. From what I read, companies may separate out product design principles (and build them with product/engineering) and design department process/principles. I didn’t see many cases of this in the wild. That being said, our company is at a small stage, so one holistic set of principles made sense to us at this time. I took a bunch of notes, and brought the conversation to the team.

One Design Team, Many Thoughts

I sent an email with a short list of questions to gather the team’s thoughts over a two week period. The questions were aimed at capturing the invisible thread of our group’s thoughts about design culture and practice. They responded with lots of great contextual insight across our product and brand design disciplines. I also gathered thoughts from our lead product manager, too. Design and its principles are bigger than a design team. They have so much meaning and application for the entire company and business.

The last step was collating all of it together. I took my external research notes and combined them with the team’s thoughts. High-level themes became visible. I used them to bucket related bullet points. It took a few days, a few meetings, and a few rounds of writing.

I couldn’t have made this stuff up in vacuum by myself. It wouldn’t look as cohesive or appropriate for our team and brand. I can’t thank our design team (Noah Stokes, Bronwyn Gruet, ryan weaver, Bonnie Bishop) enough for sharing their honest thoughts with me. We built these principles together. Let’s dive in.

Our Design Principles

It was only after we started collating the raw material together that the goal of our design principles exercise became more clear. Here’s what we needed them to achieve for the team and why we were doing this in the first place.

  • Name our design team’s shared beliefs about design
  • Align the company with how we use design at all stages of the work
  • Challenge us to raise the bar of design thinking and strategy
  • Describe the qualities we strive for in our work
  • Used as a reference as we make design decisions
  • Compliment our company’s core values and growth principles
  • Capture the best parts of universal design thinking and principles
  • Represent our unique brand, products, team, process and community
  • Keep a consistent vision of our product experiences
  • Reinforce the importance of user feedback and usability testing
  • Be a guiding light for our design culture as we scale

As we finished refining our seven principles, they felt natural. We have a healthy culture of design thinking in practice at Creative Market. We found that our whole team is already operating at about 75% of what the principles represent. Nonetheless, the exercise helped us define the strongest parts of our design culture and challenge the areas where we can improve. It revealed that the “design gaps” we have are far and few between — not too wide for us to close together.

1. Design For Everyone

Design is inclusive. We design for anyone who wants to take part in Creative Market. We consider culture, language, skill, device, readability, and location. We focus on building for the 90% majority, but make sure all our users can achieve their goals. We include our community and company in the entire design process. We make design accessible to all.

2. People Over Pixels

We focus on people first. We validate challenges, opportunities, and solutions with real user data and feedback. We put our users’ voices and creativity at the center of the experience. Our members return to our products because they’re accessible, connected, and friendly. They feel right to our users and support how they work. We evolve our human-centered approach to grow with our customers and their needs.

3. Clear & Simple

We make the complex clear by building products that are easy to understand and simple to use. We remove distractions and friction in our interfaces at every point of the user journey. We get out of the way so our users can experience core value as soon and often as possible. We make it a joy for our users to do their work in an efficient, effortless manner. We make taking action easy for our users because we value their time and effort.

4. One Brand To Rule Them All

We create one unified brand experience for our users. We defend and serve our brand’s values, attributes, and visual language with integrity. We evolve our design patterns and aesthetic to create the best journey for our users. We’re the stewards of our brand’s story: who we are, what we stand for, and what we can do for our community. We connect the act of buying to making. We connect physical to digital mediums. We shape best practices that balance our brand’s appeal to emotion and logic.

5. The Details Are The Design

The details matter. We craft each element, pattern, and state with our users, system, and business needs in mind. These design details paint the entire picture of our cohesive design system and experience. Good design deserves iteration — it’s never truly finished. We revisit details in the context of our system’s future state. We improve elements to inform, delight, and engage our users. We accelerate growth by making behaviors our users need easy to repeat. We preserve the memorable brand elements that our users know and love.

6. Design Is A Shared Responsibility

Good collaboration results in good design. Design thinking is a required critical skill and the design team leads the company to take part in it. We provide our best value when we’re brought in as early and often as possible. We’re transparent, proactive, supportive, and humble. We encourage great design by example and we mentor the practice in everyone. We pursue better questions to discover the best design decisions. We exchange constructive feedback and ideas to make work that exceeds expectations.

7. Creativity Fosters Community

We honor the creativity of our members. We use our brand visuals to elevate their voices, products, and craft. We help our team position the brand to be the best advocate for our users. We evaluate how each design decision might impact our entire community. We use design to encourage members to take action. We evolve our design system to compliment their creative process. We support new and existing user content throughout the experience. Together, with our community, we shape the future of our brand.

Design Team Mission

Our design team’s mission captures of why our team exists and the purpose of the design system we maintain and evolve. It’s pretty straightforward. It could serve as a guiding light to other design teams, too. We found that it was important to define in the context of our business and other teams.

“Our mission is to create a unique, cohesive experience for our community through one unified design system.”

We make good on our mission by:

  • Building one unified system of design, content, and interaction patterns
  • Maintaining a common unique brand voice and visual language
  • Improving our system, tools, and processes to build consistent, unique product experiences faster
  • Considering our different user personas and their needs in the experience
  • Strengthening our brand’s reputation by supporting the core value that our members create and exchange with each other

Design Team Vision

Our vision is where our design team and system is headed. It’s the future state we’re striving towards, however challenging it may be. It compliments the efforts of other teams at Creative Market (growth, product, marketing, community, support, etc.). It helps us balance and take our design thinking to the next level on a daily basis.

Our vision is to balance and improve long-term growth with great user experience across our products and brand.”

We achieve the vision of our design’s future state by:

  • Improving our users’ workflows and ability to connect with each other to experience core value as soon and fast as possible
  • Making incremental progress towards a stronger, unified design system.
  • Delighting, connecting, and educating our users in the product experience.
  • Finding ways to differentiate our brand and products to set ourselves apart from current and future competition
  • Looking for changes in our industry and adapting our approach


I hope you’ve found this summary of our design principles, mission, and vision exercise insightful. If you’re working on a design team, I encourage you to push for your team to define these important pillars. The exercise offers insights, alignment, and camaraderie for the team.

Design Principles In Practice

After we finished our principles, we identified that we needed a shorthand way to remember them in our daily practice. The principles measure the quality of our work, and we need a fast way to check the work against them — in both written and verbal feedback. What could be worse in business than creating a stale document that no one references? Our senior product designer Noah is wrapping that work to share with you soon! Once the article is up, I’ll link it here.

Thanks to ryan weaver for his illustration work on the principle icons.

We’re always looking for amazing people to join the Creative Market team. We value our culture as much as we value our mission, so if helping creators turn passion into opportunity sounds like something you’d love to do with a group of folks who feel the same way, then check out our job openings and apply today!

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