Evolving Product Design Principles at Bukalapak
Re-fresh our foundation to create the cohesive product experience
As our product portfolio and team continue to grow, we need to be more intentional about our design decisions. In a large-scale environment like Bukalapak, it will be important for us to increasingly focus on collaboration and efficiency. In order to do that in a managed, controlled way, we need a set of principles to enable that to happen.
How could one make a “good” principles for the rest of the company? Well, you don’t. A collaborative process is vital.
The process of defining our team’s core principles
Knowing that principles can lead to an abstract and vague conversation, it’s indeed a challenging task. So, how could one make a “good” principles for the rest of the company? Well, you don’t. A collaborative process is vital.
To get this started, we gathered multiple members from a different team, each with different roles, backgrounds, and skill sets into a room to run multiple brainstorming sessions. Try to be diverse, invite designers, content strategist, researchers, PMs, and even VP or CEO into the room. The more diverse the better as they will offer a different perspective to enrich the end result.
Choosing the starting point
We understand we need a set of principles, check. We gathered the multidisciplinary team, check. But, where to start?
Let’s take a step back. At its core, principles help the team avoid “mistakes” due to unintentional design decisions that make problems on the product occurred. That said, we come to a realization to use problems as a starting point and later explore the guiding principles to help us avoid those problems.
However, there are wide-range of problems. Asking a general question like, “What do you think our product’s problems are?” can make people lost sight at what’s important. At our session, we were being specific that we want to focus on the user-experience problems that frustrate users. From my experience, this session is where the researchers and the product owners will step up the most.
The criteria for “good” principles
Throughout the process, there is a recurring challenge: how did we know we were on the right track? After much discussion and benchmarking research, we came up with a couple of criteria that we could use to test our principles against in practice. These tests were used to ensure our end-result would pass the minimal standard for “good.”
Good design principles are not truism or clichés
A good design principle should be much more than a motto or truism. Basically, when you flip the principle to the opposite, it should still be something that reasonable person to believe. For example:
- ❌ “Create design we proud of”
This principle is a truism. When flipped, it reads “Create design we’re not proud of.” No reasonable person would abide by this design value. Would anyone stand beside a design they created that they are not proud of? No, therefore, the original principle does not pass this test.
- ✅ “Simplicity to reduce complexity”
If you flip the principle, it could say “Density to increase visibility.”
This passes the test because it’s a reasonable principle to believe. Take a pilot’s dashboard, for example. It’s designed to be dense with buttons, switches, and knobs to make sure the pilot can make a quick action and everything is within their vision, considering they’re professionally trained for this.
Good design principles are memorable and self-explanatory
“Novelty, Useful, Simple.” These principles are catchy, but they can be interpreted differently depends on the reader’s perspective. Thus, it is important to be precise in their explanation so as to prevent confusion. For example:
- ❌ “Accessible”
This principle, as a single word, leaves a lot of room for interpretation, which cost risk of individual interpret it subjectively and differently. This vagueness doesn’t help a large-scale organization align and move in the same direction.
- ✅ “Accessible to all users, so everyone feels welcome” — Pocket
This principle hinges around the keyword “Accessible”, but also explain it concisely to add clarity and precision of the outcome.
Good design principles give a unique angle
Good principles are not only memorable, but also unique in that they provide a distinct character that helps the product, team, or company differentiate itself from the competition. For example:
- ❌ “Be simple and useful”
Being simple and useful is not a differentiator for design. Most design strives to be simple and useful.
- ✅ “Drop-death simple for everyday use”
This principle gives a unique perspective because it implies the simplicity for everyday use, this can help a team to make a decision when there are a couple of different concepts and guide them to a certain spectrum.
We believe every design team must aim to develop principles that give differentiator to the product, widely applied, are concise and memorable, and are more than mere truisms or clichés. However, while these are key attributes of quality principles, it is important not to forget that the principles developed for a design team or product must align with the overarching corporate goals, strategy, and mission as well. Using simple tests, it is possible to ensure that the principles developed to meet a minimal set of quality criteria to keep the team focused on what matters and always aimed in the right, strategic direction.
Our evolving Product Experience Principles
1. Promote progressive disclosure to guide users
We aim to guide users by making the essential information ready at hand and remind everyone that it’s okay to hide the secondary information and not over-clarifying everything because users won’t be able to process everything at once.
2. Focus on the users’ needs first, not solutions first
We don’t measure the success by the number of features that we ship. We measure the success by how well and efficient we fulfill users’ needs. Whenever possible, use research to build empathy and understand the users to inform decisions.
3. Be cohesive, so users only have to learn once
Don’t reinvent the wheel; use a similar experience to support users to achieve similar tasks. However, when the purpose of the experience is different, it is important to make it explicitly different. By making a cohesive experience, our product would feel intuitive and not require a lot of relearning.
4. Purposefully aesthetic, so it feels polished and trusted
Our products should be crafted with care to give users great experiences. Form and function should work together to achieve elegance. Default to standard and innovate only when it’s worth it. All aesthetic decisions should be driven by a clear purpose.
We’re excited about our future
We understand to improve the whole experience of our product is a long game. However, we are really excited to see where these principles will bring us to. In a daily basis, we hope this set of principles can help teams make decisions when there are a few concepts on the table. On the macro level, we want the principles to guide us and create a cohesive experience and to reflect our character.
Do these values align with yours? We constantly looking for talented designers, content strategists, and developers who are passionate about building a great product experience. Please reach me out at firstname.lastname@example.org and send me your CV. I look forward to getting in touch!
In no specific order, a special thanks to Rizaldy Gema, Patricia U, Mezano, Irfan Zidny, Meiga Tutiarta, Purna Anantha, Reza Faiz, Yoel Sumitro, Steve Lianardo, Raditya Pradipta, and Rosyid Rizki Fauzi for contributing to this article and helping me make this to reality.