The foundations of great design

Over the past year or so we’ve continued to commit time and effort into the evolution of our design system (Honeycomb) by building upon our existing library of elements, components and patterns.

For us, this represents the foundations of a system that allows designers, products teams and others in Redgate to quickly create user interfaces and print materials that are consistent, recognisable and on-brand.

But any design system is open to interpretation, and of course (as you all know) the visual presentation of an interface is just one aspect of the wider experience. This often leads us to ask a number of questions about the work we do here at Redgate, such as:

  • What does great design (the act of solving problems for users) looks like?
  • How do we know when we’re delivering a quality user experience?
  • What does it mean to design with ingenious simplicity in mind?

Introducing our design principles

To help us in answering some of these questions and to support and guide our design decisions, we’ve introduced four fundamental principles of design for Redgate. We hope that these principles will complement Honeycomb and form the foundations of our design philosophy.

Four tiers of a what makes for a great product experience.

The metaphorical wedding cake is used to illustrate a sense of hierarchy between these principles — for example, we see understanding of Purpose (principle 1) as the foundation of any design work, without which our cake of design-goodness is doomed to collapse!

Below is a a description of each of these four principles, along with a series of questions you can use to help evaluate how and to what degree the work you’re doing follows a given principle:

1. Purposeful

We put the users at the centre of our decision making — every major feature we ship is designed to address an identified user need. We are highly engaged with our users and have a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve and the problems they encounter whilst doing so. We build the right things as well as building them right!

Questions we might ask ourselves:

  1. Do we understand who our users are and the contexts they operate in?
  2. Do we understand what these users are trying to do/achieve?
  3. Do we know what problems they currently experience when doing so?
  4. What can we remove to the point that the design still works?
  5. Is it obvious where you would start and where to go next?
  6. Is it clear to the user what’s expected of them?

2. Productive

We design software to radically simplify or automate tasks associated with developing, deploying and maintaining databases. Time is precious, so our solutions are designed and engineered to fundamentally make our users more productive; enabling them to use their time more effectively. We create ingeniously simple solutions!

Questions we might ask ourselves:

  1. Do we really understand the wider ‘job’ someone is trying to do?
  2. What are the steps currently involved?
  3. Is there a way to simplify this further?
  4. Is there a way to completely automate this?
  5. Is there a completely different way we could solve the problem?
  6. How much time/effort/pain would this save someone?

3. Powerful

We identify opportunities to provide users with the knowledge and tooling that empowers them to be better DBAs/Developers. A combination of simple, connected solutions, rich, cross-product insights and contextual and situational awareness are used to enhance users’ capabilities and expertise.

Questions we might ask ourselves:

  1. Is there a better way of presenting/visualising complex data?
  2. Do we present data in way that’s actionable (data vs. information)?
  3. Is information timely, contextual and relevant?
  4. Is it easy to focus on the information that really matters?
  5. Can we combine information in more useful/interesting ways?
  6. Can we tailor information based on how users interact with or consume it?

4. Pleasing

We deliver a holistic, coherent and reliable experience users can trust that spans our portfolio of products and services.Through consistent use of language, visual styling and behavioural patterns we provide a seamless, predictable and learnable core experience. We layer this with moments that seek to amaze and delight!

Questions we might ask ourselves:

  1. Is it clear through branding and styling that this is a Redgate product?
  2. Does this adhere to the common styles/patterns found in Honeycomb?
  3. Is the desired interaction predictable/as expected?
  4. Are we solving the same problem consistently from one tool to another?
  5. Are we providing a great end-to-end product experience (cross-domain)?
  6. Are we going the extra mile to delight and amaze users?

What does that mean for us?

These principles represent what we feel to be a set of key design considerations that move us towards designing better products and making better product decisions. This isn’t a definitive check list for teams to work through, and it’s not something we expect teams to be able to achieve overnight.

However, between these principles and the building blocks of Honeycomb, the intention is that they would serve to guide and support many of our future design decisions and provide some means to evaluate the quality of the work we deliver and the effort we put into both understanding the problem and designing the right solution.