Design Principles: Towards Greater Design Maturity By Defining Your Guiding Principles

Struggling to find principles that are actually relevant to your organization and that can guide your team? Try this simple process in your next remote workshop.

MING Labs
MING Labs
Dec 8, 2020 · 6 min read

by MING Labs

While we currently see a lot of push towards design and product maturity, it is still quite a long journey that includes many trial and tribulations. Yet luckily, there are a lot of repeatable patterns, as well as tools and skills that can be used and learned. One significant factor on the road to achieving greater design maturity is an organization’s vision, closely tied in with the guiding principles.

The design principles are essential articulations of guiding considerations that will help the team make important decisions along their journey and reflect the organization’s vision and values.

To help you find the principles that actually matter to your organization, we developed the MING Labs Design Principles template which presents a 5-step framework, designed to ease the process of creating or rethinking your company’s guiding Design Principles in order to create products true to your brand.

Head over to MING’s Design Principles board on Miro that contains the corresponding template with step-by-step instructions and examples of case studies as background information:

Setting The Stage: What You Should Know

The Design Principles workshop is designed to help a group of people working in different functions towards the same end to align on appropriate guiding principles for their design work and digital products. We advise to include leaders of the product organization and people they report into, to bring in their knowledge and views for guidance. To ensure everyone’s active participation, we recommend 5–6 participants, with the option to expand it to 12 people if you’d like to involve more stakeholders in the session.

The prototype agenda for a 2 hour session looks like this (usually, the more participants, obviously the longer the session will be, expanding up to 4 hours):

  • 10 Min Introductions & Icebreaker + Session Objective
  • 10 Min Impulse Presentation (“Design Principles — What, Why and How?”)
  • 25 Min Keywording (Brainstorming — 10 Min; Presentation — 15 Min)
  • 10 Min Prioritization (Clustering — 5 Min; Reflection — 3 Min; Dot Voting — 2 Min)
  • 10 Min BREAK
  • 25 Min Mind Mapping (Brainstorming — 10 Min; Presentation — 15 Min)
  • 5 Min Prioritization (Reflection — 3 Min; Dot Voting — 2 Min)
  • 20 Min Top 5 Formulation
  • 5 Min Wrap-Up & Next Steps

Step-By-Step Guide: Key Activities

01 Design Principles Presentation
The presentation gives you the chance to explain what design principles actually are and why they are essential to your organization — basically laying the ground work for the session and reminding participants why you are all doing this workshop. It can be useful to build the case around the status quo in your organization: Show the need for more governance and guidance based on current problems to derive design principles as one of the aspects that need to be put in place. Here, references to standard design maturity models can help to highlight how defined design principles enable the next steps, such as creating design systems. You’ll find examples from more mature product organizations like Apple, Atlassian or AirBnB in the first part of the template.

02 Keywording & Prioritization
In this exercise, every participant brainstorms all the relevant guiding principles that are directly related to the organization and to the products it manages, using one post-it per keyword. Here, the Inspiration Box can be useful for references and to get started. After 10 minutes, everyone presents and explains their keywords, moving similar words together. The facilitator finalizes the clustering to ensure that keyword clusters speak to the same overarching design principle. Following that, we give participants 3 minutes to reflect for themselves on which keywords best represent what the organization wants to achieve. Then, we move to the voting part: Everyone get 5 dot votes to select the keywords they see as most relevant. The Top 5 keywords with the most votes make it into the next exercise.

03 Mind Mapping & Prioritization
Now that we have our Top 5 keywords, the Mind Mapping activity helps us explore what they mean for the organization. Here, we provide two branch templates where each keyword becomes the core, and the phrasing of it becomes the branch. One template reflects the internal perspective (“As a user, I should …”) and one the external perspective (“Our designs should …”). In 10 minutes, participants brainstorm and write down different phrasings of the various keywords, often revealing slight differences in their interpretation. Afterwards, everyone presents and explains their phrasings. Following this, participants again get 3 minutes for contemplation and another 2 minutes for dot voting (this time, 10 votes per person). All phrasings that received votes will move into the final activity.

04 Top 5 Formulation
Last but not least, we want to find the final formulation for our principles. First, we move all the aligned phrases into a cluster next to their responding principle and formulate them in 1–2 sentences. Typically, each principle is assigned to 1–2 members in the session to come up with a formulation, then rotate to review and edit. In the end, the group has produced the draft formulations for the Top 5 selected design principles, based on nuanced phrasings.

Summary

With a group of various participants coming from different backgrounds, it can be quite cumbersome to define essential guiding principles in a remote setting. This design principles template serves as guidance to align on appropriate principles that are really relevant to the organization and that help move towards greater design and product maturity. The outcome of the session should be refined and revisited regularly, to get from a first draft to more and more precise formulations. It’s not meant to be a one-and-done. We’ve experienced interesting discussions and conversations around nuances of our work, and would love to hear more about your sessions! Try the workshop with your team and let us know your feedback in the comments.

MING Labs is a leading digital business builder located in Berlin, Munich, New York City, Shanghai, Suzhou, and Singapore. We guide clients in designing their businesses for the future, ensuring they are leaders in the field of innovation. For more information, visit us at minglabs.com

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MING Labs

Written by

MING Labs

We are a leading digital business builder located in Munich, Berlin, Singapore, Shanghai, and Suzhou. For more information visit us at www.minglabs.com

Remote Creativity

Remote Creativity by MING Labs comprises specifically designed templates for remote collaboration, including step-by-step guides, examples, and auxiliary information to make remote workshops more efficient, ranging from ideation over strategy, to research and design.