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Design principles for SVT Play

At SVT Play we have four principles that guide our design work. This post is about how they were conceived, and why, and how we hope they will help us create an even better experience for our users.

Eight years ago, when I joined SVT, the team developing our video streaming service SVT Play could easily fit around a table at our local pizza place. Today, in contrast, most of what happens at our company is aimed at SVT Play. The number of people contributing to its development has grown immensely.

Our design is becoming more and more of a joint effort.

To create a coherent experience of one SVT Play, regardless of technical platform, screen or context, we have a product strategy with goals and objectives, as well as guidelines like our visual identity. But to maximize the value of our design, we’ve also felt the need of shared design principles, to set the bar for what we think our design needs to achieve to meet product goals and user needs. So we’ve developed a set of principles we call PLAY:

Our design is never finished — it’s constantly evolving through creativity and learning

Our design sparks curiosity, instills trust and is accessible for everyone

Our design is aesthetic with a purpose — to achieve optimal visual communication and usability

Our design meets our users’ needs and motivations to help them in their choices

Getting there

The need for shared principles arose in our weekly design meetings about a year and a half ago. We began by looking at what others had said and done before us, from Dieter Rams’ ten principles of good design to Norman Nielsen’s heuristics. Mixing practical and theoretical, universal and specific, it quickly became a long list. To help us see what was relevant to us, we then went on to better define our own needs.

In an initial session, we determined that the design principles should function primarily as a tool for our design team, acting as a framework to help us discuss problems and solutions in contexts like design reviews. Secondarily, they should clarify design objectives to product teams and stakeholders, enabling them to better understand and contribute to our design process.

Our next step was to explore which principles might accomplish this, by brainstorming all possible angles and honing it down to what truly mattered to us. What were our favorites in the list of general principles? What could we derive from our company’s overarching goal and vision? What did we ourselves consider the distinguishing characteristics of a successful design?

We put all of our thoughts and ideas on sticky notes on a whiteboard, where we grouped, moved around, drew circles around clusters and arrows between circles. We looked at what was contradictory or vague, and improved and prioritized.

Eventually, we had four distinct groups with about three statements in each. We labeled them Playful, Likeable, Aesthetic and You. PLAY! Not the most precise descriptions, but close enough, and easy to remember.

To evaluate our principles, we started using them in design reviews, as one of several means to structure feedback on on-going designs.

After some time it became clear which statements added energy and direction to our discussions, and which ones we could do without. It was plain to see that shorter was better — too long to remember turned out to be too long to be used. Three statements per label became one.

And that’s where we are now. We believe our design principles will live and evolve. Perhaps we’ll change them, but for now, they are our common reference.

And just to clarify — our principles aren’t intended to cover everything that makes a design successful, nor are they useful on their own. They are nothing without our skills and methods. But they can act as a checklist to keep us focused on what’s most important from a design perspective, when evaluating the quality of our work and how we can improve it.

Simply put, we hope they will answer this:
When we talk about design, what are we really talking about?

The letters P L A Y

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