Another Design Principle Article

It’s not about how.

“Oh no,” you’re probably thinking, “another design principle article.” Developing a set of principles for your company, as we did at Wyzant, is a difficult and challenging process. A simple web search can return hundreds of articles on how to craft a set of principles for your product or company. In fact, many of those articles are very good. I’d be remiss to say we didn’t do this very search when we decided that we needed our own design guidelines, a task you’re surely capable of performing just as we did. So I won’t bore you with the minutes of our meetings or insert a series of detailed whiteboard photos to prove we did the work. This isn’t about the process to establish the principles, it’s about why we decided we needed them, what they are, and how they affect our product at Wyzant.

Why now?

I had been working on the product design team at Wyzant for a little over a year before we realized the need for more definition on our product design team. Wyzant overall communicates expectations and progress really well with objectives, key results, schedules, and core values, and we were using these higher level metrics to guide and critique our product design. Things were going well, we were tracking to schedules, meeting KR’s and the process flowed… but we felt like we could do better. You can always do better.

The design team saw an opportunity at the start of a new term, as the company was making an exciting shift to Ruby, to help each other understand our process better. Not only that, but we wanted other teams to understand how we thought about design so that they could provide us with better feedback. Establishing a set of well-defined design principles felt like a clear way to accomplish this and lay the groundwork for the future of the team. Ultimately, we wanted to boil it down to, “this is how we think about design at Wyzant.”

Our design principles.

With all the work we put into our principles, we had to make sure that they were well defined, easy to remember and had the structure to help facilitate critique. We’re trying to aid internal discussion at the creative level, but also allow for senior management and other colleagues to understand and communicate with us around our shared goals. So our principles are structured in an almost modular way with a keyword, definition and a series of questions to promote talking points during design critiques. Let’s dive in to the way we think.


Understand needs to facilitate great connections.

Are we understanding the student’s and tutor’s needs in this application?
Are we basing our designs on user research and best practices?
Are we doing a better job connecting users, supporting their relationship, and setting them up for success?
Are we relieving users of unwanted responsibilities in order to focus on their connection?

As a marketplace for 1-to-1 learning, it’s important to consider both sides of the business. We’re connecting those with a need to learn with those willing to teach. And like almost every aspect of our lives today, we want that connection to feel easy and purposeful. It’s our responsibility to be designing with this type of fit in mind. So making sure we are understanding our users in order to make their connection seamless is a driving force for our product.


Design for simplicity, not for one-size-fits-all.

Are we considering our user research and varied user base when making decisions?
Are we allowing our users to behave in a way that is personalized to their needs and goals?
Are our designs empowering to the user?
Are we giving people control of their decisions by providing the right information at the right time?

What we’ve learned most in user testing and research is that we are facilitating many different needs with our platform. It’s impossible to be one-size-fits-all in this regard, so the need for design flexibility is paramount. And by no means should our designs bloat and accumulate to please these different users — simplicity is still key. Proper planning and design thinking needs to take place to account for an experience that is straightforward yet empowering.


Build trust by being effective.

Are our new designs more effective in accomplishing the user’s goals?
Are we building more trust in our products and business with this design?
Are we considering the user’s emotional state and personality at the moment of use?
Are we understanding what trust and success mean in this application?

One of the most rewarding aspects of working at Wyzant is being able to help people overcome obstacles in their life through education. But with these obstacles comes a moment of personal struggle. We want to help, and the best way to communicate this is by designing confidence in the platform through an effortless experience. People are spending their time and money investing in our product to meet personal goals, so we should never make them question why they are using us.

In practice.

Our design principles are unique to our business and our way of thinking at Wyzant. But most importantly, they represent the experience and personality of our design team and the way we think about our product. In staying true to our very own principles, we’ll always remain flexible and adapt to new processes and ways of thinking. We’re always looking to improve and build the best product we can.