Generate Design Principles

At this point, your insights have helped you understand the design challenge in a new way. Now you’ll use these insights to develop design principles, which are guiding values or criteria that new solutions must have. Design principles yield the greatest effect when they provide the basis for and drive the whole project, especially when we encounter unique design problems for which no framework exists -- much of the work you are doing now!

Based on your insights and any visual frameworks you created, ask yourself what qualities MUST a new solution have in order to solve for your users’ needs. Use these qualities to generate 5-7 design principles as guiding values of the new experience you will be designing.

Time Needed

2-3 hours

Reflect Overview

To help illustrate the evolution of your learnings - from data to patterns to insights to design principles - we have taken examples from our project about how teachers receive, share, and make meaning of feedback.


Design Principles Guide

Design principles describe the core experience and values of a solution. They should describe the “essence” of the experience.

Design principles provide a framework for the rest of your work since they provide the tangible link between what your users need and what your solution provides. They can help focus your team during the Imagine phase as you generate new ideas, and they can be translated into measures of success when you test and develop your solution in the Play and Transform phases.


Design principles should be:


  • Short, simple, and memorable
  • Based on research from your exploration
  • Specific to your project
  • Cross-solution so you can apply them to a range of possible ideas
  • Descriptive (‘not easy-to-use’) so it is clear when a solution is or is not aligning with the design principles


To generate design principles, use your insights as a way to imagine what the solution should provide in order to meet your users’ needs. Once you have 5-7 design principles, write a sentence or two for each one so anyone inside or outside the project can understand what it means.


Take a break

During these activities, your team will be using a lot of brainpower, and it can get frustrating and overwhelming. When that happens, take a break and come back to it later. Giving yourself and your team some space from your project can sometimes lead to “AHA!” moments of insight.

You can't have it all

It’s tempting to want to horde all design principles you think of or see. But in order to generate a clear, meaningful solution, you must get clear on what should be the most important design principles. Look to your users and what they most need to help cull your design principles down to a manageable number.

Get clear on the definition

Design principles should be clearly defined, so that different people should be able to interpret design principles independently, in the same way. Think about “ease of use”. This could mean a number of different things: being intuitive to learn, easily accessible, engaging, and so on. Make sure your team is aligned on what these design principles mean, which should be informed by your users’ needs.

At the right level

Like design challenges, there’s a fine balance for design principles. They should be broad enough not to be prescriptive, but specific enough that you can measure whether your solution aligns to them.

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