Values and Principles in Design: How We Do It
In design, the quality of your process often dictates your outcomes. When faced with a visual challenge, what drives your approach? How do you go about making decisions? What is at the top of your list? Like art, design involves visual expression and divergent thinking. Unlike art, however, design is about problem-solving. That responsibility shapes the designer’s toolkit and processes, placing strategy at the center of their practice.
At Creative Market, we’ve found that defining values and principles can make a meaningful difference when aligning teams around that strategy. Today, we’re sitting down with David Panarelli, Director of Product Design, to take a closer look at Creative Market’s design beliefs. These ideas will come in handy when crafting a foundation for your own practice.
First things first, what is the difference between a design value and a principle?
Values are a statement of how we work. Principles are the attributes that are present in good design work.
In much the same way that our company has a set of core values that guide our culture, we formed these values as a design team to influence our day-to-day work in ways that are specific to the challenges of the design process. Principles are used as a reference point when looking at work. They are not benchmarks, but guiding directions that can help us strive for our highest level of quality.
Why are values important to define? What are the benefits of doing so?
The process of defining values gives members of the team a chance to say out loud the things that sometimes go unsaid or unnoticed. For any team to function well, we need a shared understanding of the way we want our practice to work.
What are Creative Market’s design values and principles?
Our team has a uniquely grounded perspective and that is not only reflected in these principles, but in the work we deliver.
Well-crafted products are created in service of people, helping people achieve an end goal. The products are effective when they allow people to effortlessly accomplish a task, make a decision, or express themselves.
Well-crafted products require as little thought and effort as possible. People using a product are able to navigate each situation and make the decisions necessary to accomplish their goals. The goal a person is trying to achieve can be challenging enough without the product experience requiring additional understanding.
Our product experience is nothing without the people using it. Creative Market’s product experience must be respectful of people by meeting them where they are, at varying levels of technical and business acumen.
All are welcome at Creative Market. While we may not have an entirely globalized platform, we do build with the intent to reduce the barriers for individuals to engage with our platform on any technology from anywhere.
When you bring a Creative Market designer into a meeting, workshop, or other design exercises, you can count on them engaging with the team on these terms.
Our team values intention. We made sure every design we deliver is produced with the highest level of focus, making sure everything in our process happens for a reason. We work to be resourceful, delivering value for the customer and reflecting Creative Market’s brand voice in our customer engagement.
Our team works in service of the people who will use our products. We work to design products ethically, never undermining the user.
Our team sees design as a team sport. We look forward to engaging our partners on other teams and aligning around the work.
Focus on problems
Our team values problem-solving. A multitude of ideas may be generated on a given project, but we remain focused on evaluating any direction against the actions that will help our users.
Our team values candor. Internally and across other teams, we work to build on progress by remaining entirely honest.
What advice would you give a designer or design team trying to establish principles for their practice? How did you come up with these?
For an individual, establishing design principles has a lot to do with knowing both your individual style and your sense of ‘good design.’ Consider products that you think are exceptionally well-designed. What makes them that way? Is it because it’s easy to use? Is it because it’s especially beautiful? Is it because it conveys a particular mood? Write down some of those attributes, coming up with as many as possible and working your way through, editing the list down to the qualities that you think are most important and most enduring.
For teams, there are two things. First, if you look anywhere, you’ll find a lot of discussion of design principles from major design teams around the world. You have to stop and think for a minute: many of them have massive design teams and support from design ops specialists. You might not have that infrastructure, and that’s OK. Don’t try to copy what they do. Approach it in the way that only your team can, given your experience and the challenges your team is facing.
Don’t try to copy what others do. Approach challenges in ways that only your team can.
Secondly, work collaboratively as a team to find your principles. Our team created a Miro board and had a virtual workshop to come up with our principles. Each team member brought their own perspective, putting principles on sticky notes. Through a round of affinity mapping, we grouped together the sticky notes that were similar and found some common threads that showed us where our beliefs aligned. This gave us the direction we needed. After a few rounds of refining the list over time, we had a set of principles and values.
When it comes to the “communicating honestly” value, are there specific benchmarks you use to keep critiques as objective as possible?
If you’re not careful, critique can be a battleground. On the one hand, people can simply react to the work without providing anything constructive, “I like it” or “I just don’t like it.” On the other hand, feedback can veer off-topic, criticizing the person who made the work rather than the work itself, “this doesn’t seem right, maybe you don’t get it.” I’ve heard them all.
We frame our feedback to be constructive. Being honest doesn’t mean being mean.
How do you ensure the team stays consistently true to its values and guided by its principles?
From time to time, we have a workshop as a team to reflect on how things are going, reviewing “pluses” and “deltas.” What’s going well? What would you change? Principles and values are part of that conversation. Things that are going well often reflect us acting within our values and delivering work within our principles.
What steps do you normally follow in a critique session? How do these values come to life throughout?
We frame our design critiques to be productive by starting with an objective. “What is a person using this design trying to accomplish?” Once we all understand the objective, then we look at the work. “Does this work help them accomplish the objective? If so, then why? If not, then what would you suggest?”
By focusing on the objective, we stay focused on the work and we can be critical. It’s easier and more comfortable, in that case, to criticize the work and provide actionable feedback to help the designer try options that can get the work back on track.
Are there any books or thought leaders that have inspired your practice and Creative Market’s design philosophy?
Absolutely–our critique practice has been heavily influenced by the book Discussing Design by Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry. They do an amazing job of breaking down the process of providing feedback that can build up a healthy critique practice.
Resources like principles.design offer a wealth of examples of design principles that anyone can refer to. It’s great to survey those examples and consider the size and industry of those respective teams and how it may have influenced the direction of their principles.
Finally, I think our team members bring a uniquely powerful perspective thanks to their experience and expertise. Our team members have worked on products in areas ranging from financing and ecommerce to talent management, productivity tools, even apps that help prevent and report incidents of sexual assault. The comprehensive and diverse nature of our team gives us a unique perspective that I’m pretty proud of.
What are your design values?
Are there any brands out there whose design philosophy you admire? Let us know in the comments section below. If you’d like to learn more about our team and explore our openings, check out our Careers page.