Defined: the 11th principle of good design

Wells Riley argues good design is iterative

Designer at Kicksend, Wells Riley, has written about the 11th principle of good design. In his article, he says that the 10 principles of good design that Dieter Rams defined in 1970 remain relevant, but the web is very different to mediums that existed at that time. Instead of crafting fixed items that could slowly be refined (consumer goods revised annually, or print publications updated during reprints), we’re now surrounded by software that constantly changes. Instead of next-year’s revision, you have the likes of Facebook pushing new code to production twice daily.

Riley therefore added an eleventh principle: good design is iterative. He spoke to .net about the reasoning behind the post and also his thoughts on iteration within the web design industry.

.net: What was the thinking behind your article?
Riley: Dieter Rams' principles are brilliant. They help designers objectify their own work and assess whether they've achieved 'good design’. But they were written in a time where software didn't exist, and were originally meant to apply to physical (industrial) design and print design.

When doing interactive design the principles still apply, but there's a new variable introduced with software products. The web and various app stores allow for constant updates, and engineers take advantage of this with agile (or iterative) software releases. Designers, especially those at early- to mid-stage startups, need to plan for this and use it to their benefit. Software design needs to be flexible and should easily adapt to change.

.net: On that, why do you think web and interface designers still often think of projects as crafted, 'fixed' objects, similar to those Rams was referring to in 1970?
Riley: In my experience, it comes partially from freelancing/consulting, and partially from traditional software release schedules. By design, consultants make money taking on projects, 'finishing' the project, and moving on. For static websites, identity, and print, this works great. Consultants don't have time to iterate post-production, and most companies can't afford to keep designers on retainer for that crucial stage. This is why my first company failed – we catered to early-stage startups, and the traditional agency model just cannot work there. It's detrimental to both sides.

In-house designers (or designer founders) will own the product from day one, and help design grow in tandem with the technology. With competitors like Path, Airbnb, Square, Twitter and so on pushing the boundaries of design, early-stage companies can't afford not to do this. Design has become just as important as tech.

.net: Is there any way all web designers can start iterating more?
Riley: I’m not sure. I think many designers start out by freelancing and doing small projects, or working at a consulting company. The ‘completion’ mindset is hard to shake. Looking at designers who either work with startups from day one (still pretty rare, but Sahil Lavingia is definitely one) or designers who have solid experience programming, you see they have experience working in an agile environment, and they apply iterative techniques to their own design work.

Image: Vits", who still make and deliver Rams' 606 Universal Shelving System.

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