Design principles are a set of guidelines that articulate a vision, philosophy, or beliefs on how to best design anything. Design principles have been used in everything from city planning, architecture, service design to digital products. They can operate at many different levels.
The architect Christopher Alexander wrote a tome of design principles for architecting an entire city with a set of 253 principles that articulate how to approach designing the layout of cities and neighborhoods, street cafes and shopping malls, public and private buildings and furniture and door knobs. Dieter Rams, the iconic former head of design at Braun, wrote a universal set of design principles that he believed could be applied to any product design. And William Lidwell collected 100 universal design principles that designers can choose to apply appropriately to different design problems.
So what are product principles?
While design principles have been around for decades, many in the industry are turning to a new paradigm: product principles.
Product principles are a variation of design principles. They act as rubric or set of guidelines that inform a team’s strategic decision making, as a rationale for making the best design decisions, and as a roadmap for breaking stalemates about the best course of action.
They’re generalized for anyone who delivers the “total product experience.” Product principles are for those who influence, design or build this experience. They can, and should, be used by the entire product organization or all teams that deliver the total customer experience.
At ThoughtSpot, product principles are internalized by teams, and become an internal compass for how to design and deliver the best product experience for our users. They can be reviewed by teams in projects, referenced in making key product decisions, or used to help break ties between different design options.
Why use product principles and not just design principles?
Design principles have become a common practice for design teams. Many design-centric companies like Google, Dropbox, Aribnb, Facebook, or Pinterest have published their design principles. This is great because design principles help teams get on the same page, swim in the same direction and make better strategic decisions about how to design and build products. However, design principles are often written by designers and only used by designers. This is a missed opportunity.
Multi-disciplinary teams conceive, design, build and ship products. Marketing, Design, Product Management, Growth, Engineering and Customer Success can all be involved in developing a product. It’s obviously best if these teams are on the same page, working in alignment towards a shared vision, so they make the best strategic decisions about how to design and bring their product to life. Collaborating and aligning is easier as a small team.
As a company grows, however, teams can scale rapidly across functions and geographies, making it more difficult to operate from a shared vision. Recognizing this challenge and opportunity, we developed product principles instead of design principles to help our product org design and build our vision of making data insights fast, smart, easy and engaging for anyone.
We’ve finalized a list of 7 product principles. They’re written to be memorable and specific. At ThoughtSpot, we’re never done. These have been created collaboratively with the product team (Design, Engineering and Product Management). As we use them, we’ll continue to iterate and improve them to best meet our needs and the needs of our customers.
Create confidence by ensuring that users’ experience with data and analysis is always Secure, Transparent, Accurate, Relevant and Consistent (STARC).
Why? People use ThoughtSpot to run their business and make critical decisions. If they don’t trust ThoughtSpot or our technology, they won’t use it.
- Secure: Make information security, privileges and permissions a high priority.
- Transparent: Show the user what the system has done, is doing and will do.
- Accurate: Guarantee data correctness and accurate computations.
- Relevant: Automate analysis and computations to uniquely match individual interests.
- Consistent: Create uniform system operations and UX patterns.
Design systems that are stable, available as much as possible, degrade gracefully and recover quickly. ThoughtSpot is mission critical for its customers, design, build and maintain it accordingly.
Why? People use ThoughtSpot on a daily basis, sometimes for hours on end, to access their data and make critical decisions. It’s paramount to ThoughtSpot be always available and reliable.
- Degrade Gracefully: Build redundant independent systems that elegantly degrade to provide as many services possible at any time.
- Recover Quickly: Architect systems and services so they rapidly recover from failure.
Make It Quick
Build and deliver the app for a snappy user and customer experience. Create efficient UI/UX patterns that make using and upgrading ThoughtSpot fast and easy.
Why? People are used to instant access to information. They expect their apps to be fast and responsive, so they can be efficient and get the information they need. ThoughtSpot needs must be fast enough to meet this user expectation for speed.
- Enable Speed: Optimize the system, architecture, UI and overall experience for performance and feeling of speed.
- Create Efficiency: Minimize effort, tasks, and operations, and use automation to make things easy for users.
- Optimize for Common Cases First: Design for common use cases first, but make extreme cases possible when necessary.
Make the user experience feel familiar, inviting and understandable, yet technically advanced. Keep interactions and workflows simple.
Why? ThoughtSpot’s mission is to create a more fact-driven world by making insights available to every knowledge worker. To do so, data insights need to be easy to get, consume and understand. Data concepts and the overall experience need to be familiar so they can focus on the data and what it means.
- Keep it Familiar: Borrow patterns from other products and use metaphors to make ThoughtSpot relatable.
- Reassure Users: Help users feel comfortable and empowered with language that’s clear, conversational, and approachable.
- Make It Accessible: Design the product to be inclusive and usable for a diverse group of people.
Make ThoughtSpot distinctively engaging and pleasurable, through visually appealing graphics, data visualizations, animations, micro-interactions, and clever copy. Think of UI and UX quality as non-negotiable. Build in pleasant surprises at every opportunity.
Why? Data should not be boring. Making data insights delightful, pleasurable, and engaging will increase users’ satisfaction with ThoughtSpot and the desire to use it more.
- Create Visual Delight: Use typography, space, grids, scale, color, imagery and motion to create an experience that’s visually pleasing.
- Make Meaning with Motion: Use animations and micro-interactions to provide feedback and reinforce context for users.
- Use Clear & Friendly Language: Use a friendly and inviting tone to explain concepts simply with language used by everyday people.
Design intelligent systems that learn from user activity, leverage existing context, and infer intent. Then, use these learnings to produce insights, simplify existing tasks, and suggest new ones.
Why? ThoughtSpot’s AI and technical architecture is uniquely suited to automating different kinds of data analysis. What’s more, users are accustomed to products and systems tailored to their interests and behaviors. Google’s search results and Amazon’s product recommendations are different for each individual. ThoughtSpot can deliver the same kind of personalized experience for analytics.
- Create Automation: Learn from users’ actions to automate tasks and workflows, and suggest relevant content.
- Empower Users: Make the product easy to learn, enabling users to become proficient with ThoughtSpot.
- Reduce Effort: Eliminate work for users by anticipating their next step and accomplishing tasks for them.
Eliminate the obvious, keep the essential. Progressively disclose information, functionality and controls. Cut down on clicks, steps, data to input, and new concepts to learn.
Why? Data needs to be simple in order for it to be widely consumed by the world’s knowledge workers. Simplicity creates a better user experience, increases adoption and makes it easier to unearth data insights.
- Foster Less Input for More Output (L.I.M.O.): Create a product experience that requires minimum input from users, but ensures maximum information and insights.
- Make it Simple to Learn: Make it easy to use features without having to have training or consulting documentation.
- Make it Easy to Continue: Present concepts and information simply, so they’re simple and easy to understand.