Design principles serve as a solid foundation for creating strong solutions using innovative design patterns, cutting-edge interaction models, and evolving standards. With the right principles in place, you can decide the course of action moving forward. Your company’s design principles should focus on what distinguishes your product from others, how it feels and what is important for the business and your customers.
Apple's Human Interface Guidelines and Google’s material design guidelines are one of the most popular and intelligent design principles you can learn and take inspiration from. Here we have made a collection of the design principles used by the world’s hottest and most successful companies:
Unified: Each piece is part of a greater whole and should contribute positively to the system at scale. There should be no isolated features or outliers.
Universal: Airbnb is used around the world by a wide global community. Our products and visual language should be welcoming and accessible.
Iconic: We’re focused when it comes to both design and functionality. Our work should speak boldly and clearly to this focus.
Conversational: Our use of motion breathes life into our products, and allows us to communicate with users in easily understood ways.
Aesthetic Integrity: Aesthetic integrity represents how well an app’s appearance and behaviour integrate with its function. For example, an app that helps people perform a serious task can keep them focused by using subtle, unobtrusive graphics, standard controls, and predictable behaviours.
Consistency: Use familiar standards and paradigms via system-provided interface elements, well-known icons, standard text styles, and uniform terminology. Ultimately, incorporate features and behaviours in ways people expect.
Direct Manipulation: The direct manipulation of on-screen content engages people and facilitates understanding. Users experience direct manipulation when they rotate the device or use gestures to affect on screen content.
Metaphors: People learn more quickly when an app’s virtual objects and actions are metaphors for familiar experiences — whether rooted in the real or digital world.
User Control: The best apps find the correct balance between enabling users and avoiding unwanted outcomes. An app can make people feel like they’re in control by keeping interactive elements familiar and predictable, confirming destructive actions, and making it easy to cancel operations, even when they’re already underway.
Material is the metaphor: A material metaphor is the unifying theory of a rationalized space and a system of motion. The fundamentals of light, surface, and movement are key to conveying how objects move, interact, and exist in space and relation to each other. Realistic lighting shows seams, divides space and indicates moving parts.
Bold, graphic, intentional: The foundational elements of print-based design — typography, grids, space, scale, colour, and use of imagery — guide visual treatments. These elements do far more than please the eye by creating hierarchy, meaning, and focus. Using deliberate colour choices, edge-to-edge imagery, large-scale typography, and intentional white space create a bold and graphic interface that immerses the user in the experience.
User Actions: An emphasis on user actions makes core functionality immediately apparent and provides waypoints for the user.
Motion provides meaning: Motion respects and reinforces the user as the prime mover. Primary user actions are inflexion points that initiate motion, transforming the whole design.
Direction over Choice: Trade layout, type, and color choices for guidance and direction. The direction was more appropriate for the product because Medium wanted people to focus on writing, and not get distracted by choice.
Appropriate over Consistent: This might seem controversial, but when applied across devices, its purpose is clear. Medium was willing to break consistency if it was more appropriate for the OS, device, or context.
Evolving over Finalized: This is exemplified in the ability to share Medium drafts, write responses, and leave notes. The content on Medium was intended to be antifragile, improving with use and evolving overtime.
Universal: Design needs to work for everyone, every culture, every language, every device, every stage of life. Build products that work for 90% of users and cut away features that only work for just a minority, even if we step back in the short term.
Human: This is a central promise of Facebook, and hence the voice and visual style stay in the background, behind people’s voices, people’s faces, and people’s expression.
Clean: Our visual style is clean and understated, to create a blank canvas on which our users live. A minimal, well-lit space encourages participation and honest transparent communication.
Consistent: Invest time wisely, by embracing patterns, recognizing that usability is greatly improved when similar parts are expressed in similar ways. Make sure that your interactions speak to users with a single voice, building trust. Reduce, reuse, don’t redesign.
Useful: Ensure your core interactions, the ones users engage daily, are streamlined, purged of unnecessary clicks and wasted space.
Fast: Faster experiences are more efficient and feel more effortless.
There you have it: The top design principles used by the most popular product companies. Need more advice or help? Just type 'Design' & book your 1:1 mentor session with your favorite UX or Design leader.