A day in the life of a project manager brings many challenges and frustrations. One of them involves managing the goals of a project so that remain consistent and relevant to the company, user and technologies. At Open Text Content World last week, we picked up some good pointers on how to implement an Effective Solution Design Using Design Principles.

Why Design Principles?

Much like the way style guides are used to govern the reputation of a company, design principles are also needed so that project goals stay consistent, though plans may change -- a lot.

At the beginning of any project, everyone may seem to agree. However, though they may say yes, you can be sure that each person is interpreting and inferring different things about what the project means. If only you had some design principles to help you maintain a consistent vision as the project continues to sustain focus, even after stakeholders change their mind.

What Design Principles Are (and What They Aren’t)

Put simply, design principles are a set of characteristics that describe the qualities you want to achieve and the experience you want a system to deliver. Some things are easier said than done.

But integrating the fundamental goals that all decisions can be measured against can be challenging, mostly because it’s not always clear what is and isn’t an effective principle of design. Let’s review!

Good design principles are those that may have some relevance to ECM. You may want a solution that offers the following:

  • Enables content exists only once
  • Designs for participation
  • Considers people’s time
  • Make decisions easy
  • Builds trust

Sometimes people like to make broad generalizations to dictate the principles that govern solutions. These however, are not examples of good design principles. Do not confuse the mission, visions or values statement of a company with design principles. Neither should you consider universal tenets of good design to take their place. For example: “Make the system easy to use” is not a good design principle. “Make it so it’s easy to do X or Y” is.

Ultimately you will find that good design principles support the larger organizational goals/mission, help to make goals tangible and ensure that the qualities defined are followed.

Creating and Using Design Principles

Now that you know what good design principles consist of, you can begin to create your own. By following these seven steps, your company can start defining the guidelines needed to ensure that projects stay on track.

  • Research/gather relevant inspiration
  • Brainstorm with your team
  • Craft 3-7 descriptive, memorable principles
  • Ensure the principles align with business and user goals
  • Ensure they are specific enough to be useful making design decisions
  • Ensure they short, memorable, apply to the whole sstems and don’t conflct or overlap
  • Get buy-in from stakeholders and project sponsors.

As a general rule, design principles should be used whenever there is an opportunity to influence a project before it begins. Consider using your principles during the following situations:

  • Project inception
  • Planning and prioritization
  • Team building
  • Design evaluation
  • Explaining decision to stakeholders

The best design principles not only uphold goals, they also become integrated into the process over time. To get your principles to stick, don’t hesitate to shout them from the rooftops. By making them visible and social, principles are easy to understand and accessible to everyone.

Use everyday opportunities to help keep the concepts, which design principles were designed around, fresh in people’s minds and refer to them when appropriate.