close up of a woman's hands creating  a wireframe design
PHOTO: Kelly Sikkema
  1. Words: Whether text or voice, words are how a digital designer primarily thinks. The best designers spend enough time to choose the right word because the right words drive the right actions.
  2. Code: Words without code are print. Without good code there can be no web and the best code is lean.
  3. Visual: Organizing content in a way that is pleasant, comfortable and supportive gives great help to anyone using the web. However, too often traditional visual designers ruin the web with their desire to create visual spectacle, and to impress their peers or bosses. (Senior managers being the group most susceptible to visual spectacle.)
  4. Information networks: Great digital designers design with networks and for networks. The connections are how the web is made, link by link. To link to and to be linked to, that is the question the digital designer is constantly exploring.
  5. Human networks: The greatest digital designs always — always — leverage and support the efforts of other humans on the networks to become better and more useful. The web connects us and uses us as much as we use the web.
  6. Information DNA: The web is a sandy beach across which we all walk in bare feet. It has a memory of every move, and the more we walk the more we write out our information DNA, our memory. On the web, your footprints can last for a very long time. Digital designers are always learning to better read and use this DNA, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.
  7. Information architecture: Metadata is the kid they all ignored, that many bullied, laughed at. The digital designer loves metadata because the digital designer must be an information architect. Complex, demanding and wholly ignored by the amateurs, you cannot build anything useful that will be easy to find and easy to use without excelling at information architecture.
  8. Findability: A great digital designer is always thinking of how each element of the design will be found. They think of people as active, participative, autonomous, intelligent — driven by a need, wanting to complete a task. The poor designers think of people sitting somewhere waiting to be wowed by their amazing design. Good designers design for the searcher.
  9. Time: Ethical digital designers always want people to take the least possible time with their designs. To get in and out so they can get on with their busy lives. Their first thought is “what can I remove?” not “what can I add?” The dark designers dream of trapping people, of consuming as much of their time as possible, of creating addicts. These designers obsess about engagement — a code word for addiction.
  10. Social: The best digital designers design with people not for them. They hunger for opportunities to see people use their designs, and they are always learning and refining, reshaping, evolving through the lens of observation and use.
  11. Maintainers: Great digital designers think holistically, think into the future, are not obsessed with the new. They care, they nurture, they worry about how things will be looked after. They design for maintenance and evolution. They see their designs as living and they know the greatest thing you learn about living is to love maintenance, to make art and beauty out of maintenance. And to continuously improve the design because if there’s one things about digital, it’s that it’s never done. Digital is never done.