Whose Principles?

There are no truly universal principles of design. The basis for what makes good design does not rest solely on the shoulders of Dieter Rams (nor on those of J. Paul Getty, or anyone else).

I would like to propose that every single client deserves their own set of principles.

As designers, we are charged with the task of problem solving. We’re aesthetic engineers. It is sometimes a delicate job to design branding, collateral, and web that not only reflect our clients but also do the very specific job they are designed to do. That is, the job of reaching the target audience and directing them appropriately.

Designing a website for a law firm, for instance, would be a decidedly different process than designing for a comic book publisher. Each of these obviously has very distinct clientele, and using one design standard for both does not necessarily address the gamut of needs that follow from those two audience groups. Accordingly, we must have a bevy of tools and skills at the ready to address each new client need discreetly. Sometimes, we have to set aside our standards and MacGyver brand new solutions (although, hopefully we’ll have more to work with than a paper clip and rubber band).

My point (and I do have one, I swear) is that design principles are useful guidelines, but that no reigning Principles of Design, boldfaced and capitalized, can hold court over every designer on every occasion. As designers, we must be wary of enclosing ourselves within too small a box, and instead must be agile enough to shift our beloved principles to meet the needs of our even more beloved clients.

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Sara Quinn

Sara Quinn

Although she began college life as an art major, Sara was quickly sucked into the whirly depths of psychology. She spent a few years working as an educator and eventually became a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic.Now she gets to make stuff for a living, which suits her fine.Sara co-owns Squid&Crow, and lives in Pasco with Brendan and Lila. She happily spends hours composing, coloring, and texturing (when she’s not geeking out on comic books and video games).

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  • Design principles are like the Pirate Code, more like guidelines, really.

  • Crossdiver

    This holds especially true in working with legacy systems and legacy organizations. You’re breathing new life into an otherwise-dead-to-design world.

  • Very well written my friend. I enjoyed reading! Also, your bio is wonderful. “…which suits her fine.”

  • Great post! I’m not confident enough yet to consider myself a “designer”, so would you say great design is like walking a line where everything you know (eg. portfolio, experience, expertise, preference) is on one side and on the other is complete, unexplored newness? Would the best designers be those who walk a straight principled path while drawing equally from the known and unknown? Or is it okay/recommended to draw heavily on past experience for some projects while diving deeply into uncharted territory on others?

  • Sara Taylor

    Indeed 🙂

  • Sara Taylor

    My own path follows most closely with the latter. Using what you know is vital… as long as you don’t get stuck there.
    Sometimes trying something new totally pays off, and other times it doesn’t work at all, and you have to say “screw it” and go with what you know.
    I have a very strong suspicion that you possess all of the necessary art and talent to walk that line. 🙂

  • Sara Taylor

    Thank you! That means a lot to me.