DU011 – Design Principles – Kieron Leppard Interview

Carla takes to the streets to talk to Kieron Leppard, Group Creative Director at Huge about the do’s and do nots of Design Principles.

Season 0 - Getting Untangled
Season 0 - Getting Untangled
DU011 - Design Principles - Kieron Leppard Interview

Carla takes to the streets to talk to Kieron Leppard, Group Creative Director at Huge about the do’s and do nots of Design Principles.

You will learn about:

  • What makes a good design principle
  • What makes a bad design principle
  • How you use design principles in your organisation


Episode: DU011 – Design Principles
Host: Carla Lindarte, Chris Mears
Guest: Kieron Leppard, Group Creative Director, Huge

[00:16] Chris: Hello and welcome to Design Untangled with me Chris Mears. And as usual, not with me is Carla Lindarte and she’s not with me at this episode, because I’ve sent her out into the field for a change, to get some interviews. She’s going to be talking about design principles, which is something you may have heard of. I have to say they’re not something I’ve grappled with a quite a few years now, but after hearing some of the tips and tricks in this interview, it’s something that I’d like to revisit myself. So after this fairly pointless introduction, we’ll get straight into the interview. So enjoy.

[00:58] Carla: Hello everyone. Thank you for listening this is Untangled again. We’re really glad with all the new listeners that we have every day and especially in the U.S., Apparently we have lots of people in the U.S., so thank you very much for listening today. We have a very special guest, someone I actually really admire, not just because of his, design skills and UX skills, but also for his like leadership style, which is really cool. So thank you so much. Kieron Leppard, he is Group Creative Director at Huge. Welcome to [inaudible 01:26].

[01:27] Kieron: Good morning. Happy to be here.

[01:28] Carla: Yeah, that’s good. I’m really excited to have you here cause I know you’re going to give a lot of advice to the people that we, we have as our listeners. They obviously, we are looking for advice around design principles and what they mean and why they’re important and we all heard about different perspectives about some principles. So today we’re going to focus on that topic. However, before we go deeper into that, I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions about yourself. You have a very interesting background. You actually studied artificial intelligence. Didn’t you?

[02:03] Kieron: I did. Many moons ago, back in the 1980s, I grew up as a Nintendo kid and I desperately wanted to get into computer game design. And so, I started computer science and artificial intelligence because that was my routine back then. It was all coding. C# [C sharp] was the only coding language you could use to get into it. I quite quickly worked out earlier on, I wasn’t the best coder around. I’m pretty good, but it gets

quite complicated, quite quickly. AI was nowhere near as mature as it is today. And it was really about the theory of AI, and how it could be applied but also like hard coding, neuro networks yourself, which is pretty difficult. In my last year of uni I studied a course called human computer interaction. One of the core reading books was, at the time, Donald Norman, The Psychology of Everyday Things, now Design of Everyday Things, and that was the book that really got me into kind of UX at the time, which was this bridge between design and at the time software engineering.

[03:01] Carla: Yeah, that was great. The role that you playing right now, because you obviously, Group Creative Director and when you talk about creative directors, you talk more about UX and [inaudible 03:11] as well, isn’t it? You have a very interested in UX background. How did you end up being a creative director as a whole?

[03:18] Kieron: I think it was deliberate. I wanted to experience more, than just experience design. I had a few large roles working in kind of digital advertising. I did some more sort of like mark-com type roles, campaign type work. And I wanted it to be more on the creative side cause I’ve been very technical studying computer science is incredibly technical and I just wanted to kind of balance myself out. I had always love creativity and art, so it was a nice kind of outlet for me to kind of move into. As I got more senior, I guess as well, it’s good to have an appreciation of all of the fields that surround

[ianudible 03:52]

UX and product design.

[03:53] Carla: Yeah, that’s great. So now we go into design principles. So design principles for me, they help teams keep focused on what the product essence is and just make sure they have the right framework to make decisions. What is your definition of design principles? Would you agree with that?

[04:15] Kieron: I do agree with it. I think principals for me are, they’re not a hard and fast rule. They should help define how something feels. They should help be something that helps a customer kind of understand why your experience is kind of different to someone else’s. I often see quite a lot of times like principles being used like on an individual project level, but also a brand level. And I think that that’s the kind of the trick for any designer is to understand where those principles should be applied and why, because at a brand level you are trying to differentiate against different companies. You want to stand out, you want to feel different about a project level. It’s just about helping you make decisions as you go quite quickly. And so, you might have different sense of

principles, right? You might have principles that have to work with your overall brand principles. And I think depending on the size of the organization, whether you’re working for a large enterprise versus what you’re working for a startup, you’re going to have to have kind of different [Inaudible 05:09] flex between those principles.

[05:10] Carla: Different types of principals. That is always a challenge, because when you start working for a big client and they already have their principles, it’s kind of like why and how would you come up with your own project principles? Why do you think that’s the process that people should follow to do that?

[05:26] Kieron: Yeah, I think it all depends about the product or the service you’re creating. If you are someone like Nike, let’s just as an example, everyone knows Nike. Their e-comm experience principles about hearing their products, about making them desirable, about showing the latest technology they have in their products and harrowing their athletes can be slightly different principles to, if they’re building a product which is about designed for runners, about helping them become better, train more often, become faster [inaudible 05:56] with others. And I think that’s the challenge for any designer is to work out, do you have a universal set of brand principles applied to your products and services? There might be a set of different rules or principles that might, what we call them that apply to specific products that have a unique audience and a unique set of features.

[06:13] Carla: How do you actually do it? Do you think then, you take the brand principles and then you look at your product and then you say, okay, so what is unique about this product, that I actually need to create a design principle for? I have seen projects, for example, when we see things, it has to be easy to use or it has to be mobile first, which is kind of a given. So how do you make them unique?

[06:42] Kieron: So I hate those. Both of those, if any product, that is designed or service that is not mobile first or easy to use, is kind of disastrous right from the start. I think they are, as I said, their principle. You have to start at the brand and the brand experience and how that brand wants to be perceived. Then you do have to go and talk to the organization, talk to real customers and deeply understand what it is they’re looking for from a product and really develop yourself a pretty round view or rounded out view of what it is you want to design. And then that’s where the magic of the designer, the role of the designer gets really interesting because then you have to translate all of that data, all

of that analysis into something tangible. The way I typically like to do it is to have a core principle or something in the middle that can tie all principals together, an organizing idea, a north star, whatever you want to call it. Then all of your principals kind of ladder up into that one principle. It gives you a hook to hook against. And then give specific examples around what those principles should be and what they shouldn’t be. Like a typical brand guideline because I think it’s very easy to people to interpret the principal in the wrong way. Or they are sort of so vague enough they could mean anything or that it is too specific enough that it does not leave the design team enough flexibility to design. So I think the important thing is to test them actually. To test your own principals with people before you say, these are a hard set of hard and fast rules and I made them up on my own.

[08:07] Carla: That’s good. Can you give me an example of a good design principle or at least a good set of design principles?Do you have a particular number that you need to aim for?

[08:19] Kieron: I think they need to be. Okay. So number is a good thing. People have done their [inaudible 08:23], Google, Apple, Os Rule famous of doing their ten. I think ten is like a nice number that everyone can feel, that feels like it’s substantial enough. I can’t remember ten things. I prefer things in three’s and five’s at least at a core level. I do think if you cannot recall them, then as a design team, you need to have them printed up. You need to have them in your design studio, you need to be referencing them in design reviews with a score card. Otherwise, what was the point of having them? If you are not actually going to use them to make the change, and certainly I do not think it is necessarily worth it. I do think it is difficult to also do that, because you do not want the checklist to be so restrictive. Good example. I did originally like some of Google’s original ones. Things like, ‘faster is better’ because they are an engineering company and it

[inaudible 09:29]

Google takes time to make sure that things operate really quickly, because they know that if things, I think at 0.1 millisecond faster, that enhances usability. That is something that is very unique to Google, as an engineering company, it is very specific, fast is good. I really like that as a set of principles. That is good for them as a product company. Someone that is a service company might be way more about the customer. I think Google is about them, and how you should design. Other company like Zack Os, I think theirs is all about the customer. Although saying that Google’s first one is follow the customer, no. Designed for the customer and all else follows or fails. They

have to be unique. I would say if they are customer centric, as well, and they are easily memorable that is probably, the best thing.

[09:59] Carla: You have already mentioned in a few tapes, four teams actually stayed true to the principles throughout the development program. We have been in projects that could take, maybe three months and you’re going too fast so then you forget about them. Or maybe taking that three years and then it is just as low, that you in the same way, forget about them. So apart from like print them off and just making sure you have that consistency every time you like tackle a design challenge. What other tips you can give people to make sure they do not forget about them, and also if there is a chance to evolve them as you go through?

[10:37] Kieron: The first part is, it is up to the design, the way you set your ways of working, and your ceremonies. You just decide, I am going to check off against these things. Are you actually going to reference them as a design leader, if you are that. Or as a designer yourself, to consciously make the effort to go through and say, okay, this is this customer, does this particular principle hold true for them? Can I see or feel parts of this in the end-to-end experience or specific pages. Also, it’s not just about the work. It could also help you prioritize your backlog or what you are going to do. Here is a feature compared to another feature. Does this feature adhere to more of our principles than necessarily one that does not?

[11:16] Carla: That is really good.
[11:18] Kieron: What’s your second question?
[11:20] Carla: Just asking if the principles can evolve? [11:22] Kieron: Yes, absolutely.
[11:23] Carla: Can you change them?

[11:23] Kieron: I think the principles should evolve. As your offering evolves, I would not say there is something that should change. I think maybe in the early days when you are learning, maybe they change it a little bit more for testing them on a smaller set of projects or products. I think they should change as your business changes and sort of customer expectation changes. I don’t think they should change the company vision, that maybe changes every three to five years, until you hit your purpose or your business

objectives. Unless something’s going drastically wrong, I don’t think they should change too often. Otherwise you won’t be able to train your design teams to design against them. You are not going to train yourself to think about what is good and what is bad about them. I would also say, maybe using customer research, either from testing actual products or doing research to kind of validate your principles. Your customers say things or observed things that you feel ticks off against the principle. That is a good verbatim to record and show team members, hey listen, this is where this person said this thing. We feel that that feels like a good thing to be saying about a particular feature or product. You know while that does happen. You should hero them and separate them. Celebrate the people that designed it.

[12:30] Carla: That’s very good. Is there any particular style, because I have seen design principles written for example, as a first person, related to your comment. Maybe it is just, a voice of the customer kind of thing, done. Whatever the customer is saying about the [inaudible 12:46] principle or is it more about the Google style where it is more about the organization of what they want to promise to the customer. Is there a particular style that you think is better or worse or do you think both work?

[12:59] Kieron: I think they both work. I actually genuinely think it depends on the organization. I think Google as a company, is quite customer focused anyway. If you are working for a more traditional business and [inaudible 13:07] businesses maybe not had that customer centricity built into them. That is probably worth starting with the customer voice maybe or doing both. Doing a principle that said this is how the principal feels and this is what the principal is and this is how it should feel or sound to a customer. So you can construct your principles. Here is the title, nice and short and snappy; here is a description of it; here is how it feels to a customer; and maybe here is a checklist of examples. No, you would not want that one. Like a quick reference ten list, but at least you know, you’ve got the detail there that kind of, if you needed to, you can go down to a greater level of detail.

[13:42] Carla: That’s great. In terms of, because you keep referencing, design leader and design leader. When you’re talking about design principles. If you are a junior designer, you go into an organization, onto a project, and you feel that there is lack of design principles or whatever. How this person can actually start, talking obviously, to their colleagues and also who has the responsibility of creating the design principles?

[14:16] Kieron: That is a good question. Naturally, UX designers, or product designers want to own them because they feel, it is a design activity. There is a lot of overlap though between brand strategy, and brand design, and brand agencies, and how they perceive it and marketing teams. Typically, as a UX designer and a strategist as I would like them to be owned by a design function. Especially if they relate just to products and services. If they don’t, if they are at brand level and a smaller team, then maybe you get a universal set that apply across everything. In terms of constructing them, it should be around a team effort. If you come one very siloed point of view, one department, one business unit, you’re only ever going to get your biases and actually they should be as rounded out as possible. So we should consult with technology, and operations, and as many people as possible. If a junior designer feels like they are needed. The first thing is to articulate how the product or service could improve with design principles or what is a problem they would sell for. I’ have seen projects where there is too many principles, oh here is another set of principles, or here is another set of brand guidelines. Everyone rolls [inaudible 15:20]. If you have worked a large organization long enough, you know that the brand refreshes come around every three or five years. It just becomes top priority and everything has to get kind of updated as quickly as possible. It is a bit of an eye roll because people do not feel they have to believe in them. So the first thing is, what is the problem you are going to sell for? And can you make them actionable enough, that people actually believe in them.

[15:43] Carla: That’s a good word actually, actionable. So related to that actionable principles, of the same principle, just to give an example to our listeners, in a context of a user journey for example or feature, how do you then translate the design principle into that, and how do you make sure they both link together? I don’t know if I’m asking the right question. Basically, I would have liked to do, is give you an example how you might bring same principles into designing a particular user journey or feature.

[16:17] Kieron: I said really early on, you could use them to inform a product. And certainly a feature that you’re going to build. Once you have got that feature, whether you use it, design, sprint methodology, or any sort of co-creation, or early sketching session, I think is to use those principles to level set everyone that is designing it. Use them throughout the early design to validate, does this feel like this? Does it really genuinely feel whatever is the not easy to use principle you want to use? Do we think this is going to make this kind of feel distinguishable? Do we think it is going to help us

step out? Is it going to help us deliver against customer expectations, and business kind of needs? And then continually reference them, much like a persona, as often as you can throughout the design principle.

[17:01] Kieron: What I would say, sorry, the design process. Start building it into your language. When you do a stand up review with colleagues, I feel this is insert principal name because it is doing this. I feel that this is more like this principle because it is now doing this consistently. Bake it in, to as many stages of the design process as you can. So eventually when you stand back one time and look at a design review happening, you should hear words from your principals bubbling up. I think that people are talking about them in that way, but that’s a successful set of design principles. If they just become a paperweight and go in everyone’s drawer and just become another part of the [inaudible 17:39] glossary, I think they failed. That is why I think it is not just about writing them.

[17:45] Kieron: I think once you write them, that is great. Then you have got to hero them, so these are the standard. Oncew they are the standard, you then, have got to kind of make sure they are consistently used. If they do start to feel tired and people stop using them, back to your previous question, maybe that is a point to sort of jush them up, Redo them, or just redraw them, or reframe them, to make them feel relevant again. Or if a new piece of technology comes out, let’s just say, not particularly new, but some sort of voice service. Let us go, okay, just as a, here is a spike, as a point of view, here is like a point of view of how our principles could apply to voice Okay, cool, did not think of that is how our principals could work. Or any other new piece of emerging technology.

[18:28] Carla: I run a project once where, for a brand, that for them randomness, and delight, and surprise, and treasure hunting was really, really important. You said in a brand level and then we started translating that into the digital experience. But then, interrupting a randomness or things, in an ecommerce environment, do not necessarily work. So the client actually come up with lots of ,very, very random and very not good UX examples of how they were actually responding to the principle that we created. But then, they were basically against the experience in ecommerce environment. So one of this was, as he is checking out, you will suddenly get this random saucepan in the middle of your checkout, for a bike and something like that. And then you could give you like three seconds to add it to the basket. So it was positive because the whole organization was believing in that. But then we started having issues, controlling the

client on what is a good execution of a design principle and what is it bad execution of design principle. So do you have any advice around how do you make sure that even though people believe in them, they don’t get too crazy about them?

[19:49] Kieron: So I think that is a good point about training and appropriateness, about it. So when they come out, back to my point about helping people understand that it is probably much like a brand guideline, good examples and do’s and don’ts. I think you are right, once you could use a principal in the wrong way, and something like a checkout that should be, really your brand element should be very little, until maybe the end, when you celebrate the purchase and say thank you. Generally during checkout, no one likes to be surprised during checkout. All right. Unless it is something – money off.

[20:22] Carla: Yeah, you are like, that is a good surprise.

[20:22] Kieron: Like money off or free shipping or something for free. I would say that is the only surprise people would want. Honestly, I think that would just be about learning, and education, and kind of shared understanding of what they are. I also would not want to say, to me, design principles should be tools, not rules. You do not want people to feel there is a, oh do not do this, do not do this. We are the experience or design police, it should not be that. They should be enabling, they should help an organization make better designs, feel like they can create something the customers really love and will help move the brand in the right way. So, it is a good question. I do not have a hard and fast answer, but I think it would just be about sort of giving examples like, do’s and don’ts.

[21:05] Carla: Would you get examples from other brands, perhaps?

[21:08] Kieron: Exactly. It was very early on and you do not have them yourself. I think that is a good way to kind of show it, because everyone can relate to someone that is doing things cool now, like Airbnb or Spotify. Okay, yeah, they do that, I understand why they do that. And it may be some from competitors. That is how our competitors are doing it. I actually think learning from brands outside of category is really, really useful. So sometimes if you are a service brand, let us say you are a bank, there is no reason why you cannot learn from the way that service happens at a high end hotel or the way that service happens at a high end retailer. The white glove treatment as it were. That is

a good service principle, it is not necessarily just related to finance, because you know that finance experiences are not very good.

[21:53] Carla: Well, is there anything else that you want to add in terms of design principles and why they are important and how teams can actually make them part of the day-to-day jobs?

[22:04] Kieron: I would just say have fun with them, use them. I like illustrations or iconography with the principals. Just so you have a metaphor potentially. They sure do not work with a short pithy title, but I think if you have some sort of illustration and you put some good effort into them to make them look great, that people should start to understand where those principles come into action. I think maybe as a UX designer and early on, maybe you could think about where a set principle in your customer journey might be more applicable. So to your previous point about, actually serendipity and surprise, might not be good at checkout. It could be very good early in the awareness process, or around a churn point, or around a customer centenary, or ceremony, or annual. Oh it is your birthday, so here is something; or here, you have been a customer for two years, so we would like to give you something back; or you have done your tenth purchase. So thinking about different principals in different areas, that they apply across a customer journey map or customer journey. Would stop maybe a bit of that stuff happening.

[23:08] Carla: That like, craziness. Before we wrap up very quickly, we have a lot of people in our audience that are looking for advise on portfolio development and looking for jobs. Design, UX, UI, hybrid skills, and actually most recently, we had people asking, what books people should read, what things people should study. I know it is a bit of a broad question, but do you have any advice to give to junior designers at the moment, in a very always changing environment where, skill sets need to evolve. Any advice or any tips people that should have?

[23:45] Kieron: Reading wise, I really am a big fan of the List Apart books or the Book Apart books. Series of short books, good primers written by some very smart people and usually the topics and very up to date. So there is the blog, List Apart and they have a set of books called the Book Apart. Right through from topography to design research to emotional design. They are really great. And if you are like me where you don’t have much time, they’re quite short, sharp and easy to read. I think in terms of magazines,

.net magazine, Creative Art. They are a good way of a summary each month. I get overwhelmed by my blogs and my feeds and my newsletters that come through. So just have time to sit back and read a bit of print. I actually think this recent research by, The Economist who have said they think that the only publication, that has seen their base grow, in the last two decades. That is mostly because they think they work just in monthly release cycles. That is not always, ah, I can never finish everything. You can actually finish something. I have also just started reading a magazine called, Misc by Ido Couture. It is very high minded, but it has got some really big things in it, that I think will keep you thinking about the future and looking forward. Then, I would just say just generally keeping yourself up to date on the latest tools. I think prototyping for UX designers and rich prototyping is becoming more and more important in bringing an idea to life very, very quickly. Because wire frames, maybe dying out on projects, but certainly being able to go from idea and feature and sketch into a lightweight prototype very, very quickly, is going to be more and more important. Would that mean learning a bit of code.? I am a bit of fan of everyone learning a bit of code. Just so you have an appreciation for your medium. Certainly flinter, framer, principal, a lot of these rapid prototyping tools I would say have a grasp of at least one or two of them because you don’t know the design teams that you’ll be going into, and what tools they’ll be using. Get yourself on Slide Share, Skill Share or [inaudible 25:41] just self-learn and self-train. There are tons of great resources out there. I also think the world is diversifying very quickly. So it is just pure screen-based design. It is just one particular route, you want to go AR or VR, whether you want to go voice design, conversational UI as in, on a screen. There is a lot of different avenues to go down, almost too much to learn. So I probably start with the core of web and apps, but then maybe starting to think about something you want to specialize in because there’s a ton of exciting work out there.

[26:13] Carla: Yeah, it is. Well, thank you again. Thank you very much for being here. It has been great having you, great insights for the people. Thank you.

[26:22] Kieron: Nice.

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