Designing design principles

Andrew Travers
3 min readDec 16, 2016


It’s eight months since I last posted here, eight months since I joined the team at Co-op Digital. It’s been busy.

Meeting in the shadows at Co-op Digital.

One of the real opportunities in this role is to be part of establishing a culture of (digital) design where one didn’t exist, in a team that didn’t exist just over a year ago. Over the course of those eight months, I and the now twenty nine other designers, user researchers and content designers here have been exploring through doing what it really means to design something for the Co-op.

What it looks like, what it feels like. How it should sound, how it should react. What good looks like. We’re just beginning to understand that.

Until now, we’ve done that without a guiding set of design principles, the stars to sail our ship by. We weren’t ready. But we’re beginning to be. As we’ve built a body of work — some internally facing, some external — what has until now been implicit can become explicit.

The digital design team is made up of people from very different backgrounds — a mix of in-house, agency, private and public sector — different levels of experience, different expectations. We’re writing these design principles for ourselves. Not a manifesto, rather a first attempt at putting into words our way of collectively thinking about design, to create a lens through which we can look at our work: what we create and how we create it.

What began as a whiteboard and one marker became a hive-like Google Doc with many worker bees contributing over time, honing the language, adding then paring back, questioning, clarifying.

What we’re building towards is a set of principles, few enough to be memorable, short enough to be repeatable, relevant enough to be usable. When we’re running a design crit, it’s these principles that we want to lean on. When a sole designer in an agile delivery team is talking about a design approach, it’s these principles that back her up.

You’ll find this first attempt all over the walls and windows of our workspaces in Manchester. Outside lifts, along corridors. Simple, monochrome, typographic posters — courtesy of the fantastic Gail Mellows, just one of the many designers to join this year.

We’ve deliberately avoided being too precious, looking too finished. We don’t want people to admire the posters, but to live with them, question them, scribble on them, stick post-it notes on them, and to improve them. These posters are our alpha.

Every new version of the posters is stuck over the version that came before — a real life Track Changes so that we, and our colleagues, can see iteration — one of our principles — in action.

Soon, these principles will move from alpha to beta and they’ll become publicly available. They won’t be the most significant thing we do this year — that, always, is the work we deliver for our users. But slowly, we’re making what was invisible, visible, and understanding what it really means to design for the Co-op.

Originally published on my personal site.

Read Jeremy Keith’s follow-up piece on what makes a good design principle.