Words by Stephen Horner, Chief Product Officer, RUSH.
As an integrated design and technology studio, the team at RUSH are unified in our belief of the exponential benefits thoughtfully designed technology can have for people. As an example, the Graphical User Interface of the first generation Apple Macintosh made desktop personal computing accessible to the mass market, giving many people ‘a bicycle for the mind’ for the first time.
While we’re technology optimists at heart, we are also aware of the negative consequences technology can have. The erosion of individual privacy, fake news distorting our democracies, and digital addiction affecting our wellbeing are examples we’re living with today. So in early 2018, we distilled this down into RUSH’s reason to exist:
It’s a big part of why talented people choose to work at RUSH, and why bold clients seek us out. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of discussions as a team about how this purpose statement shows up in our design work. And as we’ve grown from a design team of two to ten, a couple of pain points emerged:
So we started asking ourselves a question:
How might we empower everyone in the process to make decisions that optimise for great design — as RUSH defines it — for our clients and end users?
If you’ve spent some time in the product design profession, chances are you’ve encountered design principles at some point. Julie Zhou, VP of Product Design at Facebook describes them like this:
“Instead of relying on gatekeepers to keep a high quality bar, better instead that everyone gets to agreement on a smaller set of guiding values, so that the best decisions get made in a consistent manner, scaling across many decisions, and even many designers.”
Design principles seemed like a natural solution, but typically they’re associated with a brand or product. So how might they manifest for a studio like RUSH working across multiple brands? We needed to develop principles general enough to apply across all of our client’s products, and specific enough to capture the design ethos of our practice.
Here’s the short version of how we went about developing them, although it’s worth pointing out in reality it felt messier. The combination of a design team busy with client work, competing priorities, and a lockdown or two along the way to spice things up, and you get a better picture.
With alignment on the written principles, we set about crafting the language and the visual expression of them so that they could exist in relation to, and as an extension of, our brand.
We started with the most important one for us to achieve our original brief, a card deck with helpful questions on the reverse to enable great design critique.
We have several other execution ideas about how they could manifest – as wall art in our studio (when we get out of lockdown), digital assets in our presentations and Miro boards, and short animations we could share on social media.
I’m proud of how emotionally invested the RUSH team has been in getting these right, and believe we’ve accurately captured what we’re all striving for.
The measure of their success will be in many things. How do they help us grow our design practice? How empowered do our designers feel? How much constructive critique have they helped create? And, ultimately, do these principles reflect how users describe the products we bring into the world for and with our clients?
If you’re leading a studio in need of design principles, I hope something in this article helps you shape them. And if our principles speak to you, we’d love to hear from you.