If you have a liking for Apple products, then indirectly you have a liking for the design principles of Dieter Rams, whose work as Chief Designer at Braun has been credited as a major influence on Jony Ive, the former Chief Design Officer at Apple whose design ethos can be seen coursing through the veins of every Apple product since 1997. Dieter Rams himself coined his 10 Principles for Good Design as a handy distillation of his whole ethos. 

Good design: 

  • is innovative – The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself. 
  • makes a product useful – A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it. 
  • is aesthetic – The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful. 
  • makes a product understandable – It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user's intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory. 
  • is unobtrusive – Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user's self-expression. 
  • is honest – It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept. 
  • is longlasting – It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today's throwaway society. 
  • is thorough down to the last detail – Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer. 
  • is environmentally friendly – Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product. 
  • is as little design as possible – Less, but better. Simple as possible but not simpler. Good design elevates the essential functions of a product. 

When we talk about ‘design’, of course, we don’t just mean the logo and the colour scheme on a website – we also mean the Content Design, the User Journey and the Interaction Design, and the Service Design underpinning the delivery bringing the service to and from your screen. 

What is design anyway? 

There are gigabytes worth of articles going into whatever level of detail you like answering this question just a DuckDuckGo query away, but to save you a rabbit hole the short and snappy working metaphor for design I like to use is planning – if something has been designed, it has been planned; the elements of the design haven’t just been plopped onto the page because the person likes that font and the colour, or the feel of the wood the product is made from, or because the case obviously needs a received status, a close status, and something in between. Something has been designed because the designer has fully considered the starting conditions and the end goal and created a map of how to get to one from the other, taking account alternative routes because of the possibility of a mudslide blocking one of the paths, and the knowledge that one of the participants has additional needs meaning they’ll need help in completing that goal. 

How might we translate the 10 Principles into designing for local government digital services? 

In the following I’ll mention a few bugbears which colleagues and former colleagues have heard me rant about more than enough, but hopefully those bugbears are accompanied by ‘do this instead’, and even where I don’t offer specific advice on what I think is a better alternative, at least the description of a practice to be avoided can guide you to look elsewhere.