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10 Design Principles for Better Products

At the beginning of 2019, we launched our ‘Design Defined’ video series of quick takes on our favorite design principles.

These are principles we’ve been curious about at some point during the course of our careers, and we thought others might be interested in learning more about them, too. Ten videos and one ebook later, we’re marking the end of Design Defined: Design Principles Explained, vol 1, with this round-up/guide to all the volume 1 design inspiration.

In this post you’ll find a few tidbits about these ten design principles, and plenty of links to learn more:

01. Nudge
02. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
03. Order Bias
04. Hierarchy of Needs
05. Biomimicry
06. Amara’s Law
07. Circular Economy
08. Mapping
09. 3D Printing for Rapid Manufacturing
10. Anthropomorphic Form

product design principles

What’s a Nudge in product design?

Nudge is a concept rooted in behavioral science that describes how minor design changes can markedly affect individual behavior. Simply put, a design nudge is a little push that makes the user think or do something they might not instinctively do.

Three things to know about Nudge:

  • The nudge theory was popularized by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their 2008 book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.
  • There’s some controversy about the ethics of nudges that are designed purely for private profit. Troublesome nudges are sometimes called “sludge” or “dark nudges.”
  • In 2010, the UK government set up a behavioral insight team that was colloquially known as the “Nudge Unit.” President Obama established his own “nudge unit” in the White House in 2014. And we learned while working on this video that there’s a healthcare-focused Nudge Unit right here in Philadelphia, where we’re based!

Find out more about Nudge:


product design principles

What does the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis have to do with product design?

Sapir-Whorf is a linguistics-related hypothesis that, when applied to design, raises questions about how our tools influence our solutions. Similar to how a speaker’s native language influences the way that speaker experiences the world, the tools we use as designers can influence how our products look, feel, and function.

Three things to know about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis:

  • Sapir-Whorf was advanced in the 1920s and 30s, when linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf used it to bring attention to the relationship between language, thought, and culture.
  • Since its inception it has been applied to a variety of disciplines, including user interface design — in relation to how design tools tend to dictate designers’ solutions.
  • Sapir-Whorf is related to the “Blub Paradox,” Paul Graham’s observation that programmers dismiss, to their own detriment, languages they don’t know.

Find out more about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis:


product design principles

How does Order Bias affect product design?

User feedback, which is used to inform product design, can often be biased, which skews results and leads to mistakes. A challenge for researchers is to differentiate between useful input and bias. Order Bias is a cognitive bias demonstrated by research subjects when choices presented earlier or later in a sequence are disproportionately likely to be selected, simply because the subjects remember them better.

Three things to know about Order Bias in product design:

  • It’s one of more than a hundred and sixty scientifically-proven cognitive biases that can distort user research findings.
  • Another is “groupthink” or “bandwagon effect,” which is when people in a focus group agree with the majority or loudest opinion just to avoid conflict.
  • UI and UX designers consider Order Bias when they’re designing interfaces and applications. Look at some of the apps on your phone and notice which icons are positioned all the way to the left and all the way to the right — these typically represent the most important actions, because designers know this is where users focus their attention.

Find out more about Order Bias in product design:


product design principles

What does the Hierarchy of Needs mean to product designers?

Product designers apply this theory of human motivation to their work by translating the five sets of needs in Maslow’s Triangle into a product design context. For a product design to be successful, it must first meet the needs sets in this order: Functionality, Reliability, Usability, Proficiency, and Creativity.

Three things to know about the Hierarchy of Needs in product design:

  • U.S. psychologist, Abraham Maslow, proposed the Hierarchy of Needs framework in a 1943 paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” published in the journal, Psychological Review.
  • In 2010, writer Steven Bradley introduced a “Design Hierarchy of Needs” in an article for Smashing magazine.
  • The Design Hierarchy of Needs can be tied to the perceived value of a product — as long as it meets all the rest, a design that meets creative needs will command a higher price point.

Find out more about the Hierarchy of Needs in product design:


product design principles

How is Biomimicry applied to product design?

Break down the word “biomimicry,” and you have “bios” or “life,” and “mimesis,” which means “to imitate.” Biomimicry is the science of adapting solutions from biology to solve design problems. The idea is not to directly use the organism but instead to adapt the recipe or blueprint for the design principle to the problem at hand.

Three things to know about Biomimicry for product design:

  • 99.9% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. The estimated 30 million species that remain are doing something right, and they have a lot to teach us!
  • Biomimicry bakes sustainability into innovation. Natural systems don’t do unsustainable.
  • Biomimicry is the answer the following questions: What does a water bear, or tardigrade, have to do with shelf-stable vaccines? What does the Kingfisher have to do with a bullet train? What do humpback whales have to do with wind turbines?

Find out more about Biomimicry in product design:


Blooper break:



product design principles

How does Amara’s Law inform design strategy?

New technologies are subject to the highs and lows of consumers’ expectations. We embrace them, doubt them, and underestimate them. While this adds complexity to the work of product designers, there are frameworks, such as Amara’s Law, that can help predict how people will respond to emerging technologies both now and ten or more years into the future.

Three things to know about Amara’s Law:

  • Between the emergence of a technology to wild excitement and the time when a technology becomes so commonplace that we take it for granted, there might be a brief moment when people appreciate the technology for what it does. That sweet spot is small.
  • We currently overestimate these new technologies: artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and autonomous vehicles. And we currently take GPS, a Cold War-era technology, for granted. GPS enables much in our daily lives.
  • It’s important to consider Amara’s Law when you’re doing product design strategy work that looks ten or more years into the future.

Find out more about Amara’s Law:


product design principles

How does product design enable the Circular Economy?

A circular economy is designed to use resources for as long as possible, after which they’re recovered and regenerated so that waste is nearly eliminated. Product design is key to enabling the circular economy by creating long-lasting products that are easy to reuse and recycle. Core principles to follow when designing products for a circular economy are: design for repair, take back, upgrade, and disassembly; use of recycled and recyclable materials; and efficient use of material and energy.

Three things to know about product design for the Circular Economy:

  • The circular economy is also described as closed loop, cradle-to-cradle, and zero waste.
  • Design for a circular economy is more widespread in Europe, thanks to the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan, which mandates things like water reuse, and take-back laws that require manufacturers to take back products at the ends of their useful lives.
  • The growth of the sharing economy is driving a shift toward a closed-loop outlook. Shared products need to be more robust and easier to repair — notions that are in direct opposition to planned obsolescence.

Find out more about product design for the Circular Economy:


product design principles

What’s Mapping in product design?

Mapping is the relationship between controls and their movements or effects. When you’re designing a product, your users will expect controls that are intuitive or familiar. While mapping can be a function of behavior — i.e. turning a wheel turns your car — it can also be learned through the use of other existing products and contexts.

Three things to know about Mapping:

  • Good mapping is when the effect corresponds to your users’ expectations. When you turn a steering wheel to the left, your car should turn left. When you press down on the switch that controls your car window, the window should roll down.
  • Learned mapping is when something is not necessarily intuitive or natural, but the action becomes expected through repeated interactions with a similar product.
  • When designing for global audiences, designers should, in most cases, either find universal controls — like the on/off icon — or invent new and intuitive gestures that transcend cultural norms.

Find out more about Mapping:


product design principles

Why are we excited about 3D Printing for Rapid Manufacturing?

Special 3D printers can now produce larger quantities of parts more quickly and cheaply, and in a wider variety of materials than is possible with traditional manufacturing. Short-run production of complicated parts is becoming a more viable option. Advanced 3D printing is opening doors to lighter, more efficient parts; new levels of customization; and simplified supply chains. The most exciting aspect of advanced 3D printing for rapid manufacturing is how it’s pushing the boundaries of design.

Three things to know about 3D Printing for Rapid Manufacturing:

  • With traditional manufacturing, product designers limited to simpler parts that usually take more than a month to receive. Advanced 3D-printing techniques make it possible to design complex parts and receive up to thousands of them in as little as a week.
  • Features that would be impossible to pull off using conventional manufacturing methods are made feasible with 3D printing.
  • Many applications are still conceptual and experimental, but 3D printing could be a more mainstream manufacturing option in as few as five to 10 years.

Find out more about 3D Printing for Rapid Manufacturing:


product design principles

How does Anthropomorphic Form shape product design?

As humans, we tend to be drawn to forms and patterns that are anthropomorphic, or exhibit human-like traits. Designers have used this innate emotional attraction to humanoid characteristics to get attention for products, create positive interactions and relationships, and convey subtle messages.

Three things to know about Anthropomorphic Form:

  • One of the most famous examples of anthropomorphic form in product design is the iconic c. 1915 Coca-Cola “contour” or “Mae West” bottle, designed to have feminine proportions and to draw consumers in with its curves.
  • When using anthropomorphic design, it’s best to favor abstract over realistic forms. Research has shown that subtle human features can make objects seem trustworthy and dependable. Overtly humanoid forms can come off as creepy.
  • Anthropomorphism isn’t restricted to industrial design and physical products. Gestural anthropomorphic form uses human-like movements and poses to express meaning and instruction in interaction design.

Find out more about Anthropomorphic Form:

Stay tuned for our next batch of favorite product design principles, as narrated by our designers, researchers, strategists, and engineers: Volume 2 launches next month.

Learn more about all of these product design principles when you download our free eBook, Design Defined, vol 1.