Our Design Principles

The design sprint that started a couple of weeks ago began with the team describing their visions, their ideas, and thoughts of what a new EMBL corporate design could look and feel like. Central to describing and understanding why something looks the way it does are our design principles.

Many organisations have design principles to guide their work. They are often described as ‘the star to sail your ship by’; a set of common beliefs and guidelines for a project, product, organisation, or initiative. Some of my favourites are documented here.

Here is our first draft of a set of principles that came out of the last two weeks working together. This is just the start. As per principle #2, we’re showing this as early as we can so we can get feedback and iterate.

  1. Make it sustainable
  2. Show our work
  3. Keep it simple
  4. We are all one institute
  5. Physical, digital, and environmental are in sync
  6. Pave the cowpath
  7. Repeat the words we use

1. Make it sustainable

We will create a long-term, sustainable system. Designed for efficiency, re-use, and scale.

Sustainable systems are diverse and productive indefinitely. Being holistically focussed on how EMBL interacts with its audiences internal and external, means we create meaningful, sustainable experiences over the longer term.

2. Show our work

We will prioritise demonstration over discussion. Through prototyping we will show how these principles and values apply to the work.

We will embrace modern design practices by starting small and iterating quickly. We will avoid big reveals and develop a process of publishing early and often. This requires a change of mindset of the team: to be comfortable with ‘not done yet’; to be satisfied to prioritise function over form; to get the things we make in the hands of our audience so we can understand their needs more quickly.

3. Keep it simple

We will do the difficult work to keep the things we make simple, approachable, and put the user’s needs first.

EMBL is complex. As are the audiences, services, applications, and communications material that operate within the brand. We will do the hard work to uncover and expose the simplicity of the core.

4. We are all one institute

We will cultivate cross-pollination of services, products, ideas, and collaboration.

We will proactively seek out opportunities to collaborate on the design of services across all channels throughout EMBL and invite feedback and new perspectives. We will share and discuss our methods.

5. Physical, digital, and environmental are in sync

We will ensure a holistic approach for one system for all printed, digital and environmental touch-points.

Design systems across media evolve at different rates. We will ensure systems across all channels are relevant to the media, but also share nomenclature, design patterns, and are built from the same principles. We will think and act as a cross-disciplinary design team.

6. Pave the cowpath

We will make the design language accessible where people are already working.

Forging a new path is hard. And sometimes a waste of energy. By understanding how the brand is expressed currently, we develop new ways to provide the ingredients of the brand to the people already doing the work, in the place they are doing it. We will invent new ways with which to distribute the brand across a constantly moving, evolving system. We shouldn’t press pause.

7. Repeat the words we use

Through consistency and repetition, we will create and maintain a design nomenclature that will become part of the EMBL vernacular.

The words we use are important. By repeating these words about EMBLs products and services, they can remind us many times every day what we believe. Changing the words we use can help change the culture of an organisation to be more design and brand aware.

Author: Mark Boulton

Designer. Consultant. Working with EMBL on the Corporate Design project.

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