Design Principles for Backend Developers


  • build vocabulary and familiarity
  • begin to develop an eye for good/effective design


  • User Experience (UX)
  • User Interface (UI)

Warm Up

Take a few minutes to brainstorm with your neighbor to come up with something that you use regularly and you feel embodies great design.

User Experience vs. User Interface

Work closely together. A great product experience starts with UX followed by UI. UX is more about why we design something a certain way and UI is designing in that way and adapting to the technology it is presented on.

10 Guiding Principals

In the 1970s, a designer named Dieter Rams developed these ten check points to help designers make choices that would guide their work to be consistently “good”. These rules have stood the test of time, and continue to be an excellent resource to help guide design decisions and choices.

These principles are shared here under the Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 license.

Good design is innovative

The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

Good design makes a product useful

A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

Good design is aesthetic

The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

Good design makes a product understandable

It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Good design 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.

Good design is honest

It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

Good design is long-lasting

It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.

Good design 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 user.

Good design 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.

Good design is as little design as possible

Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.

Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Group Chat

Did the products you brainstormed earlier fulfill all these requirements? Why or why not?

Your Turn

Turn to your neighbor and discuss how you think design relates to the tech industry.

The Power of Design

The place of design in tech and business has become much bigger than simply making products look nice using the elements that come together to form what we typically associate with visual design (typography, color palettes, layout). The fact is that these elements are simply a few of the tools that a designer uses to do certain parts of their job and by no means fully encompasses the full breadth of what design is about and what it can do. Today, design has become a process that drives business decisions and steers product development. We see designers becoming founders of companies, joining VC firms, leading technical research in academics, and the fields of design and engineering beginning to blend together into one seamless enterprise.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” - Steve Jobs

Good design requires the ability to take a set of restrictions framing a problem and find the best solution within those limitations to maximize impact, usability, and engagement with users. Design is all about people and how the things those people need, work.

It is important to keep in mind that the problems designers solve are not typically their own problems. We live in an age when our users are constantly immersed in digital products, which means they have high expectations: to them, the tech that created it is far less important than their experience with a product. If it doesn’t do what they need it to or it doesn’t make them feel good, they won’t use it. Period.

Successful products and businesses are made and lost through design. This is because products that offer unique and effective solutions to human problems that are also intuitive for users to understand and use set themselves apart from the crowd of competitors.

How many times have you heard some variation of “It’s like Twitter for music!” or “It’s Airbnb for dog walking!”? Coming up with original ideas is hard. It’s much easier to lean on established, successful products (like Twitter and Airbnb) as a starting point and tweak them just enough to make them “new”.

That’s not always a bad thing, but what it means is that if you can come up with something that’s unexpected and better than those established models of solving user’s problems, it’s going to get people’s attention.

Creative design solutions are a major deciding factor in the choices that lead to those novel approaches and successful products.

On Being Creative

Since design and creative thinking are two things that can be a big part of what sets a product (or a business) apart from the crowd… do you consider yourself to be creative? Do you think of yourself as a designer?

If you said “no” to either of those questions, you should reconsider. Everyone has the ability to be creative, to participate in the design process, and to feel that they can make positive design contributions to their teams and projects.

“[Design has moved] from the aesthetic, to the strategic, to the particpatory.” - Allan Chochinov, head of the Products Design graduate program at SVA

Knowing how to leverage design as a tool to understand your users and shape your product has huge benefits for developers. As someone who can build a product, you have a great advantage when it comes to learning about design because you come to the table with a deep understanding of the complex technical piece of the puzzle.

It’s very worth the effort it takes to gain a deeper understanding of the human side of the equation, because it will lead you to a powerful combination of technical knowledge and creative thinking, which in turn provides you with the power to generate amazing ideas and amazing products.

You know that saying “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”? You user is going to ignore that. If your product is thoughtfully designed and highly usable, they are far more likely to trust it. Users doesn’t care how you built your product, they only care if it works and their first impressions of it count for a lot.

Obviously, the technology stack and architectural decisions engineers make are a very important part of the success of a product. But the saturation of connection we have in our lives is a double edged sword, because living and working at a time when technology is constantly making very fast, very big leaps forward means our users have high expectations while developers are constantly chasing the next best tool for the job. As a culture, we’re totally immersed in digital things all day everyday, so the tech itself is not particularly novel for users. It’s just turned into another part of how they navigate through their lives.

“Style, functionality and engineering are now one and the same, and even mundane objects are virtuously designed.” - Bob Walker

Technology has become so ubiquitous in our daily life that it’s taken for granted unless a user’s experience with it is so exceptional that they can’t help but notice it.

Digital tools are everywhere and are used for almost everything we do during our daily lives. We ask users to put a huge amount of trust in our products which means we’re asking them to put that trust in us. We’re asking them to give us their email address, their home address, their social security numbers, their bank account information. That’s a lot. They should expect a lot from us in return.

Users expect, need, and frankly deserve to have digital products that are tailored to work for them and that they feel good about using. They care that it does what they need it to do. They care that it solves a problem for them. They care that the value it offers them makes using it worth their time and money. And they care how it makes them feel. Do they feel dumb trying to use it? Do they feel frustrated? Are they able to easily do all the things they needed and wanted to do without any trouble?

This all boils down to the fact that prioritizing design, creative solutions, and the needs of your user in your approach to software is bigger than “making things pretty”.

It’s a business decision that can have very real impact (and consequences) on your bottom line because it determines whether or not people actually use your product.

Good design focuses on and delivers something that your user needs – and that makes it easier to beat out the competition. And when building software is your business, that’s exactly what you want.

“Design has fundamentally changed the way we experience the world, from the way we interact with objects to our expectations about how organizations are structured.” - Bob Walker

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