Anton Sten

I help companies define, design and launch world-class digital products.

What are Design Principles? Part 4

I’m currently leading the “Design Principles” class for Hyper Island’s UX Upskill Program.. This is part 4 out of 4. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here. and Part 3 here.

We spend a lot of time talking about tools, processes, and creative thinking in creating products. The crucial part that sometimes gets ignored until it’s too late is the final part - presenting your idea. Tons of great features and ideas never see the day of light, not because they weren’t great ideas, but because people failed to explain their idea in a simple and digestible way. All that time testing, designing, and iterating is wasted.

Whether it’s presenting to your co-worker, your team, investors, the board, other stakeholders, or potential clients and agencies - you will need to be able to SELL your work.

Luckily for you and me, all of these groups share similarities:

  • They will have limited time - Any decision maker or stakeholder will have limited time, so it’s essential that you’re able to boil down your pitch to the very essentials. What problem are you solving and why does it matter?
  • They will not have all of your context and won’t share your POV - While you’ve spent the last few weeks or months thinking almost exclusively about this problem, they have not. So in order to communicate your solution, you need to be able to put yourself in their shoes.
  • In some cases, their engagement may be low - They could have multiple projects their reviewing or their thoughts may wander off while you’re presenting. You need to bring engagement so that they can feel it too.

But engagement isn’t about being ‘pumped’ or ‘excited’ in front of them. It’s not about speaking rapidly or having a ton of gestures and it’s certainly not about using more foul language (which was the suggestion someone once gave me as feedback).

I keep coming back to this video, but I do think it highlights well how Sasha uses some simple tactics to keep his audience engaged from the very beginning. He asks them to whisper to the person next to them (interaction) and then asks them to shout (dynamics).

What makes a good story?

I absolutely love the image below. It clearly communicates how we should be thinking about developing and marketing our products. The customer is always focused on their pain point and looking to the market to provide a solution. Your product isn’t what they want, the end result is. Your customer doesn’t want your vacuum cleaner, they want a clean apartment. They don’t want an iPhone, they want the solutions it brings: mobile business management, entertainment, staying in touch with friends and family, etc.

Pain, Dream, Fix

“Pain, Dream, Fix” is a strategy originally used for creating great sales copy and has become something that many designers, both physical and digital, use every day. It puts you in the mind of the user and helps you to empathize with their current pains, their dream without the pain, and present them with the ideal solution that would make the pain go away. Let’s take a minute and use this strategy to understand Mario’s and his problem:

Pain – Mario needs to defeat his enemies, but he is woefully outmatched. His enemies are larger than him, faster, and better armed. Jumping on them works, but he risks being hurt - a big risk.

Dream – Mario knows that if he were to be bigger and, maybe, able to throw something (like fire) at his enemies, he would have a much better chance of surviving long enough to rescuing the princess.

Fix – Mario finds the product, a fire flower, and now can easily defeat his enemies from a safe distance! He is able to achieve his goals.

It’s important to understand the the flower itself isn’t the amazing thing here - what it brings is. Unless people understand what they’ll be able to actually do with your product, it’s not going to get them excited.

Apple have been fantastic with this in regards to the story they tell to sell the Apple Watch. Just two years ago, I doubt anyone (outside of Health) really knew what blood oxygen levels are and why they matter. Most of us ever wouldn’t even consider why we’d ever need to be able to measure our ECG outside an hospital. But -because they are claiming that ‘a healthier, more active life’ is within reach - we’re sold.

Measure your blood oxygen level with a revolutionary new sensor and app. Take an ECG anytime, anywhere. See your fitness metrics at a glance with the enhanced Always-On Retina display. With Apple Watch Series 6 on your wrist, a healthier, more active, more connected life is within reach.

We can use these same tactics when we design our portfolios.

”👋 Hi, I’m John, a digital designer based in Brooklyn, NY.”

…is how every other portfolio on the Internet begins (I’m aware that mine isn’t that different in that sense, which I guess ironically goes to prove my point).

When reviewing portfolios, usually ten or twenty at a time, it’s obviously crucial to stand out from the crowd. What will your portfolio have that will make the recruiter remember you?

  • Personality - In his talk “Worms, sustainability and innovation”, Matt Orlando puts it beautifully when he says, “You can teach skills but you can’t teach personality”. I think Mr Bingo does a great job of communicating his personality through his bio.

“You can teach skills but you can’t teach personality”. Matt Orlando

  • Something to remember - 99,9% of all portfolios look almost exactly alike. Is your work that good that it alone will differentiate you from thousands of qualified candidates? Joe Coleman’s uses a slider to customize the copy on his page from modest to hard sell. When I start looking at his work, I’m already sold.
  • THE WORK - Ultimately, the work is very important. But presenting the work is even more important. I’m utterly impressed by how Taha showcases the work he created for Gluco (being a diabetic myself, I can identity with the problems he’s stated). It goes to show that 1) made up projects can showcase your skills and thinking clearly and 2) that it’s important to showcase the entire process, not just the end result.

“There are three responses to a piece of design– yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.” Milton Glaser


I’m currently leading the “Design Principles” class for Hyper Island’s UX Upskill Program.. This is part 4 out of 4. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here. and Part 3 here.

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