Our eight principles

Ask ‘why?’

Questioning each problem before diving in to find the solution will ensure we do things for the right reason.

Arm yourself with information

Learning from the data, opinion and knowledge we gather, helps us to make better decisions and in turn, better products.

Start with the basics

Getting the basics right is key to great design work, all those details together make the whole picture awesome.

Design for the user

By leaving our portfolio aside and putting the user upfront, we can design with their needs in mind. Our goal is to create the best user experience we can.

Be nimble

Tweak, test, measure, learn. Iterating and creating just enough design to test our ideas allows us to stay lean and helps the whole team to move forward.


Staying focused on purpose and meaning helps us to create clear paths for the user so they can get their job done. Any extras must add value.

Design for flexibility

Creating a toolbox, not a template, allows us to iterate quicker, to accommodate new user needs and to reuse it later.

Champion your work

Standing proudly behind our design work, communicating it well and with enthusiasm goes the longest way to getting it out into the real world.

Why create design principles?

Firstly we felt the need to put down on paper what we knew in our heads and often spoke about - the way we wanted to practice design at Adaptive Lab. As a growing team, having a set of principles in place helps us to share some guiding beliefs when new people join. It’s also a great way for us to share with you guys out there, who want to understand how we work and what we believe in.

How we got to our Alpha version

To get started we worked as a team of two - myself and Mark, with the knowledge that eventually we’d want everyone’s input and agreement on the final results. The first thing Mark and I did was dump our brains of what we believed good design practice to be. This led to a spreadsheet of 31 points we thought were important and that would later develop into principles. However, this was still too many. From here we used a crowdsourced card sorting tool called Optimal Sort to ask a bunch of A-Labbers to help us categorise, name and discard the points on our list. Unfortunately, this method for sorting didn’t actually work for us as there were too many points for people to choose from and not enough context to help them make their decisions.

We realised we had to get the 31 points down to a much simpler format that people could give feedback and improve upon, something ultimately more digestible. They needed to be developed further.

After a few iterations Mark and I got the 31 points down to 9 principles, each with a subtext. And since we’re designers and not copywriters, we included a sketch for each one to help people further understand each one. We then sent them around on email, shared them out on paper and made them visible around the office, all the while asking for feedback, but the response was minimal. We got some reaction but in general people didn’t have much critical feedback, because the principles didn’t feel like something they themselves were necessarily a part of. This wasn’t how we wanted them to be seen.

As I’ve said before “We are all, at Adaptive Lab, designers of a user’s interaction with a product or a service”, so these principles are not just for our designers, but for the entire team to share an understanding and more importantly take ownership of them. Some quick feedback was not enough.

“The point is not just to have them, but to have created them together.”

Looking around you’ll see lot’s of other design principles out there, this site shows 65 examples. It just shows we’re not alone and indeed not even unique. There are many similarities between ours and those 65 other examples, and while it’s great that we’re talking the same language, it also confirmed to me that the point is not just to have them but to have created them together. Our principles won’t mean anything if people are not united in them, seeing them and using them everyday.


We got everyone involved with a series of workshops, 3 in total, and asked for them to attend at least one of them and spend, at the very least, 1 hour improving and getting to know the principles.

I ran the 3 workshops with a few things in mind:

  • To get everyone familiar with the principles
  • To get people to challenge the principles
  • To get their input through rewriting, illustrating and refining each principle


Each workshop focused on 3 or 4 of the principles. To make things more interesting we “walkshopped” the initial discussion, rambling around Shoreditch in pairs, whilst debating the principles before coming back to the office to paraphrase them to one another. This ensured that we all understood the same thing and it gave us inspiration for the copywriting. We then mixed up the sessions with drawing illustrations, debating and rating the principles, until we had a set we were happy with.

Everyone helped to create the principles as they are now, with the most recent version quickly gathering new feedback while hanging on the inside of the toilet door. This is the best place, we’ve found, to share anything important.

What will success look like

We’ve got them now, yay!

But as I mentioned above, they won’t mean anything unless we see them and use them everyday. Success for me will be that our principles are memorable, visible and work can be actioned and critiqued against them.

What we don’t want our principles to be is a set of rules and methods, instead they should allow our team to be flexible. Allowing our designers (and everyone else) to bring new methods and processes to Adaptive Lab, and to question the ones we use, is vital to continuous improvement of what we do.


To do all of the above we need to make the principles part of our day-to-day design culture. We’ll use them in reviews and retrospectives, champion them during pitches and we’ll do some fun things too. Some of the ideas around the office are weekly emails, poetry or memory games, swag like mugs and t-shirts and of course, they’ll be on the toilet door.