Course  ·  Part 2  ·  Assignment 1


Design Principles Basics


The key points from this assignment.

  • Observing key visual principles will help you create effective compositions and layouts
  • Following established usability principles will help you design accessible, people-friendly apps and websites
  • Considering core ethical principles will help you to work in a way that respects people’s rights, privacy, and autonomy

Image credit: Baseline Team



In the assignments ahead in Part 2, we’re going to explore design principles in three categories: visual principles, usability principles, and ethical principles.

Conventionally, visual principles were more the preserve of graphic designers, and usability principles were the business of user experience (UX) designers.

However, so much design work now focuses on apps and websites, that regardless of whether your job title is “graphic designer”, “UX designer”, “product designer”, or something else, you’re going to need a good understanding of both visual and usability principles.

At Baseline, we believe that a foundational design education should also include a systematic approach to ethical principles for designers.

Although there has always been an ethical dimension to design decisions, in the past decade or so, it has become both more complicated and more urgent for us as designers to consider the effects of our work on people and the planet.

The digital products we design now reach directly into people’s everyday lives, meaning that our work has unprecedented potential to cause harm — or promote good.

The rest of this assignment is simply a list of the principles we’ll be covering in the rest of Part 2. Each principle will be explained and discussed in the lessons that follow. You’ll also have the chance to identify and apply each principle through a series of practice exercises and short design briefs.

Visual principles

These eight principles can help us create effective visual compositions and layouts.

  • Proximity and grouping
  • Visual hierarchy
  • Spacing
  • Alignment
  • Balance
  • Contrast
  • Repetition and consistency
  • Pacing

In Parts 4–6, you’ll use visual principles to create brand designs, editorial designs, and infographics.

Usability principles

These five principles can help us create designs that are easy and pleasant for people to use.

  • Learnability
  • Memorability
  • Efficiency
  • Error prevention and error forgiveness
  • Satisfaction

In Parts 7–9, you’ll combine usability principles with your knowledge of visual principles to create attractive, people-friendly interfaces for apps and websites. We’ll also cover some more advanced interaction design principles.

Ethical principles

These ten principles can help us create designs that respect people’s rights, autonomy, and best interests.

  • Assess the ethical risks and benefits of every project
  • Anticipate how a design could be misused
  • Design how things will break
  • Treat people as ends, not just as means
  • Design for diversity, inclusion, and accessibility
  • Promote people’s autonomy and informed consent
  • Support people’s best interests
  • Invite and embrace criticism
  • Evaluate the outcomes of completed designs
  • Admit to mistakes and make things right

Ethical principles can apply to every area of our work as designers. As the course progresses, we’ll highlight specific points where ethical evaluation is particularly important.

In conclusion...

There are many different ways of defining and describing the principles that designers follow. The version we present in the rest of Part 2 isn’t comprehensive, but it can be a helpful starting point for your work as a designer.

Once you’ve completed this course, continue your reading and research to learn about the range of approaches that designers take.

Now that we’ve got an overview of design principles, let’s move on to the next assignment and discuss visual principles in more detail.

Assignment version 1.0
Last updated 7 June 2021