Paystack Design's collective brain

How we created design principles to guide our work and improve our team's communication

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Artwork by Mariam Omoyele

What happens when twenty designers try to collaborate and produce work together remotely? Everyone designs in their own bubbles, in their own brains, without the influence of their peers.

To produce high-quality work consistently, your team must stay in sync. However, meetings, messages, and even Loom videos can waste time and distract your team. Is there an alternative?

At Paystack, the Design team created a collective brain in the form of clear design principles that bind our team and help us communicate efficiently.

This article outlines the considerations and steps we used to create our design principles.

Shareable Takeaway
Solid design principles can help a team produce high-quality work consistently. Here's how we created ours.

Considerations to create design principles

1. Simplicity

Principles that are simple and applicable give the team direction that they can use every day.

We like how WhatsApp’s shared values give clear guidance on how to produce work.

WhatsApp's shared values. Source: Medium

A trap when creating principles is to make them too comprehensive. If your principles are difficult to remember, no one will use them. For example, we think that the communication principles of 37signals are inspiring, but a more concise version might be easier to remember and apply.

The 37signals Guide to Internal Communication. Source: 37signals

2. Practicality

We wanted our principles to be practical by making them more execution-focused.

WhatsApp’s shared values are an example of how clear execution principles can make ‘philosophical’ principles melt away and give your team actionable guidance.

A philosophical principle like ‘delight in customer support’ is too vague. An execution-focused principle like ‘we respond in less than 15 minutes’ can easily be applied by your team.

3. Purpose

Make sure your principles have a purpose behind them.

Ask yourself what your principles are supposed to encourage. Efficiency to get things done? Enjoyment of work? Higher quality products for customers?

In the WhatsApp example, their purpose for creating principles was to be more efficient and communicate less to achieve their goals together.

WhatsApp's shared values. Source: Medium
Shareable Takeaway
Design principles should be simple, practical, and purpose-driven, turning vague ideas into clear, actionable guidance.

How we created Paystack’s design principles

Based on those considerations, we took the following steps to create our own design principles.

1. Collaboration

The Paystack design team collaborated to create our design principles.

We used FigJam, Slack, and Notion to asynchronously brainstorm and finished with a synchronous Zoom call. The principles emerged out of the process.

Expand to see the initial brainstorm ideas

2. Categorisation

We split our principles into two buckets: team principles and work principles.

Our team principles are more philosophical and guide the way we approach our team’s work overall. Our work principles are more practical and guide the execution of our work.

Our current team principles

3. Publishing

Most importantly, our principles are not hidden in a Google Slide somewhere. Our principles are always accessible to anyone in the company within our Design teamspace in Notion.

The Notion page that lists our team principles and work principles
Shareable Takeaway
Build design principles by generating initial ideas as a team, then refine and categorize the final selections. Remember to make them visible, so your team and others can easily find and apply them.

The journey doesn't end here. In a few months, we'll evaluate how our design principles have been integrated into the team's collective brain. Our vision is to see these principles become deeply embedded into our team's work and hear our team members report that it's become easier to consistently produce high-quality work together.

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