The 10 Principles of Entrepreneurial Design

Here’s how to apply Rams’ 10 Principles of Design when you’re working with a startup.
headshot of Billy Frazier
Billy Frazier
Expert Columnist
May 3, 2022
Updated: May 4, 2022
headshot of Billy Frazier
Billy Frazier
Expert Columnist
May 3, 2022
Updated: May 4, 2022

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a designer who isn’t at least vaguely familiar with Dietr Rams and his “10 Principles of Good Design.” These ten commandments now serve as building blocks for interdisciplinary designers across the world.

When designers transition from creating solutions for clients to creating solutions for startups in the entrepreneurial space, these principles become even more crucial to the design DNA of their solutions. If entrepreneurs and startups prioritize these principles from day one, they instantly increase the quality of their product while also creating an inherently competitive advantage. So, here are my 10 Principles of Entrepreneurial Design.

10 Principles of (Entrepreneurial) Design

  1. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Innovative
  2. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Useful
  3. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Aesthetic
  4. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Understandable
  5. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Unobtrusive
  6. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Honest
  7. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Long-Lasting
  8. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Thorough
  9. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Environmentally-Friendly
  10. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Minimal

 

1. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Innovative

When startups are developing a product or service, technological innovation is typically a key motivator. But what about innovation in design? We’re not just talking about how a product looks; design should be apparent inside and out. If innovative design is considered from the beginning, it can grow in tandem with technological innovation. Ideally, neither should exist without the other.

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2. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Useful

By this point, it’s apparent that startups are adopting highly iterative processes in order to quickly validate whether someone will use their product or not. In much the same way, good design helps to highlight the utility of the product or service without detracting from its intended purpose. Form should echo the function of the product.

 

3. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Aesthetic

This common principle applies to all design, regardless of the end result. When someone thinks of good design in the tech space, they most likely conjure up images of sleek smartphones and other minimal objects that are pleasing to the eye. Aesthetics draw from the appreciation of beauty, which means good design is meant to draw the user of an application in and keep them engaged through a well-designed experience. Aesthetically speaking, it’s okay to judge a book by its cover, as long as form matches function.

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4. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Understandable

Good design can be elusive. There’s a fine line between too much or too little. When a startup creates a seemingly simple solution to a complex problem, good design can be the difference between their user finding it simple and intuitive or frustrating, which will quickly move them on to the next thing. Good design can reinforce the product’s function, give it a personality and even make the product self-explanatory.

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5. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Unobtrusive

This principle may not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing startups or entrepreneurship — quite the opposite. We always hear so much about the big disruptors in the tech and startup spaces. “Move fast and break things,” remember? Regardless of this oft-quoted maxim, in terms of the product, service or solution itself, design should reinforce the function of the product rather than overshadow it. The product should simply make sense.

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6. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Honest

In a world where traditional advertising has dominated for the past 60 years, honesty can have countless definitions. When approaching product development from a design thinking lens, we shouldn’t use design to make promises to the user we can’t keep. Due to the accessibility of information today, consumers and users value transparency and are able to objectively measure the utility of a product. Good design cannot mask a bad product.

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7. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Long-Lasting

These days, the development cycle of a product has become shorter and shorter with movements such as Agile development and rapid ideation. With this sense of urgency to validate an idea comes the need to incorporate thoughtful design that can stand the test of time. Much like creating an MVP (minimum viable product), one can create MVD (minimum viable design). However, MVD should include room for growth and development. Design trends are important to identify in order to avoid identical positioning within a competing market. In order to stand out, you have to learn how others fit in.

 

8. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Thorough

Good design is intentional, which means, no design-related decision should be left to chance. User-centered design has become more or less of a standard when applied to product development. No one wants to waste time or money on something no one wants. Determine the need for a product, and then use a purposeful design that communicates that need. The devil is in the details.

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9. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Environmentally-Friendly

Sustainability isn’t a fad or trend. Startups that have embraced being mindful towards the environment have not only seen reductions in material waste, they have also enjoyed the backing of environmentally-conscious brand loyalists as well as positive positioning among competitors. Good design has helped make this transition a little easier for startups that are up for the challenge. For a startup, conserving resources translates to decreased expenses which, as any bootstrapping entrepreneur knows, can mean the difference between life and death for your company.

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10. Good Entrepreneurial Design Is Minimal

This may be the most crucial principle of all. Good design abides by the rule: quality over quantity. The best design is sometimes the least apparent because it allows form to reflect the function. A worthwhile design creates elegant solutions to complicated problems. Good design can help distill these complex concepts into simple features the intended user can enjoy effortlessly. In the case of a new app or product, the design should highlight the most crucial features — no more, no less.

Designers have been using these ten principles to guide their designs for years. If startups want to have a competitive advantage, they need to utilize the same principles of good design in their products. Just like almost any other component of entrepreneurship, it’s important to learn the rules of design so that you can learn how to reinvent (or break) them.

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