The Leon’s Flat design manifesto

(a collaboration with Ellen Chisa)

We believe that design is so firmly rooted in process that it’s impossible to write a manifesto just about the results. It needs to be about everything that goes into the product, not just the end result.

Design comes from everywhere.

Great design concepts can come from a software engineer who writes C++ all day or an elementary school student, as well as user studies and brainstorming sessions.

Start with ideas and problems.

Ideas are snippets of inspiration that come from your personal toolbox – projects you’ve done before, papers you’ve read, people you’ve met – as though you’ve been scrapbooking in your mind. Don’t be afraid to transcend boundaries. Add problems to this mix: things that clients have asked you to figure out, difficulties you have personally run into, and big picture problems that you want to solve for the world.

Let these ideas and problems float around in your head together, drawing connections between them. If you have an idea, what problem is it solving? If you have a problem, what ideas does it inspire? Switching between these questions will crystallize the What and Why of your design.

Find your Hedgehog Concept.

At some point, you’ll reach a core principle, which we like to call the Hedgehog Concept*. You need the one problem you want to solve, and the one way you want to solve it. This will help you decide which details are necessary and relevant later. Solving too many problems, too many ways, never works out.

Bring your Hedgehog to life.

This is the How of your interaction. What is the simplest way to bring the Hedgehog Concept to life? Make your work flows and make sure it’s easy for users. Once you’ve got this key concept down and working, there are two things you must to do it:

  1. Make it a game. It doesn’t need to literally be a game, but you need to treat it like it is one. Make sure it’s fun and has some type of addictive hook to it.
  2. Make it look good. Design isn’t just aesthetics (a beautiful exterior won’t fix a flawed interaction), but it does require aesthetics. Figure out your visual design language and stick to it.

Tell a story.

Being able to tell the story around your product – from the beginning problem it solves to why it helps the users and why it’s the best version of the product – is crucial. Communicating your idea so that it can and will be used is just as important as the product you’ve actually designed.

* From Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great