10 Design Principles For Marketers, PMs and Founders

Use these to make your product better (and increase conversion)

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If you create and grow products, you must understand design.

When I first got started in marketing, I never used to care for design.

It didn’t matter when I was running search ads or sending emails. It felt far away from any KPIs I had.

But as I got closer to the product, I realised how much it affects growth metrics.

Good design helps users get through the user journey smoothly and adopt the product.

Bad design causes users to get frustrated and confused so they leave the product.

Understanding what makes good design made me a better marketer and product manager.

It helped me build empathy with users and quickly spot glaring errors that harm conversion.

Angelo, the first designer I worked closely with, shared with me 10 design principles that I still reference today.

When I audit onboarding flows for startups, I go through each heuristic (rule of thumb) to see if the product breaks any of these rules.

Sometimes, small fixes to the design can have a material impact on conversion.

In this newsletter, I’m going to share these principles with you and show you some examples so you can quickly see how to level up your product’s design.

Let’s get into it.

This newsletter is kindly sponsored by - Inflection.io. A big thanks to them.

My friends over at Inflection.io launched a massive guide about onboarding called the Ultimate Guide to Product Onboarding.

For all my onboarding and product growth enthusiasts, there are tons of tips, examples, and best practices that are really well done.

I’ve already added lots of examples to my swipe file after reading it.

Based on the 10 Usability Heuristics created by Jakob Nielsen, here are the principles you need to know:

1) Viability of system status

The user should always be informed about what is going on.

Give feedback to the user as soon as possible.

Be clear about where they are and what they need to do.

2) Match between system and the real world

The design should speak the user's language.

Use words and terms that they actually use.

Avoid jargon or insider talk.

Tip: use Hemingway app to keep your writing simple

3) User control and freedom

Sometimes users make mistakes.

Always give users an out or an exit.

Use undo, back or skip buttons.

Without them, they could just get frustrated and leave.

You may never see them again after.

4) Consistency and standards

Jakob’s law says that users spend most of their time not using your app.

They are used to how other products work.

So don’t reinvent the wheel for no reason.

Use conventions.

Break the rules where necessary.

5) Error prevention

It’s nice to have good error messages.

But it’s better if errors don’t happen at all.

Help users not to make slips or mistakes.

And ask for confirmation if they are making a big decision that may be a mistake.

6) Recognition rather than recall

Reduce the cognitive load on users by making elements and actions visible.

The user shouldn’t have to remember information in their journey.

So don’t use out-of-context product tours.

Use walkthroughs & provide helpful information in context.

7) Flexibility and efficiency of use

Shortcuts and personalisation can make the experience better for an expert user.

All without harming the experience for a novice user.

Use personalisation to create better experiences for all users.

And allow customisation.

8) Aesthetic and minimalist design

Interfaces should not contain information that is rarely used or irrelevant.

It distracts the user and takes them away from their primary goals.

This is especially important during signup and onboarding flows.

Use design to focus attention.

9) Help users recognise, diagnose and recover from errors

Use common error message visuals and colours like red text/ backgrounds.

Don't use technical jargon.

And always provide the user with a solution.

Don't just tell the user what they did wrong.

Help them resolve it.

10) Help and documentation

Your design alone may not be enough.

Sometimes users need more help.

Provide docs and useful prompts to help users understand how to complete their tasks.

Help centres and FAQs let users get the answers they need.

Use these principles to evaluate your product.

But note: they are broad rules of thumb.

They are not specific usability guidelines. So feel free to break the 'rules' where necessary.

Design in whatever way that is best for the user.


I learnt tons about design from going from this Hack Design years back. It might be a bit dated but it still has tons of nuggets to help you learn design.

When you’re ready, here’s how I can help you:

If you’re an early-stage startup struggling with growth, you can book a strategy session

Get the Startup Growth Roadmap - my playbook of 25+ templates that's helped 300+ founders and markes to scale their startups.

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