The Principles of Reverent Design

These are the principles that guide how I approach my craft. I treat this like a constitution – they may need amending with time. They are also ideals. To be honest, it is rare that every principle here is executed to its full potential. Good design is difficult work!

In the previous post, I explained why these principles flow from embracing reverence as a mindset. It is the starting attitude that enables one to follow them. The first principle here is all-encompassing. The next five are oriented toward people, and the last two towards our world.


It has as little as is necessary. Nothing is present that is not needed.

El Shaddai is one of the names of God in the Hebrew scriptures. Though its meaning is disputed, common Rabbinic tradition interprets it as the God who knows when it is enough. In the creation narrative, God stopped creating and rested. In the flood, God intervened when mankind’s violence became overwhelming. The earth was flooded, yet God stopped destroying.

Man by contrast added violence to violence with no end. Lamech takes multiple wives because one was not enough. The people of Shinar try to make a mighty tower so everyone will regard them. The narrative is clear, man does not know how to say enough. He does not know how to stop.

Often, I’ve seen talented young designers or organizations who have not mastered restraint: Products do too many things. Software becomes bloated with unnecessary features. Posters are so ‘designed’ that the information on them cannot even be easily read. Successful design must learn to say enough!

Functionally Intuitive

It is understandable. One quickly knows how to use it.

At first glance one should understand what it is for and how to use it. Said differently, the learning curve should be as short as possible. Good design communicates clearly and honestly. If its purpose is to tell you something, then fancy forms and flashy patterns should not interfere with that message.

User Accessible

It is equally usable by everyone whom it is intended.

If it is difficult for people to use, it has failed on this aspect. Products don’t need to be universally accessible to everyone. But, they need to be easily and effectively used by whomever they are designed for. One must truly understand their audience to meet their needs in this arena.

Aesthetically Captivating

It pleasing to behold. We want to gaze at it and engage with it.

Created things should be balanced, beautiful, and interesting. They may be simple, but never boring.

Contextually Appropriate

It looks like what it is intended for. It fits within the culture and environment it lives in.

Everything is about context. It may need to be serious. It may need to be funky. It may need to be loud, bright, or ornate. But it should always be honest to its purpose and place.

Unexpected Delight

It surprises! Every element has been so thoroughly considered that one is delighted to discover it.

The best products anticipate what their users are going to do and accommodate them, like a surprising feature that is particularly useful. Or one finds that even the bottom of the product looks comely. Excellent design is daring and imaginative!

Environmentally Responsible

It endures, is long lasting, and is made of materials that do not destroy our earth.

Whether it is the processes or materials, we simply must work with engineers to respect our earth and not be a curse to it. I believe products should be made to endure. There is no better way to reduce trash and waste than to create products that last a lifetime.

Purposefully Valid

It deserves to exist. The earth is not cluttered with trash that serves little purpose.

Products and software must earn a right to exist. Designers create things; to truly respect our earth and people we should make sure we are not just making trash. We must reserve the right to say this is a product that should not be. We must learn how to stop creating and say “enough.”