A Reverent Approach to Design

Every designer has an internal codex, a set of principles that guides their design decisions. I refer to my own as “reverent design.” Reverence is not a word we commonly use. It means a deep respect tinged with awe. I believe that this is the correct beginning point for great design. So let’s consider how “awe” and “respect” influence design.

Our world is filled with incredible creations that none of us have made. The human body is itself a wonder. Even the smallest cell exhibits a mastery of design. Compared to everything around us, our best work is mostly poor imitations of nature. Naturally, this humbles us. 

So we begin with wonder, awe, and humility. This places us into the right mindset to respect all that surrounds us. We are not just creating things to please ourselves. We are creating things for a marvelous creature: humans. And we are creating them to exist in a marvelous place: our earth. One does not harm things they consider awesome or marvelous. They preserve them and make them better. I think this is the nature of respect.

As designers, our work should exhibit respect for people, our world, and our craft.

I want to say a few words about respect. It seems to me that respect is not our current culture’s strongest value. Our media is a regular showcase of how people of different views neither listen to nor respect one another. Which is unfortunate, because I don’t think anyone has the exact same view as the next person. So there are always nooks and crevasses awaiting derision or mocking.

How can we design things to be consumed by people we do not respect? So reverence seems to me to be the appropriate word to guide us.

To do the work of design well, respect needs to be deep within our core. Respect is not glamorous, nor does it earn us rewards. It is a quiet orientation of the heart that holds others in higher regard than itself. It is the antidote to ego, self-absorption, and frivolity. As designers, our work should exhibit respect for people, our world, and our craft. If this foundation is solid and one has mastered the skills of the trade, then sound design is sure to follow.

With reverence as a foundation, we can now discuss the qualities of good design. These eight principles serve as my own litmus test.


Functionally Intuitive

User Accessible

Aesthetically Captivating

Contextually Appropriate

Unexpected Delight

Environmentally Responsible

Purposefully Valid

Some explanation is needed. The next post will expand on each of these principles.