Design Values & Principles - How We Do It At Underbelly

At Underbelly, we’ve found that defining our design values and design principles creates strong team alignment. We use design principles to frame our decisions and support consistent decision-making across our teams and organization. And we use our design values to drive how we execute the work. 

What’s the difference between design values and principles? 

It’s important to note that we are differentiating between these areas as they each have a unique purpose while helping to solidify the others.


Our design principles are true to Underbelly but are more objective in nature: these are fundamental truths that we’ve not only seen true of our design work but in general. These are more philosophical or doctrinal think of these as the “why.”


Our design values true to Underbelly but are more subjective in nature: we’ve found that by employing these values in our day-to-day work, we can achieve great design at a higher frequency. These are more useful and practical – think of these as the “how.”


These are best practices and rules to help us create more consistent and highly impactful interactive and visual designs. Guidelines are hyper-functional, detailed, and specific; think instructions.


While we do not go into detail about the process in this article, it’s good to recognize how it differs from the above: our process is the framework of methods we follow and implement that help us ensure repeatable success.


At Underbelly, these principles are the fundamental, self-evident, and universal truths of great design. 

We believe great design is


At its core, great design is deliberate, purposeful, and highly aware. It’s rooted in a well-understood problem, thoughtfully executed, and manifested in a validated solution.


Design is considerate, inclusive, responsible, and highly empathetic, fully considering its effect on the individuals, groups, and environments involved. Ideally, design should help improve lives. At best, it can benefit the overall human condition!


Bringing clarity, honesty, and simplicity to the inherently complex is one of the core tenets of great design. Great design is obvious: people’s expectations of the design are met without ambiguity or uncertainty. Consistent - Great design is predictable and coherent. It functions as expected regardless of device, context, or situation and is uniform across all surfaces.


Consistent design is intuitive design. It functions as expected regardless of device, context, or situation and is uniform across all surfaces. Usability and learnability improve when similar elements have a consistent look and function similarly.


Good design is functional and practical. If it’s not solving a problem, particularly a problem worthy of being solved, it’s existentially bankrupt. Great design provides purpose.


Design should have a solid aesthetic – not only does its form match its function, but its form implies the function is more valuable. Great design has close attention to detail, strong visual composition, clear display of craft, and remarkable fit and finish.


At its best, design isn’t just valuable and beautiful—it’s fun! It strikes a chord with its charm; people want to use it, play with it, and return to it again and again.


Great design can be qualified and quantified against its objective—this is perhaps a design’s biggest strength. Through validation, you can prove it solves the core problem and positively impacts the user.


At Underbelly, these are the values that we believe will help us achieve great design. These will evolve and change over time as we fail, learn, and improve.

We believe that to achieve great design, we must

Communicate Frequently

The most important way to create and ship great design is to communicate with stakeholders and team members early and often, moving the conversation forward. In addition to strong written and verbal communication, we should actively listen and articulate complexity well while being friendly, direct, and transparent.

Collaborate Well

Great design is rarely implemented through an individual effort; we must collaborate well with our cross-functional teams internally and externally by developing relationships of trust and friendship. This allows us to be honest and direct while providing feedback and direction throughout the design process.

Solicit Critique

There is no better way to get to an ideal design solution quicker than through eager solicitation of feedback, critique, and direction from various people and roles. Great design work is not only thoroughly examined and judged against the objectives of the project but frequently iterated on.

Take Accountability

We must take individual and team accountability over our work when things go well and inevitably when things go wrong. We should be driven, self-directed, and excited to make an impact on the project. We should always know who is involved, the status of the project, and the best next steps.

Follow Process

While we don’t want to comply with a forced, cumbersome process on every project, we should include each phase of research, design, and validation, determining the ideal tasks based on business and customer needs. We should be thorough at every step, thinking through edge cases, scalability, and tackling obstacles.

Execute Daily

We must be highly motivated to get meaningful things done daily by actively prioritizing, managing, and executing a task list. We must do our best to avoid distractions, stay focused, and stay true to our timelines.

Master our Tools

The best craftspeople know the right tools and methods for the job. As such, we should constantly focus on improving our craft by learning, using, and evangelizing the best, most relevant tools and methods, especially since they continue to change and evolve.

Learn Continuously

We should have the hearts of students, constantly looking to learn and grow by reading articles and books, discussing best practices and tools, and most importantly, learning from our mistakes. We should be curious, ambitious, thoughtful, and inquisitive.


Ultimately, we share this because we want design teams to consider defining a unique set of principles for their designs and a set of values for their designers. Interested in learning more about how we do design at Underbelly? Drop us a line! We’re always happy to talk shop.  

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