University of Wisconsin–Madison

Digital Design Principles

The following are the Center’s design principles for designing and delivering high quality digital services. You are welcome to use and adapt these principles for your own use. Feedback on and contributions to the principles are welcomed.

1. Make sure users succeed the first time

Create a service which is simple to use and intuitive enough that users succeed the first time, wherever, whenever, and however they engage with a service. Research to develop a deep knowledge of who service users are, their contexts, and how their needs may change over time. Do ongoing testing to seek feedback from users to improve the service.

2. Have a multidisciplinary team

Put in place a sustainable, multidisciplinary team that can design, build, and operate the service. When outside help is needed, teams should pair with campus partners or contractors who are good at both building and delivering effective digital services. Teams should be led by a suitably skilled service or business owner with decision-making authority and experience.

3. Design and build for change

Take the time to understand how to design and build a resilient, flexible, and sustainable service and underlying infrastructure. Build your service using agile, iterative, and user-centered methods and ensure that you have the capacity, resources, and technical flexibility to iterate regularly. Emphasis should be placed on being scalable, automated, and appropriately self-service.

4. Evaluate tools and systems

Know the risks and constraints associated with a tool or system and avoid contracts that lock us in and stop us from improving our services. Rigorously evaluate what tools and systems will be needed to build, host, operate and measure the service, and how to procure them. Evaluate solutions based on campus standards and requirements, independent of vendor design.

5. Use enterprise data and standards, and common platforms

Enterprise data and standards and common platforms save time and money by reusing things that are already available, ensures that your technology works and communicates with other technology, and is easily upgraded and expanded.

6. Ensure security and privacy

Our services must keep sensitive data secure and ensure that users can access their information when they need to. Evaluate what data and information your service will be providing or storing and address the security level, legal responsibilities, privacy issues, and risks associated with the service, consulting with experts where appropriate.

7. Make things accessible

All users will have different needs at different times and in different circumstances. Make sure your technology, infrastructure, and systems work for as many users as possible, including accessibility considerations, internationalization, and low- to no-tech users in your research and design.

8. Test the end-to-end service

Individual parts of a service may work in controlled environments but need to work end-to-end and for the numbers of people who want to use them. Be able to test, ideally in an automated fashion, the end-to-end service in an environment identical to that of the live version. Include all common browsers and devices, use test credentials that approximate real users, and test with a representative sample of users.

9. Make a plan for being offline

Have a plan for what to do if your service goes offline so that you know how users will be affected and how to get it back online. Ensure that service availability is communicated, users are supported, and that we learn from and take steps to avoid future issues.

10. Identify, collect, and report performance data

Tracking performance indicators allows us to continuously improve services by understanding strengths and weaknesses, and to use data to support improvements. Identify performance indicators for the service, including the mandatory performance indicators defined in the manual [forthcoming]. Establish a benchmark for each metric and make a plan to enable improvements.

11. Be open, encourage engagement

When we collaborate in the open, we can improve digital services together. Make it easy for campus and external partners to adopt and adapt to our digital service design principles. Ensure that information is understandable and readily accessible. Proactively communicate information, impacts, and decisions. Engage key stakeholders in the process. Document and share systems, data, and infrastructure.

12. Make the user experience consistent with UW brand

Every interaction a user has with the University contributes to their assessment of and trust in the institution. Build a service consistent with UW brand guidelines, including using the design patterns and voice and style guides.

13. Structure budgets to support delivery

If cost is a barrier to using enterprise data, standards, and platforms, our campus partners will look elsewhere for solutions, further contributing to the complexity of our technology ecosystem. To improve our chances of success, we need to make it easy to do the right thing.

14. Test with leadership

Leaders are accountable for the technology and services produced by their teams. Test the service from beginning to end with the leaders responsible for it.