Design principles: Reflecting the Library’s organizational values

Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2021. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more! This week we’re looking at ways we’re learning to work better, together.

To the unfamiliar, “design principles” may sound like guidelines to be used by creative types like graphic designers and art directors; perhaps a set of rules about aesthetics like imagery, color, placement, and typography that might be applied to a webpage or a print brochure — but design principles have a much broader context. The UVA Library worked this year to develop design principles that reflect our values as an organization, which in turn provide a roadmap for making decisions and prioritizing our work.

Effective design principles help the Library to keep focused on what is most important as we provide in-person and remote services, manage collections and projects, host events, design and write copy for webpages, and build complex products like Virgo. Design principles inspire empathy, which improves our ability to both listen and communicate. They are concise and memorable, and don’t conflict with each other.

What are the UVA Library Design Principles? There are four of them and they are simple ideas with profound meaning that help us to ask constructive questions to guide our decision-making.


People matter. Our products and services are inclusive and accessible, and embrace the concept of “Universal Design.” We value clarity and friendliness over flashy or formal. Accessibility means giving the same opportunities to all, no matter how they access our content. There may be more than one way to complete a task, and that’s OK, as long as they have equally valuable outcomes.


Faster experiences are more efficient and feel effortless. Minimal latency makes site performance transparent. Good interfaces are understandable and make it easy to avoid errors and to correct them when unavoidable. Completing tasks is of paramount importance to users, so design should not hamper the ability to complete tasks or distract from goals. Good design is invisible.


Be consistent, but not uniform. Follow standards, guidelines, conventions, and best practices. Design and advocate for consistent behavior patterns and functionality. Coherence across platforms builds familiarity and trust. Each piece is part of a greater whole and should contribute positively to the system at scale. There should be no isolated features or outliers. Consistency in design, navigation, labeling, and keywords leads to trust and confidence.


Operational and maintenance demands should match organizational commitment to a resource. Design (visual, technical, etc.) should be forward-looking, taking into account likely future scenarios, and should avoid short-term trends. Sustainable designs steward Library resources for maximum impact with minimal long-range costs (human or otherwise). Stable, sustainable resources build trust and help to create calming, pleasant user experiences.

The UVA Library is now working on ways to fully incorporate the design principles into daily operations and decision-making at all levels.

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