Design Rules Are Meant to Be Broken


by Lindsey Witmer Collins with Kayla Floyd

As a designer I love understanding what’s happening in my field. I devour blogs and articles for best practices when it comes to design, and I’m constantly curious about what other designers are thinking, what conclusions they’re coming to, and what rules they’re creating because of those conclusions. 

Design rules get me excited. Inherent within them are lessons-learned and solid structures for building smart, sleek applications.

And yet, there comes a moment in every single one of my projects when I instinctively know that it’s time to break the rules. 

It used to stress me out. I could see myself headed down the path toward the inevitable left turn when all the rules say to take a hard right, and I’d feel that familiar dread in my stomach. I’d hesitate a moment before pushing the button and think, “Again? I’m at this moment again?” 

But as the pattern repeated itself in project after project, I realized something. Design rules are meant to broken. And for good reason. 

You see, in my work I’m not just a designer. I’m not simply creating blueprints that may or may not be used. I’m leading an end-to-end process that also includes executing that design and then implementing the finished product for my clients. We’re not just building it. We’re birthing it. 

And when design is re-centered in that context, things change. Constraints arise. Time and money become a factor, and my centering thought moves from “What do the design rules say?” to “How can I build this for my client efficiently and effectively?”

When I design, my intention is not to be perfect, it’s to create something for my client that’s perfect for them. That means designing in the context of all their unique nuances - their mission, vision, voice, timeline and budget. And in order to do that, the rules have to be broken.

My clients hire me for exactly that discernment. They trust me to know how to navigate the rules and to intuit which ones we can break to achieve the desired outcome. It isn’t about robotically following a set of predetermined parameters. It’s about creatively expressing myself through the lens of their project with a specific end in mind. 

I believe we’re here to be inventors. To discover. To explore. To play. And to do that we have to move both within and without the rules.

As an app designer, I believe it’s my responsibility to know what the design rules are. But as a steward to my clients and myself, I also believe it’s my inherent freedom to break those rules.