Understand the underlying problem before attempting to solve it
Your work should have purpose — addressing actual, urgent problems that people are facing. Make sure that you can clearly articulate the core of the issue before spending an ounce of time on developing the design. The true mark of an effective designer is the ability to answer “why?”. Don’t waste your time solving the wrong problems.
Don’t hurt anyone
It is your job to protect people and create positive experiences. At the very minimum you must ensure that you do not cause any pain. The world is filled with plenty of anguish — make your life goal not to add to it.
Make things simple and intuitive
Leave complexity to family dynamics, relationships, and puzzles. The things you create should be easy to use, easy to learn, easy to find, and easy to adapt. Intuition happens outside of conscious reasoning, so by utilizing it you are actually reducing the tax on people’s minds. That will make them feel lighter and likely a lot happier.
Acknowledge that the user is not like you
What’s obvious to you isn’t necessarily obvious to someone else. Our thought processes and understanding of the world around us are deeply affected by our genetics, upbringing, religious and geographical culture, and past experiences. There is a very small likelihood that the people you are designing for have all the distinctive qualities that make you you. Don’t assume you innately understand the needs of your customers. How many people do you think truly understand what it feels like to be you?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s perspective and feelings. Step outside your box and try really hard to understand the world from another person’s point of view. Go out of your way to identify with their needs. If certain things just don’t make sense to you, ask more questions. Ask as many questions as you need to until you finally understand. When you really get what makes people tick and why they do what they do, you’ll have a much easier time going to bat to make their lives better. If you aren’t trying to make people’s lives better, what are you even doing here?