Friday, 14 September 2018

The Cancer Research UK Design Principles

We've adopted a set of design principles to help us describe how we want to work at Cancer Research UK.

We've written another blog post that explains a bit more about design principles, and why we think they're important. So give that a read if you're interested in learning more. And we've also included the agenda for the workshop that helped us get to these design principles at the bottom of this post.

Our Design Principles


We focus on outcomes, not outputs

We start with a problem, and work out the best way of solving that problem. By focusing on solving a problem over delivering a list of features, we make sure we provide the right things, for the right people, at the right time.

We treat our data as a critical asset, and make decisions based on evidence

How our products and services collect, manage and query data is vital to the everyday operations of the charity. And we believe using that data is the best way to make the things we deliver better. We always test our assumptions before making decisions, and we’re not afraid to stop working on things that aren’t backed up with evidence proving their value.

We partner with the people in the charity who use our services, encouraging co-creation and empowerment

We put power into the hands of people so they can manage their work with autonomy. Governance is light touch, we recognise that good ideas can come from anywhere, and a self-service approach is encouraged in everything we do.

We disagree without being disagreeable

Disagreement isn’t something to be scared of, as long as it’s done in the right way. If we don’t agree with something we speak up, but once a decision has been made we commit wholeheartedly to its success.

We start small and develop iteratively towards our goals

The best products, solutions and services start small, test early with users and iterate from there. We’re comfortable with experimentation and testing, since it’s the best way to keep things simple, future-friendly and usable by everyone.

We always think about delivery end-to-end

Although we start small, we know a Minimum Viable Product (an MVP) is not a final deliverable. We make sure that whatever we deliver is robust enough to scale. And that security, quality and resilience are designed into everything we do.

We don’t rest on our laurels

We celebrate success, but we also avoid complacency. We recognise that inspiration can come from anywhere, and we know that however well we’re doing, there’s always an opportunity to be better.

We work ethically, honestly and deliver things that act in our users’ best interests

We start with user needs and provide products, solutions and services that treat people with respect. We do what’s right for our users, even when it’s difficult or controversial. And we never trade in their goodwill for a quick win.

We work in the open

We’re open and transparent about the things we deliver, the way we work and the challenges we face. This means we share as much as we can as often as we can, and we’re comfortable with ambiguity.

The workshop that helped us decide our principles

  • Introduction - what are these principles for, why should we use them  + questions (15 mins) 
    • Talk through existing 'example principles' and where we've gathered them from
  • How is today’s session going to work?  (5 mins )
  • Warm up -... thinking about how we do things in our directorate  (15 mins)
    • Individually brainstorm what we're good and not so good that make us different from other directorates (5 mins)
    • Discuss with your group (10 mins)
  •  Design your own  (post it notes/sharpies on table) (40 mins)
    • Think about the best project you’ve worked on here (15 mins)
      • What made it so good? What behaviours did people exhibit? How did you go about things?
      • Add one post-it note per ‘thing’
    • Share with your table group and discuss similarities/differences (20 mins)
    • Stick post-its against one of the example principles on the wall – or in its own space if it doesn’t fit any
  • Coffee break (15 mins)
  • Review the example principles/new principles individually (10 mins)
  • Discuss as a room together, stress testing with ‘anti-principles’  (30 mins)
  • Dot vote with 5 dots – on existing principles, or individual post-it notes (10 mins)
  • Play back principles with most dots (5 mins)
  • Hopes and fears post-it exercise (25 mins)
    • Any worries, concerns, doubts about what we have? Share on post-its, then let’s discuss
  • Wrap up and cover what happens next (5 mins)
    • Flag that any disagreements or contradictions will be discussed at SLT level
    • Flag that we'll collate, wordsmith and recirculate what we have


  1. Hi Chris, Ellie from CAST here :) Loving the stuff you guys are publishing at the moment, it's a really great example of working in the open and super helpful to others in the sector. Would be fab to have you or one of the team along to the Open Charity mini-unconference at the end of this month and join some wider discussions around this!

    1. Hey Ellie,

      I'll be on leave unfortunatly, otherwise I'd love to come along.

      However, our very own Greg Franklin is one of the co-organisers of the event so we'll definetly have some Cancer Research UK representation there.

      We're always up for having a chat about this stuff though - so feel free to drop me a line, it'd be good to compare notes with what you guys are up to.


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