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Australian Government Design System - Design Principles

In recent conversations with agencies and vendors, the Australian Government Design System team has often been asked about our design principles. Specifically, how do we use those principles to differentiate ourselves, prioritise future work, accept contributions or engage with the design community?

Several design principles are scattered around the documentation site, GitHub and the community forum, but we’re hoping to make them more obvious by publishing them for the benefit of current and prospective future users of the Australian Government Design System.

These Design Principles are intended to support and be directly compatible with the Digital Service Standard, recognising that other jurisdictions not covered by the Standard are leveraging and extending the Design System.

We want the principles to be memorable, distinctive and specific to this design system. We’re planning to publish these principles at:

Here’s our first cut - we’d welcome your input:

Design Principles

1. Users’ needs come first

Our immediate users include designers, developers and researchers, but our ultimate users are the consumers of Australian Government digital services. We want the Design System to be easy to apply to the everyday problems encountered by digital practitioners in government, giving them inclusive, high-quality tools which allow them to serve their end users’ needs to access inclusive government services.

2. Consistent, not uniform

We aim to provide a consistent appearance and behaviour of common components and templates across digital government services, minimising the learning curve for users moving between services. Developers and designers that use the Design System retain the freedom to apply their own corporate branding (colour schemes, typography and sub-logos) and user flows in a non-disruptive manner.

3. Function over fashion

Delivering highly-accessible, highly-usable digital services requires doing the basics simply, clearly and quickly. We aim to respect our users’ time and bandwidth, avoiding anti-patterns or faddish design trends that may delay or disrupt them. This can be beautiful in its own way.

4. Maximise opportunities for reuse

Favouring a distributed, modular approach over a centralised, integrated one, we avoid tight coupling with particular technologies. We welcome contributions from across the design and technical communities, regardless of the technology stack or framework. The Australian Government Design System is discretionary - we want to ensure it becomes a national asset, providing an improved default choice of UI for new or redesigned services.

5. Evidence trumps opinions

We believe that consulting with many sources creates better insights, so we aim to involve the Design System community in everything we do. We are open in our processes and research, seeking feedback where possible, documenting decisions and producing rationale for published work.


Maybe a principle about baked-in accessibility? This is probably one of the biggest selling points for me, as I know how hard it is to make accessible UI’s.


Totally, I see the Function over fashion principle as the one that is trying to cover this topic but it isn’t immediately obvious to me that this is what we are about, we should review that


We should also find a synonym for “Trumps” :sweat_smile:


WCAG isn’t specifically called out here, either, but the phrasing is intended to prioritise the themes of both access and inclusion, supporting the work of both Web Accessibility and CALD initiatives elsewhere in government.

There’s a ‘feature list’ on the homepage of that allows us to be more technically precise (WCAG 2.1 AA; IE8 with no-JS fallbacks; etc.), but these would be manifestations of the principle of access.

First version published at: