Common Design Principles for Program Managers

Program managers regularly use principles of design in their work. Design ain't just for those fancy art students with dark clothes and nice hair. Let's take a look at some of the more common ones.

Quick note! This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, you won't pay a penny more but we'll get a small commission, which helps keep the lights on.

Wait, how does design help Program Managers? I always thought that design was for those eccentric individuals who wear dark colors, had crazy hair, and carried around big portfolios with them.

You'd be surprised. Design sits at the cornerstone of many of your projects and programs. The reason you don't notice is that it's just not defined as design. It usually gets coined as a "process", "workflow", "workstream", "UX" etc.

However, at the very heart of those decisions, design had a say. Whether you realize it or not, you likely encountered design. Let's take a look at some of those design principles.

80/20 Rule

You've definitely encountered this one. It's Pareto's Principle. Interestingly enough, the rule can be applied to nearly any context, design and business included. You've likely used this in any of the following:

  • Laying out content in a slide-deck

  • Organizing a dashboard

  • Applying heatmaps to the usage of a product


Ah, this is ubiquitous as well. Ever notice how you spend a good amount of time organizing content in an email or presentation to make sure it's easily understood? You typically do that by grouping ideas or content into different sections. Yeah, that's chunking. It's when you many ideas and organizes them into smaller manageable sections to increase comprehension. You've definitely used this concept in the following:

  • Dashboard design

  • Bullet points (like the one here!)

  • Your GDrive folder with related content


You do this all time. Whenever you give a presentation and speed hours practicing the perfect pitch and action items. That's storytelling. You weave together imagery, emotions, and events to get a point across and sell your program or project. You commonly use this while:

  • In meetings convincing someone your way is the right way

  • During presentations

  • At the bar, heh

Aesthetic-Usability Effect

Ever notice how you're more likely to download an app on your phone if the graphics and UI are nice and aesthetically pleasing? Yeah, that's this design principle. Designs and processes that are perceived to be more "pretty" are perceived to be easier to use as well. You've likely used this in any of the following:

  • Dashboard design (once again)

  • Selected vendor to talk to based their product's "design"

  • Cleaned up your slide-deck for someone else to use

Scaling Fallacy

This is my favorite. It's the assumption that a system that works at one scale will also work on a different scale. Heh, any PgM worth their salt will realize that's not the case. How many times have you asked during your meetings if someone's solution was "scalable?" Yep, it's that important. You've used this during:

  • Whiteboarding sessions

  • Thought exercises

  • Pushing back on someone's design/solution

These are just a few examples of some of the principles of design you use in your role as an Unblocker. If you feel like learning more, check out an Unblockers favorite: 125 Universal Principles of Design.

For more resources, check out our dedicated Resources page.