The 80/20 Principle

“As any good designer will tell you that the devil is in the details. “

The very first principle listed in this book is 80/20, which in my opinion, is the most misinterpreted principle used in design. It may seem straightforward, pleasant even but in all honesty, this principle is abused, misused, and shoved into people’s faces as that almighty principle that you can never get quite right

by frankallanhansen

 courtesy of frankallanhansen




“The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.”

 -from the editors of Wikipedia

This one Italian guy, Pareto, originally observed that 80% of wealth came from 20% of Italy’s population. So in fact, this principle has its origins in economics, not design or productivity. And it’s scary how many other areas this rule has been proven even though the figures never quite reflect a true 80/20.



There’s no point in harnessing it…

…rather, understand that it occurs naturally. It’s an observational tool and should be used to improve an existing product or a product you’re working on.  It is by no means an excuse to turn in semi-completed, “minimilist”, purposeless work.

“Better designers have pointed out God is in the detail; because those small details are often what separates an ordinary design from a truly excellent well thought out design.”
Good design is functional. So yes, make sure that each element in your design works towards making the user experience great, eliminate anything that does not. In a lot of cases, web design and development can benefit immensely from this principle by using it as a guideline for improvement. Web designer depot talks about it a little in this article (especially, check out the “lessons summarized” at the end of it. )


And it also got me thinking

courtesy of elwilliamsonphoto
…about my own schedule and how I spend my energy. It’s crucial, knowing how limited my time is, to know where to spend my focus and attention. You can’t do everything, so that TV show that you’re really dying to watch vs. working out: which of these 2 would have a more lasting effect?
Of course, people have made books/articles/resources centering around the 80/20 principle to help other work smarter, not harder like this guy.


Wrapping it up

  • Use analytical skills to assess how a product may benefit from 80/20 during the final stages of the design process.
  • Cut away anything trivial that does not help or contribute to the final product.
  • 80/20 is not almighty.
  • In life,  work smarter, not harder. In design, look smarter, not harder (if that makes any sense :) )

Next in the series: Accessibility

Leave A Comment