Article Category: Book Reviews, Visual Aids

Book Review:
Universal Principles of Design

Universal Principles of DesignUniversal Principles of Design is a valuable resource for anyone who designs anything, including speeches and presentations

This article is the latest of a series of public speaking book reviews here on Six Minutes.

What’s Inside?


When I ordered the book, I expected to get a book which would teach me visual design lessons that I could apply to PowerPoint slide design. It exceeds my expectations.

I was delightfully surprised to find that the design principles apply to many aspects of public speaking and presentations. As I read through the book, I applied colored Post-it stickers (see a photo of my copy to the right) on any page with a lesson that applies to public speaking.


As you can see from the photo, the book is covered with stickers!

  • 6 principles (red stickers) apply to speaker habits;
  • 2 principles (yellow) apply to delivery skills;
  • 16 principles (green) apply to speechwriting; and
  • 26 principles (blue) apply to visual aids.

I am eager to apply these principles to my own presentations, and also in future Six Minutes articles.

The Price

At the time of writing this review, you can get this hardcover book for only $26.40 from This is 34% off the list price.

The 2nd edition (updated, and with 25 more principles) is available in paperback as of January 1st and is priced at $19.80.

3 Things I Love about Universal Principles of Design

The three things I liked most about Universal Principles of Design are:

1. Interdisciplinary approach

I believe that the greatest insights are found where two disciplines overlap. For example, I applied my engineering physics background to cancer research for nearly eight years.

Even though this is primarily a design book, the lessons for you as a presenter are numerous.

2. Examples and References

Every principle is accompanied by practical examples which show you how the principle is applied in practice. Further, every principle is accompanied by one or more references to seminal works on the subject. These are a treasure trove for probing deeper.

3. Layout and Readability

One would expect a book about design principles to be designed well and easy-to-read. This book delivers on that expectation. Like Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology, the layout for this book is a series of two-page spreads (on the left, a written description; on the right, visual examples). This consistent approach makes it a pleasure to read.

How could it be better?

1. More depth (and thus, more pages)

When I finished reading the book, I was actually sad. I wanted to know more about these 100 principles. The 2-page-per-principle format is excellent, and with 100 principles results in a little over 200 pages. For more depth, you’d have to either cut principles (no!) or add page count (yes!). I would happily invest double the money for double the depth.

2. Better Navigation

The book’s primary organization is alphabetical which makes it ideal for reference. (Indeed, this advantage is explained by one of the design principles in the book.)

Additionally, in the table of contents, there is a topical breakdown into five broad categories (e.g. “How can I help people learn from a design?”).  I would like to see more categories with a narrower focus.

Further, I’d like to see the category concept carried into the body of the book. Alongside each principle, the authors could list the categories which apply to this principle, and perhaps give the previous/next principle for that category. This would make it easier to read through a series of closely related principles.

What Others Think

Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen:

I love this book […] At some point you will want to get this one for your bookshelf.

Donald Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things:

Absolutely required reading, required owning. Every designer should own it. My students should all read it. What else can I say?

Joachim Sander, SAP Design Guild:

It is both a source of inspiration and reflection on perceived design. It is definitely a worthy investment for anyone interested in design and – last but not least – it is simply fun to read and follow-up on the different perspectives on design.

Rob Tannen, The Designer’s Review of Books:

[…]  it is simply the best book I have read on general design and usability principles in terms of both its content and its presentation.


This was the best book I read in 2009, both because it appeals to my inner, inquisitive geek, and because it provides practical ideas that can be applied to improving public speaking and presentation skills.

Universal Principles of Design will stay close to my side whenever I’m working on new or existing presentations.

Please share this...

Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler Andrew Dlugan 5 January 8, 2010 Elegantly written and thought-provoking. Packed with creative ideas for improving your presentations. A classic reference!

This article is one of a series of public speaking book reviews featured on Six Minutes.
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Comments icon2 Comments

  1. Wow Andrew. This is why you have the best public speaking site on the web. I never would have thought that a book on design would apply to speaking, but you have proven that it does, and you go in depth with it.

    I’m gladly telling others about this site.


  2. I thought it was great because it included design principles from all across the spectrum and the simple 2 page format you pointed out was quite helpful.

    Additionally, I thought it was great for practitioners and academics (who want to use the bibliographical information to learn about the science and background of these design principles)

    I would compare it to Slideology in quality–but I think Slideology had a slight edge in terms of interestingness. Slideology also had a better ratio or balance of visual to text–which made it easier to read.

    Great review. Great blog.

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