Good Design


There are lots of components to good design. When I used to present sketches, concepts and designs to my sister (also my former creative director and boss) for review she would always ask me “Does it make sense?” and “Is it special?” Good design also always offers a solution to a problem. And content is key. I’ve spent a good part of my life and have dedicated my livelihood to thinking about and creating good design. And trust me, it’s taken lots of practice and lots of failure to get to a point where I feel comfortable with my skills and point-of-view.

I’ve been asked to critique work of others and along with the mantra “Does it make sense? Is it special?” Good design is absolutely subjective but when analyzing a composition I consider the following:

Good typography is the number one factor when it comes to creating good design. If your type is an afterthought it will reflect poorly on your design. And it’s not always just about picking a good font (though, beautifully designed typefaces do help). It’s about how you compose the type on the page. There are thousands of books dedicated to what makes good typography – it’s important.

Okay, my professors in college were constantly talking about The Grid and I had no idea what they were talking about. I mean, they spoke of The Grid as if there was some sort of manual that was assigned to us upon entering art school that I somehow missed.

Well, years later the concept of The Grid clicked. Basically, it means that all of your design components should have an underlying grid – an invisible foundation to build upon. It’s okay to break from The Grid but it had better be intentional and executed with care. Otherwise, your design will look sloppy.

Good photography and great illustrations definitely elevate the overall look and feel of a design. But that said, there are definitely tricks to sprucing up not-so-good photography such as color correction and creative cropping. Never let a bad client logo or bad photography be an excuse for a bad design.

This is probably the most subjective of all the elements that make up good design. I prefer to design with a limited color palette and there are some color combinations I refuse to touch (like navy blue, silver and black together). The use of color (or lack thereof) is crucial to good design. I find that my painting background helped enormously when it comes to using color in my designs.

So everything above I consider the building blocks of good design. But the magic is the extra oomph. It’s the something special that takes a design from technically good to something that you can feel in your heart. The magic is the emotion and it’s hard to pinpoint where it comes from and exactly where it lives in the design. But in really great design The Magic is always there.

What do you all think? What for you are the most important components of good design and art (graphic or otherwise)?

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  1. Texture and perspective are big for me. I don’t fall in love with it unless I feel like I could touch it and walk through it. And sometimes eat it.

  2. Rory – Oooh yes, depth and texture are good ones. And I hope I made you want to eat the donut chart I designed. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Good design for me is color and balance – I agree with your points as well, for technicality, but color, balance and magic together will kick ass every time. You have great design, it’s inside you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. i’m in the midst of taking graphic design classes (my bachelors is in printmaking & bookarts)…just want to say, i really enjoy posts like this. it gives me a lot to think about and helps me appreciate how awesome a good designer truly is.

  5. I’m totally jonesing for a coconut donut now! Chalkboard texture = coconut? Regardless, Coconut donut > bikini season.

  6. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one in our class that felt like I missed the All About Grids session. They harped on it all the livelong day and I had no clue what they were talking about!!

    I love boundaries and I love grids.

  7. For me, the thing that makes a design “good” is that “aaahhhh” feeling a piece has when everything is in the right place, in the right balance.

    I don’t think the ability to create the “aaahhh” feeling is something inherent to everyone. People are attracted to the “aaahh feeling”, but they don’t know why.

    Good designers know why ๐Ÿ˜‰


  8. Brandi – What a compliment! Thank you. I love feeling like good design lives in my bones – but I don’t always feel like the best designer. If that makes sense.

    Stephanie – Printmaking and bookarts! If that had been around when I was in school I think I would’ve majored in that. I bet design & typography will play a huge roll in your art.

    Rory – YUM! I vote for eating a coconut donut IN a bikini.

    Rachel – I KNOW. The day The Grid clicked for me I was like “ooohhh… well, they probably could’ve explained that better.”

    Crystal – Thanks for your comment – it definitely got me thinking. I think what I’m trying to do here is demystify that “aaah” feeling and at the same time elevate design as a profession. I want to show my readers, designers or not, that it’s not pure magic – that there is definitely a set of considerations that go into making a good design. The more we can talk and think about design the more valued it will be in our society.

  9. carrie

    I work in a college admissions office and recently stumbled on a rescind letter I didn’t know was occasionally being sent to students. My appalled coworker loudly says, “This letter just screams – ‘I’m crushing your dreams and I’m doing it in a terrible font!'”

  10. Yes! Demystifying the “ahhh” feeling!! It’s the relationship between the objects on the page. The balance, the hierarchy, the tension, how all the elements play with one another… man, this is hard! -c.

  11. carrie

    *my last comment should read – “…that we unfortunately sometimes have to send out…”; not that we didn’t know it was going out.

    (feel free to edit and just approve the one)

  12. How do you feel about Papyrus? ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I’m doing a “study” on how overused it is. I have hundreds of photos!

  13. Jenny – It’s definitely easy to poke fun at fonts like Papyrus and Comic Sans – Bleeding Cowboy is about to join the ranks any day now as well.

  14. Katie

    I agree on the “magic” sometimes I think the actual creative language helps too – of course I have been in branding and marketing too long for real perspective.

  15. Kathleen,

    I definitely agree with the proponents of the chart, though with a few varying levels. Typography definitely is key, especially because most designs are COMMUNICATIONS of information. Illegible or poorly placed type can still create a pretty design but the function (IE: the point of the piece) is lost.

    I agree with many of the comments and yourself – good design must come from inside and is aided by experience and time in the field. There are many young designers out there but the work I love the most is well-seasoned and has failed many times before it got to where it is today.

    – Linz

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