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What Is Good Design?

Photo credit: Clear Studios
Photo credit: Clear Studios
Today, I was finally able to put into words what I think defines good design. After years of having an idea of what I thought might be considered good design, I have discovered that I was close but not quite right. Following that and years of creating my own designs for myself, for school, and for clients, I have further narrowed it down. Today, while working on a personal branding project for school, I had one of those aha! moments where it all seemed so clear to me.

I realized that there is no true definition for what good design really is, there are just to many possibilities and personal interpretations. I did find tough, that you can define the elements that describe good design. I can break this down into three simple categories.

It must be aesthetically pleasing.

This is probably the hardest part to define since there is such a wide variation of human interpretation of what is aesthetically pleasing. There are many ways to make something “look good” but there are many more things that go into it than just making it look good to the creators eye. Everyone has their own unique experience and associations with things that can make this a difficult task to accomplish effectively. I, for one, am a huge fan of Swiss style design (this probably has something to do with the fact that I went to Kent State), I can’t get enough of the very thoughtful simplicity that it utilizes. However, I know that I have many friends that find a lot of swiss style designs to be boring, which breaks my heart to hear. That is all part of their experience and opinion though, and as designers we must be highly aware of this. Clients often try to talk me into a certain style of design for their projects, and I try to talk them out of it to make something that is actually receptive to their target audience. Since the “look” and “feel” of the design is one of the first things noticed, this step is significantly important and vital for the creation of a good design.

Clear Communication.

Now that you have their attention through the aesthetic look of the design, what are you going to tell them? If your design does not clearly communicate the idea or the facts across to the viewer in a way that is well received, you have failed at creating a good design. It does not matter if you only use a headline and a visual, or if you create an entire page full of text, the message needs to get across to the viewer and the target market in a way that they can understand. This doesn’t mean that you have to be completely straightforward with them, but it does mean that they have to understand or at least want to understand your message.

Create the desired reaction.

The end result of all designs is to get the viewer or experiencer to do something, there must be a relatively (if not obviously) clear call to action. If it is a PSA that is purely meant to make you think about the way you do something, or why you do it in the first place, then that must be what your design does. If the piece was meant to get people to sign up for your newsletter, then your design must use the first two steps to get the viewer to take that next step and sign up for your newsletter. This is the end result, the entire reason you set out to create the design in the first place. You must utilize the first two essentials of what makes for good design to get the third and final piece to work properly.

Any of these given steps on their own is useless without the others. Generally, if you are missing one the first two points then you will miss the last point (call to action). For instance, you cannot create a design that looks good, communicates poorly, and creates the desired reaction. If the viewer doesn’t understand what you are communicating to them then surely they cannot respond the way that you intended them to. You must utilize all three aspects to create something that can be truly considered a good design. There is also no one right or wrong way to go about fulfilling these three criteria. You can create all sorts of design styles and looks that you want and they can each be effective in the right circumstances. You can choose many different variations on the way you choose to communicate.

These are simply my criteria for what good design is and ought to be. After a thoughtful process over a good period of time, I have come to these conclusions mostly on my own accord. I have been taught how to design things, or how to make things aesthetically pleasing, or communicate my ideas well, but I have never been formally taught what makes good design or how to create it. I hope that you have found this article to at least open your eyes or make you think about what good design is, even if you disagree with my own conclusions or terminology.

What are your thoughts on what makes a good design? Do you agree or disagree with any of my points?

What do you think?