What is good design?

What is good design?

Design is something we all do. It’s not magic, but good design has a starting point. Do you know what it is?

“Design is a solution to a problem.” –John Maeda

This article is for anyone who has ever wondered how to visually communicate something in a way that could be helpful and clearly understood.

Design is something we all do. It’s not magic, but it is a skill that can be practiced and improved. Some Designers are better at design than others. It’s why they get hired and paid. Even still, we all practice some form of design each day.

When you take notes, you’re consciously or subconsciously, choosing the best format and layout for that specific content. Using bullets, highlighting, and making some words bold while others are not, are all design decisions based on problems you foresee. How will these notes be most helpful in the future? Of all the content being written down, what needs to catch the reader's attention at a quick glance? What words or phrases need to be given extra attention and emphasis? In this case, layout design is your response to these problems.

But when it comes to being a “Designer,” I think there’s an important distinction to be made. Most people have access to some form of a device today where they can create visual designs digitally. So what’s the difference between the everyday person that has access to these tools and a “Designer”?

Is it knowing certain applications like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or Figma? Is it having gone through a program at an Art Institute? Is it having an eye for balance, color palettes, and layouts?

Ultimately those things can be helpful in progressing and growing in one’s understanding of how to best navigate the questions that design can solve, but if design is a solution to a problem, then a skilled Designer is a fantastic question-asker, fueled by curiosity and joy. Skilled designers love the hunt. Each project brings a new level of intrigue and excitement, knowing some possible solutions are better than others and they leave no rock unturned to find them.

My uncle is a Contractor, he builds custom homes. And, there’s a reason behind why he buys the sizes and amount of wood, windows, electrical, and plumbing parts he does. There’s a plan and a reason behind each cut he and his team makes. There’s an explainable reason why each board they join together is the way it is.

Similarly, a skilled Designer starts by investigating, determining, and organizing the needs of a project. They ask questions like, “Why are we doing this project? What are the goals? Who is going to interact with and experience the final product we come up with, and how are they going to perceive it? How will it make them feel? What action will they take, and how will they know to take that action?” Questions like this are asked before a pencil ever touches paper.

Sure you can jump on the Internet and find someone to design a logo for $20. And, it may even look nice. For some people, that’s all they’re looking for, and if so, that’s wonderful. But the energy and time invested into what’s often a much longer-lasting design solution is an investment worth the resources*.

If there’s a strong and clear story behind a logo, a layout, or a set of colors it tends to last longer (this has both brand recognition and financial benefits). Good design will last for years because it lives beyond trends. It’s clear and intentional, understandable by the customer, user, and client. Each element of good design has a reason for its inclusion and placement. Nothing in the final product is by happenstance

Take for example a website’s layout. It’s not uncommon for designers who are starting out in their careers to reference a website they find visually appealing, mimicking its layout for a completely unrelated client’s project. Identifying elements on a page they resonate with, then applying them to their project is only natural. We’re all inspired by something. But, the story one website layout helps tell may not resonate with your client’s audience when paired with different content and goals. Good design is not mimicking preferred colors, layouts, fonts, and shapes. Good design is a custom solution to a custom problem.

There’s nothing worse than trying to get through a book or an audiobook and feeling like the author is rambling when they could have summarized the entire book in a paragraph. The point of this article is simple. Good design solves a problem. And, skilled Designers start by investigating, determining, and organizing the needs of a project.

What’s all this mean for me today?

Well, if you’re the owner of a business or a part of a team looking to refresh your brand’s look and feel, need a new website, or want ongoing marketing materials… we can help.

Or if you’re a Designer learning and growing in your understanding of why you’re making the decisions you are, before you start, remember that design is a solution to a problem, and recognizing those problems will make you a more skilled designer.

At BLASTOFF! Studio, we do our best to practice good design. The upfront work of asking questions to you, our clients, and our partners is foundational in our process. Flashy designs and trendy concepts don’t hold much weight for us. So, if you’re looking for design work with long-lasting value, we’d love to hear from you.

A few great resources on this topic if you’d like to learn more:

Ten Principles for Good Design: Dieter Rams

Design is more than problem solving

*I’d like to clarify one thing. There are incredible Designers that work for $20. Currency exchange rates, living situations, and economic difficulties can all play a role in offering services for far less than others of equal talent. That said, one element that’s often overlooked in the design hiring process is clear communication. Clear, constant, and consistent communication is key in the development stages specifically. Finding someone, or a team, that you can have engaging and insightful conversations with is key to designing a final product that will best achieve your goals.

Photo by the incredibly talented Corrine Kupish

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