How to learn good design in 6 steps

Original author: José Torre
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We eliminate the subjectivity of opinions.
I left a comment on my very first post on Medium, to which I wanted to give a detailed answer. The reader noted that design is a subjective thing, and asked if anyone had tried to formalize the principles of good design. Then I thought: “Why not give it a try?”

That was how it all began.

The question consists of two parts, the first is the statement that design is subjective. Personally, I do not agree with this approach, but I understand where his legs grow from: people tend to mix design and art, and therefore the properties of one often transfer to the properties of the other.

Art is subjective, it is a game in which there are almost no rules. Design is another matter, the very fact that someone can make a list of principles for him already says that there are certain rules in this game. And if there are rules, then you can judge whether they were applied or not, therefore, the design is not subjective. But to be honest, I can’t say that design is 100% objective: there are always things that relate to personal preferences determined by your culture and experience.

Having a little subjectivity does not mean that you cannot tell a good design from a bad one. It just means that you may find a good design ugly, or, on the contrary, you may like a rather lousy design. Let's look at an example.

Famous Juicy Salif Juicer by Philippe Starck

I think almost everyone will agree that this is a stylish design, the main question is is it good?


Why? Because he has so many functional problems that I won’t even list them (just go to Amazon and read reviews, there are a lot of interesting and funny things, or read this ). In short, he does not cope with what he is intended for, does not help squeeze the juice.

We conclude that an attractive appearance is not equal to a good design. To help you take a deeper look, I have compiled a list of 6 principles that you can use to distinguish good design from bad design. There are many nuances in the principles, I will dwell on each of them in detail.

Based on the said juicer, you already guess what will be the first ...

1. Is the design effective?

Design is created to eliminate the existing problem. An inconvenient website, a product for a specific audience, or a new business that needs a logo - anything can become a problem.

This is the first point by which to judge whether a design is good or bad. If it does not solve the problem, then you should not go further - this is a poor design. No matter how good he looks, he does not solve the problem for which he was created.

According to my observations, it is this point that causes most of the friction between the designer and clients or superiors. Designers start working without a sufficient understanding of the problem, try to do something cool that will look profitable in their portfolio. They forget that design is not created to solve their problems, but for people.

In order for the design to be effective, it is important to understand and feel the same as the client or user. When starting work, ask yourself the question “Why?” Until you realize the real purpose for which your design is needed. Sometimes a client comes to you with one request, but after asking a few questions, you understand that he needs something completely different. Only then can you be sure that you are helping to solve the real problem.

If your design is effective, you can move on to the next step.

2. Does the design correctly reflect the tone?

To evaluate whether a tone is right or not, you first need to understand two things: brand and audience.


The term “brand” is usually applied to a business, but it is not limited to this. Many things have a brand, for example, each of us has a brand. Your brand is how others perceive you. The same applies to companies and everything else.

Good design allows the company to manage its brand, change public opinion to match the ideal image of the company.


The target audience of the company can vary from the vast masses to a very small niche. If you know what image the company is striving for and for whom the design is being created, it remains to decide what is right for them?

In general, the wider the audience, the more clear and simple the design should be. Therefore, you can see how many companies lose their “sincerity” as they grow. This happens because some design techniques that work for small niches are not suitable for a large audience, they are sacrificed to attract more people. On the other hand, when your audience is smaller and more specific, such chips attract people.

This can be seen by comparing McDonald's with a local burger. They sell one product, but in different ways.


Byron hamburgers

The local burger uses modern design solutions, attracting people who follow the news, take a look at the funny illustrations on the Byron website. On the other side of the scale, McDonald's, who communicates with customers in a more accessible way, addresses the general public, not isolating anyone and not rejecting anyone.


In short, to understand whether your design matches this point, you need to know the right tone and whether the design successfully reflects (conveys) it. If so, then you are one step closer to good design.

3. Does the design stand the test of time?

Good design is time sensitive. Ideally, everyone wants a timeless design, but it is not always appropriate or necessary. It all depends on the purpose of the design and its life cycle.

For example, if you create a web page for a product that is replaced or updated within 2 years, it makes sense to use fashion trends to move forward. So your design will look modern, fashionable and relevant. But you need to anticipate trends and their development. There is nothing worse than late to saddle a wave and find yourself in the position of a catch-up, not a trend creator, they will only laugh at you.

From another point of view, if we are talking about a logo chosen for years and decades, then, of course, you should avoid unsteady design moves, the expiration date of which will quickly end. Look at the famous Starbucks logo redesign, it shows a trend towards simplification of the logo. Conclusion: the simpler the design, the longer it will last.

Iterations of the Starbucks logo for 1971, 1987, 1992, 2011.

So, to go through this point, you need to understand the design life cycle and choose the appropriate solution for it.

Does the design fit your life cycle? If so, continue. There are only 3 principles left.

4. Is there interference in your design?

Interference is what prevents a person from reading or using something. The more interference in the design, the more difficult it is for the client to solve their problem with the help of your design. Typically, complex texts or awkward websites become a hindrance.

The case when the text is too small.

You will be surprised to learn how many times designers sacrificed the simplicity of reading and the convenience of the site for the sake of its appearance.

It is important to carefully measure the amount of information that you want to provide. Avoid overloading information, it only adds interference to the design. To prevent this from happening, you need to understand very clearly what your client or user wants. But most often even this information needs to be filtered and made more understandable.

“Wealth of information leads to poverty of attention” - Marty Neumeier

If the design is good, it is invisible. People easily find what they need.

If the design is visible - it is bad.

Great, only 2 points left.

5. Is the design visually appealing?

On this principle, there is always a lot of discussion and conflicting opinions. They arise because of the subjective nature of the topic - because of the difference of opinion, it is difficult to come to a unanimous decision.

Despite this, we will try to get rid of the share of subjectivity. To do this, learn the principles that make a design visually appealing. They can be found in almost every example of good design.

In addition to learning theory, you must also enrich your visual culture. This can be achieved by considering the design collected by the community of designers on sites and in books. You will begin to notice patterns appearing in good works: a balanced composition, excellent typography, clear alignment, amazing color combinations and many other things.

This is enough to instill good taste in you. Nevertheless, this item will always be a little subjective, but since it is only one of 6, this will not prevent you from distinguishing a bad design from a good one. As I said at the beginning, good design should not please everyone.

The next paragraph will be final.

6. 1 + 1 = 3?

If the design has passed the previous 5 points, you have already a very good design, and this item will help you find among the good, outstanding.

To understand that your design costs more than the sum of all its parts, you just need to take a closer look. In essence, this happens when a brilliant idea arises from the usual combination of good typography and colors, which takes the design to a completely different level.

FedEx Logo (1994)

A simple but elegant example is the FedEx logo. Take a closer look at him. You see, between E and X there is a small arrow hidden in negative space. This arrow was conceived as a symbol of the speed and accuracy of the company.

This is what distinguishes good designers from great ones. Good ones rely on technical skills and build design on principles (by the way, a computer can teach this), but great ones bring new data to the equation. I believe that this is creativity.

Final thoughts

In a nutshell: good design is not only what is visible to the eye, not only appearance, it is a combination of thoughtful decisions made with care for the end user or viewer.

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