What Constitutes Good Design?

Posted by mhurston on April 14, 2009
Creative Corner

In my last segment I overviewed various marketing tools that can benefit any commercial real estate office, but this time around I became a little side tracked. Instead of continuing on the marketing subjects I outlined, I’m going to start with design, as that is what everything else I’ll have to talk about stems from. I’ve broken this down into what I see are the three aspects of design, visual, functional and structural.

For marketing collateral purposes we’ll look primarily at the visual design. For the most part visual design is something that the client will find appealing to their senses. The sights and sounds of a TV ad or flash banner on a website or the look of a printed page. While visual design is one f the most important elements for marketing, it is also the most subjective.

Edward Tufte can be considered a genius within the visual design field with his ability to present incredible amounts of statistics within an easily identifiable and understandable display. This is one of the first steps towards good design. However, Tufte will be the first to admit how much he dislikes marketing and many of the elements used in advertisements and various forms of collateral that irritate him to no end.

With that said, it’s important as a designer to understand that the client is not always right and it’s part of your visual design duty to make sure you can talk them out of doing something that will hurt their business.

The next most important part of design is function, or simply, how stuff works. For example, a website is one of the areas where functional design is extremely important. It does no good to both you or your clients if people aren’t able to find the information they want on your website. A little study of typical human behavior on the web and you will understand the necessity for multiple links to the same information along the top and sides of a website, among the reasoning behind many other online strategies. However, functional design is not just important to interactive media such as websites, flash applications or interactive PDF’s, it is also important to printed items, such as when creating a book or magazine layout, where you are incorporating bleeds and spreads. It is also important to understand the media on which your printed pieces will be produced, such as the difference between the look of a 10 pt Gill Sans Light on glossy magazine stock versus newspaper.

Some could consider structural design the least important, but structure varies drastically from designer to designer. If you are your own boss and work alone, chances are you don’t care how you organize your files, how you name them, or how your layouts are set up. After all, if it looks good and works, who cares right?

This is in strong contrast to the ideals of anyone who has worked in either a design studio or with an in-house team who constantly handle each other’s files as needed. In situations as these it is essential to an efficient and successful workflow to come up with a system and stick to it. In addition, the actual design setup of layouts should be done in a way that the other designers will be able to easily adjust and edit.

Anyone who has worked with me knows of my issues I have with designers who use spaces after a bullet point in an InDesign file instead of using tabs as well as my pet peeves of those who would make each line of text for a bulleted list placed in it’s own text box and then not even bother to align them properly with the align tool. These are things that cause a person to be seen as an amateur within their circle.

Ultimately it is important for designers, especially those in print, to understand and know how to use and adjust items such as tracking, kerning, bullets, styles and tables when doing text layouts. Of course there are some exceptions to the rule, such as when creating text for a cover or header piece that may require the text to be adjusted and set in a non-standard way.

While code formatting is for the most part irrelevant due to the many applications that auto format the display and highlight code, what is relevant is the expandability of the code. In short, is the site designed in such a way to allow the addition of new features, links, ads, etc easily or would it require a rework or site rebuild?

In conclusion good design is a product of proper structure, usability, function and ultimately strong and captivating visual design. A good understanding and planning from each of these aspects will typically end with the creation of a successful collateral piece, ad campaign or website.

– Michael G. Hurston

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