Do You Know Great Design When You See It?

– What makes a great design, whether it’s on the web or a sheet of paper?

Certainly, you could argue that great design is beautiful, and that’s certainly part of the recipe. But the world is full of pieces of art that aren’t particularly moving, in a commercial sense, and it’s hard to consider something as “great design” if it doesn’t do anything for your company. Likewise, you could say that any design that’s effective at moving products and creating interest is great, if only for the bottom line, but even some of the most profitable pieces aren’t memorable, or as well-executed as they could be.

So what’s left? How can you really spot great design – or better yet, ask for it – when there isn’t any real definition of what “great design” really is?

Graphic designer Wells Riley has come up with an imaginative and well-thought out answer to that question in his short guide: Startups, This is How Design Works. As an insightful primer on where design fits in the business planning and marketing process, it’s brilliant. Moreover, it’s a reminder of the few things that we are always trying to instill in our own clients here at Envision:

Great design is deliberate. By deliberate, we mean that there are specific choices made with regard to who the design is meant to represent, as well as who it’s really speaking to. There isn’t really any such thing as a “great design,” as much as there is great design for a particular project or situation. In other words, what works for one thing might not for another, and vice versa. Designing for print requires completely different skills than designing a website or web based application. That’s why discovery is such an important part of the process.

simple ad by AppleGreat design can be simple. Sometimes, the best and most effective designs can leave clients thinking “Well, I could’ve done that!” That’s understandable, but it belies the fact that even simple designs are harder to create than they look, and it’s the subtleties of what you see on your web browser or printed page that make it so effective. Simple truly can be beautiful, but it’s rarely as easy to pull off as it appears.

Great designs help people. Well-designed pieces and pages don’t just help you to make money, but also help your products, employees, and others to understand what they are seeing. When everything has a deliberate function, and is in its place, everything seems more clear. For this simple example of what we mean, look at the words on this page. Would you want to see all of them in one block? Of course not, because that would be hard to read. It’s a simple example, but one that illustrates the point beautifully: As designers, we look for clarity and helpfulness at every step of the way.

Great design makes you feel something. Simply conveying information is only half the battle, however. A really strong design makes your readers, customers, or viewers feel something. What that “something” is depends a lot on the piece in the context, but when they feel it, you’ve gotten something you couldn’t accomplish without the right combination of text and images.




To see more about what makes design great, check out Mr. Riley’s guide on the subject. Or, meet with one of the Envisionaries, and let’s talk about what great design could do for your company.

What do you think makes design great…or not so great?