What Makes Good Design?

Posted by: Jarrang


Whether you work in digital design, or on tangible product and print projects, across the design industry there are core values and principles that should always remain part of your approach.

Wild Apple Design is a small studio, specialising in the project management and design for educational publishers such as Pearson Education, Oxford University Press, and Macmillan Education. Predominantly print-based, they also take on video productions and more recently have been leading the charge towards developing educational content as fixed layout ebooks, and apps.

We asked Steve Crabtree, Managing Director at Wild Apple Design, to share his tips for the creation of consistently great design work…


Having worked in the design-related world for over a decade, I’ve seen plenty of examples of good, bad and indifferent design work.

If you’re looking at creating good designs, in whichever field, consider the following points when you’re scoping out the brief:

Understand the User

Always, always, always start with the end-user – whether that’s a reader of an article, a visitor of a museum, or a player of a game. If you don’t know who you’re designing for, how can you begin to know if the content you’re creating is going to be accessible (i.e. ‘good’)?

Understand the Usage

If you’re considering graphic design, try to understand how your work will be used. Is it going to be used as a banner ad? Will it ever be printed in black and white? Will the content cross national/cultural boundaries? Knowing the full scope of the way your content will be used is another cracking step towards design-like Godliness.

Understand the Playing Field

Ask yourself not only what your competitors are doing, but why are they doing it? If they’re using massive fonts, it’s no reason just to use a more massive one… because you don’t know what their initial brief was, or what the message is. Concentrate on your message first, then apply it side-by-side with the competition and put yourself in the role of the user (see above) to ask yourself if your message is still visible on a wider playing field.

Keep It Simple

Too many bells and whistles drown out a clear message. For me, good design should be all about getting access to the good stuff without having to wade through faff. As an old Italian artist you may have heard of said, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and if it’s good enough for him, it’s gotta be good enough for everyone!

Don’t Chase Awards

Big mistake. If you set off on the start of a project wanting to win a nice paperweight for the office, chances are you’ll fail. Chances are, actually, that you’ll end up alienating your users and diluting the key message that you’re trying to get across.

Does It Make You Happy?

Golfers will tell you that when they hit a good shot it just feels right from the moment the ball leaves the tee*, and in the same way, you’ll instinctively know when you’ve hit gold when you see the ‘right’ design. If it makes you happy – especially after starting with the user, understanding its context, and keeping it simple along the way – then the chances of your users thinking it’s a damn fine design will be pretty high, too.

Invisible Design

Bottom line, everyone knows what bad design looks like when they see it; good design, however, should be invisible. It should feel right to the user, getting them access to content or message without asking them to work for it. …and if you happen to win a trophy for it, well, that’s a bonus.

*I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never hit a decent shot in 39 years!

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