What makes for good design? For most of us, “we know it when we see it,” but good design can be dissected to tell us why it’s good design. There is a list of ingredients for good design that should always be included in the recipe, including balance, white space, readability, scale, hierarchy, material, and successfully communicating brand message.
Whether you design your own logo and apparel, hire a professional designer at T.R. McTaggart, or a combination of the two, there are things one should consider during the design process. Keep what makes for good design in your mind when you look at the final proof before it goes into production.
Key elements for good design include:
- White space
- Go easy on the fonts
- Mind the grid
- Make it seamless
- Take risks
- Be original
- Make it last
- Take care
- Successfully communicating brand
- Take note of beauty around you
Some design trends call for writing on a vertical plane, in all caps, in a fancy script, in small text, or with text and backgrounds similar in color. While your design might look cool, it’s impractical.
What not to do
- Vertical text
- All caps
- Fancy, hard-to-read script
- Small font size
- Similar text and background color
While you want attractive artwork, you also want to inform your audience so you can translate your efforts into brand recognition and potential clients! Unless you’re already famous and can get away with things like designing a record cover that’s only white and without your band’s name on it, clarity is the way to go. That said, if you’re one of the Fab Four, go for it!
So, why are the aforementioned poor design choices?
Vertical text is hard to read.
All caps are hard to read. Angry people in online forums should learn some good design tips!
Fancy, hard-to-read script
There’s nothing wrong with fancy scripts per se. However, if it’s hard to read, your brand will be quickly overlooked and forgotten. Don’t make your audience decipher. Do you want to limit your reach to only people who are patient or do you want everyone to be able to readily recognize your brand?
Small font size
Keep in mind that your potential audience could be everyone from young to old. Don’t make people squint to read text on your design. Chances are if they have to strain to read it, they won’t.
Similar text and background color
If the text and background are a similar color, no matter the size and font used, the text could be difficult to read due to lack of contrast.
Similar to whitespace, you don’t want to overwhelm the viewer. If your audience is overwhelmed, they’ll stop looking. However, if you can guide the viewer from most important to least important, they’ll follow your road map. The audience simply wants direction of where to look.
Changing scale can make your design more dynamic.
You want your design to feel resolved. You don’t want people to get irritated looking at it. Their irritation could transfer to irritation toward your brand. Harmony is paramount.
5. White space
While the detail you put into your design is great, there really can be too much of a good thing. In order for your audience to appreciate your design, they need some space to breathe.
6. Go easy on the fonts
As a rule, limit yourself to no more than three fonts in one design. Two is OK. One is great! When you have too many fonts they compete for attention and it becomes more about the different type rather than the content. Good design should be invisible. Typography should support your message rather than steal the show.
Back before digital word processors, manual typewriters designated equal space for each letter, whether it was a wide capital ‘M’ or a thin lowercase ‘i’? While this has its charm, unless you’re trying to evoke nostalgia, you should space out letters to make it easy for the reader.
Take into consideration how each letter relates to the next as well as the overall look of the word. When we read, we don’t look at the letters – we memorize the shapes of the words.
If a potential customer is waiting in line at the grocery store and the person ahead of them has a bag with your logo, you want it to be instantly recognizable.
8. Mind the grid
Have a grid in mind when you’re laying out your design. Line up text so it’s easier to read and less chaotic to the eye.
Is your material supportive of your design? For instance, if you’re outfitting a heavy metal band, opt for screen printing rather than delicate embroidery, unless you are seeking a contradicting juxtaposition.
10. Make it seamless
Your logo, any additional content, and the color and material you display it on should all work together to support one message.
11. Take risks
Don’t be afraid of design. Don’t be afraid of being bold. Embrace creativity.
12. Be original
It’s true that everything has been done before, but aim for the imaginative and innovative. The last thing you want is to look like a knock-off. You want to be the trendsetter. We have faith in you!
13. Make it last
If you are designing your logo, a novelty t-shirt, or even a mug, you want the design to be attractive down the road. You don’t want the appeal of your design to end before the usefulness of the product.
14. Take care
Don’t stop designing once it looks half-way decent. Every decision should be considered. Especially if it’s your logo, you’re going to be looking at it a lot. Your design also reflects on your business. If you’re not putting care into how your logo, apparel, and other promotional items look, how much care are you putting into your products and services? You can invest your heart and soul into your business, but it won’t appear that way to customers.
15. Successfully communicating brand
The logo you design might be beautiful or funny, but does it communicate your brand? Even if it’s a great design, if it doesn’t get consumers to act it’s not successful. Have you ever seen ads on TV that are hilarious, but you have no idea what they’re advertising? While it’s great to entertain the world, ambiguity is what you want to avoid. Let the comedians tell the jokes. Let fine artists create tranquil paintings and sculptures. You keep focused on your goal: effective branding!
16. Take note of beauty around you
Look at signs and storefront windows as you walk down the street; pay attention to typography when you peruse magazines; notice leaves when you go for a hike in the woods. There is inspiration everywhere. Take time to look and it will inspire you!
Should I break the rules?
Also note: There are exceptions to every rule, but these guidelines have helped designers for centuries be successful at what they do. They say, “You have to know the rules to break the rules.” Just make sure you have thought out your design and asked yourself questions about these 16 tips to see if there is room for improvement.
There is much more to good design, but this should get you started!
At T.R. McTaggart, we’re excited to be celebrating our 50th anniversary and celebrating 50 years of good design. Contact Us today to discuss what good design can do for your branding and business. Our expert designers can create something thoughtful, elegant, and smart that will make your brand stand out to customers.
Here at T.R. McTaggart, we love and live good design. Drop us a line to discuss your design needs!