Good design doesn’t matter, right? Right?
Great design is invisible. Not invisible in that you can’t see the graphics or design structure, but in the sense that your focus is drawn to the content the author wants you to see––in the order they want you to see it.
Good design gets the job done. It’s not ugly or distracting, but it’s not intuitive.
Bad design ambushes you in the street, throws you in the back of a van, and dumps you in the bad, Comic Sans part of town.
Avoid bad design.
It’s easy to talk about strengths and weaknesses of design all day, but being able to see the difference makes all the difference.
Take our friends at ToasterTubs, for instance. They wanted to throw a summer kickoff party, their first annual “Toast to Summer.” We put together a flier for them that highlighted what the event was, when/where it was, and finally, what event attendees could look forward to.
But we didn’t want to just dump all that info on people’s laps. We know that attention spans are short, so we had to deliver the details with brevity.
What you have to say is important, but not everything you have to say is equally important. For example, knowing that parking is free is great information, but knowing where the event is located is more important. It doesn’t matter if parking is free if you’re not sure where you’re supposed to go.
That’s why creating a hierarchy of information is important to designing whatever you’re designing.
In the case of the Toast to Summer, we needed viewers to know the following in the following order:
Once these questions had been ordered, we were able to start designing the flier itself.
And we came up with this:
Based on the fonts used, size, and positioning of information, we created a flier that not only looked good, but clearly communicated the information in the order of relevance.
Everything is organized and flows, presenting information in the order you’d typically want it delivered.
The only issue with something designed well is that it can be difficult to really appreciate good design unless you’ve experienced the opposite. That’s why we decided to take the same information included in the real flier and break all the rules (in a bad, wrong side of town kind of way).
Several things stand out with this design. The first is that it is physically painful to take in. And I don’t mean that the design is so awful that it’s metaphorically physically painful to look at; I mean the contrasting colors actually cause pain to my eyes.
Second, what is this a flier for? The information is scattered in such a way that you need to put on your detective hat to solve this murder mystery.
And finally, the brand needs to be considered since this is for a business. ToasterTubs has an established brand (https://toastertubs.com). Their brand guide is clear and concise. This design flies in the face of everything their brand stands for.
There are words on the page, but the design is so chaotic there might as well not be.
Now, this is an obvious and extreme example, and we’re being tongue in cheek with it. But it’s meant to illustrate that if your design gets in the way of the flow of information, then it needs to be reworked, adjusted, or in the example above, beaten to death with a hammer.
Not everyone is a designer, but it doesn’t take a designer to be able to critique a design. The first step to having effectively designed assets is to be willing to critique them.
Start by creating the hierarchy of information you want to present to your viewers. Then examine your design and write down what parts stand out first.
Compare your two lists. If the information is in the same order, then you’ve at least succeeded in communicating your information in the order intended. If not, then you might need to rework the design… or get a hammer.
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