Working with dozens of designers and hundreds of projects over the last 5 years, I think I’ve mentally segmented the aspects of good, solid design into 4 tenets.
1. Usage of Negative Space
The space between the ink you put to paper is just as important as the ink itself. Sometimes the inexplicable extra inch of nothingness between sections of content can bring a new level of emphasis to the item immediately above. Have you ever found yourself bored with the design of a project? Start over with the simplest of objects and content in your design and develop a design foundation that is attractive to your eye, then add higher fidelity and more content from there. In addition, correctly utilizing negative space lends itself to the ability to guide a person’s eyes from one part of the image to another which is particularly important if the thing in which you’re designing is to be used for marketing purposes (pretty much everything right?).
2. Pixel Perfection
Nothing smacks of an amateur more than lack of attention to detail. Even if you are crunched for time, you need to learn to pay attention to the smallest of details. Zoom into the most finite of pixel on your images and fix any discrepancies. This becomes even more important the smaller the item is; e.g. an icon or logo. A user should never be distracted by a mistake no matter how small. – Pixel perfection also means that you are properly aligning objects down to the pixel. Think of newspaper design prior to the computer age; editors would painstakingly use guides, rulers, and other straight edges on their templates to ensure things lined up perfectly. It should be the same way for us today.
This is closely related to item 1. A good designer can take “too much” content and make it look readable with the help of negative space, but there are other greater factors as well that influence it more; most importantly, typography. Think of the internet term “TLDR“. If something appears as if the content is “too long”, then a person will skip over it entirely or focus their attention elsewhere. Learning how to make something “readable” regardless of the length, is a valuable skill. The first steps of readability: using a simple font on large groups of text, using a larger leading size, and not having a large ratio of contrast between text and background.
If Pixel Perfection is accuracy, consistency is precision. Being consistent means more than being consistent within a project. It also means being consistent in your work ethic. There’s nothing more that clients dislike than a designer that is inconsistent with communication, responsiveness, and especially delivery. Consistency means establishing and working within an “ethos” or “convention”. For example, creating a design library prior to working on a large scale project ensures some homogeneity will eventually tie all of your work into one style (which can eventually establish a company’s branding) – And for those of you thinking “sometimes I design purposefully inconsistent”, inconsistency in it of itself is also consistent. It’s like the irony of the emo style, anarchists groups, and hipsters.Read on...