Good Design: Balancing the Personal & the Functional
6th November 2018
Naz Costante
Design & Illustration

Emotional Maturity

As a graphic designer and an illustrator, my most important objective is creating a product that conveys the message in a clear way, is easy to understand and captivating… in the eyes of the beholder. It might seem like a straightforward task, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s a challenge to bypass all the personal preferences of everyone who’s involved in the project to deliver that message to the right audience, in an artistic, creative way.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong about liking what you’ve created, yet in my experience, you should always take a few steps back, get detached from your work and try to objectively assess it. If it’s not up to the task, you must come up with a version that does the job. We even call the process ‘killing your darlings’. At the beginning of a designer’s career, this may be annoying, but you learn to appreciate this process: in communication design, confusion or misunderstandings might result in unmatched expectations and inefficiency.

Target Your Audience

“The evaluation of a good visual communication design is mainly based on measuring comprehension by the audience, not on personal aesthetic and/or artistic preference as there are no universally agreed-upon principles of aesthetics.” – Jorge Frascara

You always design for a specific group of people: your target audience. This is cliché for a reason. You can probably read about it in every design-related article, but I can’t continue without mentioning this. Now, with the impact of globalisation, target audiences can be very broad, and they may consist of people from very different backgrounds. You should always know what the elements, the colors, the images or the words you choose to use mean to your target audience, because your design is as good as what your audience makes of it. At Happy Folk, we use a combination of empathy and research to make sure that our design decisions specifically relate to the correct audience. Empathy leads to good creative insights, whereas research helps us make weighed strategic choices.

A Wide-angle Lens

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” – Eero Saarinen

From offending people of a certain ethnic background to affecting election results, as a designer, you do possess the power to shift the balance in this world. This, you should never forget. You can find so many examples which have resulted in a crisis because it was not thought through. Thus, to not end up in a public relations disaster, or even in a worse situation where you’d have to prove that your integrity is intact, you should always take a step back, look at what you’ve created from a distance, with a broader perspective and use your common sense.

Few people make these kinds of impactful mistakes intentionally. Bad planning is another reason for such events. Unrealistic deadlines, bad time management, stress, no space for maneuver, no flexibility means no time for quality check. Tight deadlines and long working hours are still accepted normal if not praised in our society but is it the best practice? Not at all. It is possible to build up a working culture where you don’t compromise on important things and still be successful. Good planning, confidence and perseverance can save you a lot of trouble and make for some happy team members!

What They Think (Usually) Matters

“All feedback is relevant, even if it’s not true.” – Ford Taylor

The way people perceive an image changes a lot based on their interpretation. As designers, we pay attention to different parts, see the details, know the latest design trends. A client or possibly the target audience “reads a visual” differently than we would. Visual literacy can become a blind spot for designers. If you have the chance, try to test your designs by showing it to different people, preferably non-designers. Of course, you should be selective of the feedback you implement because you must assess it bearing your target audience in mind.

Presenting Your Work

Design decisions and why they’re made always need to be explained thoroughly to the client. You need to provide the client with some values that can be used to assess your work objectively so that they don’t turn to their personal preferences to do it. And that’s the one thing you’d want to avoid because they might simply not like it – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since most of the time they’re not the target audience but it’s very hard to negotiate about this kind of feedback. It doesn’t mean your design is not up to the task: just make sure to build your argument correctly and present evidence that supports your choices.

A Successful Design Project

To sum up: assessing work objectively, defining a target audience, using a wider perspective, rethinking working culture, presenting your work in a clear manner and working in feedback are all essential for carrying out successful design projects. I am aware that it’s easy to make lists of advice for success and that it takes quite an effort to apply them in your daily work life, where it’ll benefit you or your client the most. I am convinced, however, that if you incorporate these tips in your design process even partially to start with, you’ll find your designs will be the better for it.