Good Design Vs. Bad Design: How To Judge Design Quality

Do you fall in love with a design instantly? Or do you take your time understanding the design, before forming an opinion? Irrespective of which category you fall into, you will always encounter one particular scenario. Not everyone will agree with your taste or opinion.

Design, like all art forms, is considered subjective. People struggle trying to decipher designs and understanding what makes them good or bad. 

You may argue that it is best to leave the judgment to qualified designers in such cases.

But, all of us experience and utilize design in our life. 

You might be a small business owner looking to market their products. An NGO looking to spread awareness on its cause. Or a school teacher trying to use aids for better teaching methods. Whatever the work you do, one thing remains true – everyone needs designs. 

And they need good design. Good design can make communication easy and fun. 

So, even if you choose to outsource design work to a talented designer, knowing how to design quality can make things much easier. 

At Kimp, we work with multi-faceted customers day in and day out. Our designers strive hard to bring our customers’ visions to life. 

So we can share a design service’s perspective on the age-old question: 

What is good design? 

Right down to the Basics: How to judge design quality

If you are not a designer, qualifying a design as good or bad may seem very arbitrary to you. You may feel that you are only basing your decisions on personal preferences and aesthetic sense. Or it might come across this way to others.

And that is okay in some scenarios. But, say you are approaching a design as a commercial element of your business. Then that decision has to come from something more than just a personal choice.

So, leaving personal choices aside, what makes a good design? 

You will find a lot of quotes from designers online on what good design is.

As a design company working with clients worldwide, at Kimp, we’ve found that good design:

  1. Manages to communicate well
  2. Is simple but significant
  3. Brings different elements together seamlessly, making it feel organic
Source: Pinterest

Every design in the marketing world has a purpose. And a design that manages to fulfill its purpose without being too obvious about it is Good Design

An infographic designed by Kimp – Simple, full of information, and still easy to understand.

What separates the bad from the good? Your Guide to Design Quality

So, now you have a good sense of exactly what good design is. Did you notice that we did not dwell on the aesthetic or design elements in our definition of good design?

There is a reason behind that.

A designer who understands the purpose and brand requirements of a design will make the aesthetics work accordingly. It is usually the messaging and the style that fails to tick the box. 

Now, how can you judge design quality? 

Imagine this scenario. You run a small bakery and want designs for your menu, brochures, signboards, and the whole works. You approach a designer for them and eventually receive a bunch of designs to choose from.

How do you go about choosing? Ask yourself the following questions. And you will be that much closer to getting designs that can help you achieve your business goals.

1) Does the design fit into your brand’s aesthetic?

The major purpose of including graphic design in your product marketing is to increase your brand’s visual appeal. So, yes, the beauty of the design in how it represents your brand is one of the primary factors to consider.

If you are impressed by the design’s visual quality, the odds are your customers will be too. Some of the other factors that you can use to better grade the design quality are:

  1. Color and Contrast – Are the colors used in the design contrasting and complementing each other? Do the colors convey what you want them to do?
  2. Alignment of the different elements such as images, text, logo, and other designs within the design itself.
  3. Visual Direction or Flow – Are the design elements creating a natural flow and achieving a storytelling effect? 
Source: Mention

Imagine you are presented with these designs as the final outputs by your designer.

Let’s evaluate them using the factors we discussed. 
  1. Colors and Contrast: The colors used here are muted and in perfect contrast with each other. The color schemes do not let any one element dominate the focus and present a harmonious picture. And they achieve this while still incorporating a variety of palettes.
  2. Alignment: When we look at the designs, we see that they align their design elements to guide the eye easily from focal points to supporting details. The text and images can be easily scanned to understand the messages being shared.
  3. Flow: The designs are for blog feature images.  And their layouts ensure that the information presented flows from one section to the other. Right from the headline to the supporting image. Or in some cases right from the image, which serves as the focal point to the headline which describes the content below. This creates a sense of cohesive narration throughout.

Now, let’s look at some examples of bad design to better appreciate the designs we just discussed. 

In all these examples, there are some similarities: 
  1. In all of the designs, there is an overload of color without any contrast or relief. 
  2. The design on the left does not follow any specific alignment and is just a myriad of information laid out haphazardly.
  3. In the design in the middle, there is alignment, but the color composition has rendered it meaningless.
  4. Throughout the design on the left, there is just an overload of colors and artwork without any structure.
  5. The middle design can be considered unique/interesting by some standards, but the purpose is lost. There is no communication, and as a result, the design fails to fulfill its role. 
  6. And the design on the left and the design on the right may convey their messages partly. But the lack of planning and organization evident in the designs makes them confusing.
2. Does it feel natural to you?

Design is all around us. Design is everything we interact with. Over time, our minds form subconscious bias, make certain associations and establish standards for the designs we encounter. Good design must play to these tendencies and common associations. It must feel intuitive and allow the customers to form connections with what they’re seeing.

While experimenting is good, experimentation cannot trump Good User Experience at any cost. 

Source: Kimp

Let’s look at the design above by Kimp for our clients: It’s a flyer for a hotel. The image is as natural as it can be. It is a simple, intuitive, and familiar design that every user will interact with it, subconsciously.

As they say, good design is when design itself becomes invisible, letting the messaging take over.

Now let’s consider an experimental design: 

Source: Pinterest

This design uses contrast well and is well-composed. But, and this is a big but, it is too experimental and has lost out on two big factors:

  1. User Experience 
  2. Communication 

The typeface used and the minimalistic outlook have failed to enhance the user experience with this design. It’s difficult to read and draw meaning from. As a result, the design leaves the viewer puzzled as to what action they should take as a result.

3) How is the design organized?

Alignment, organization, and formatting take greater precedence for designs that are predominantly used online. Factors like layout, positioning of the branding assets, and important elements like Contact Information, sign-up buttons, and other calls to action are vital to design quality and a design’s success. 

An example of a Cluttered and Overloaded Design
Source: Rigorous Themes

When you look at the design above, what do you feel? It might be hard to even answer that question. It gives the viewer a sensory overload! This is a clear example of trying to communicate a message without any regard for how the design will be interpreted. A big no-no when it comes to design quality. And an all-too-easy trap to fall into when you request a design and include way too much copy for the dimensions and layout.

The design above: 
  1. Has a disproportionate alignment with no planned margins or symmetry in design.
  2. Does not have any organizational elements or sections to create a narrative. 
  3. Does not include a clear call to action section. The audience would have to spend a lot of time trying to interpret what the next steps are. 

As opposed to this, let’s look at an event invite with a well-organized design:

Source: Pinterest

This is also an invite for an event. However, this is an example of “Good design” because it ticks off almost all of the boxes you want in a good design.

  1. Color: The colors are muted and complement each other without competing a lot for attention.
  2. Organization: The design itself is divided into three main sections – Header, Body, Call to Action. This makes it easier to decipher and saves a lot of time for someone just looking for vital information.
  3. Intuitive Design: This invite still has many design elements and carries the appropriate aesthetic one would expect from an invite.
4. Is the design’s purpose fulfilled? 

Every design has a purpose. There is a message to be communicated, a product to be sold, and emotion to be invoked. For a design to be qualified as “Good Design”, this purpose has to be fulfilled. 

The design may look brilliant and follow all the conventions, but if the messaging is lost, its purpose is lost too. 

On that note, check out our blog on how to write a Design Brief that gets you the designs you want. With these tips, you’ll be able to convey your goals for your designs to your designer.

Just consider this design. It’s a website for the Yale School of Arts. The purpose of a landing page is to attract the viewer long enough to present your products or services. But this page completely misses out on fulfilling that purpose.

The landing page here is misaligned, doesn’t use contrast to make text easy to read, and does not provide a natural flow for the user to navigate ahead.

Now, consider this example of a landing page by Kimp: 
Source: Kimp

This landing page:

  1. Clearly states the business’s USP.
  2. Has clear navigation bars displayed. 
  3. Flows naturally between the different tabs. 
  4. Highlights the company’s product in a color scheme that suits their branding. 

If the design brief was to display the company’s product in a simple, clean, and aesthetic manner, Mission Accomplished. 

5. Is it a unique or original design? 

Originality in design is important to stand out in the crowd. Originality could be in idea, design approach, messaging, or final output – but it is a necessary ingredient. 

Inspiration is good, but without something to set the design apart from your counterparts, the message may get lost in the noise. 

You need originality to carve a niche for yourself.

The example of a character illustration from Kimp below can give you a few pointers on unique but inspired design. Yes, it is inspired by superhero/idealistic characters we have seen in countless places. Yet, the little details seem to make it unique and exclusive to the brand itself. 

As seen in the example below, every year designers and businesses face many issues with “inspired” or “plagiarized” content. This happens when the connection between the designer and the business isn’t strong. 

While there may be tweaks, customers catch on to similarities quite quickly. It is best to only treat inspiration as inspiration. And then put your brand’s own unique spin on a design. 

Source: Quartz

Turning Bad design into Good Design with Feedback 

While we all hope to get good designs each and every time, it’s inevitable that you won’t. So what do you do when you are faced with a designer who submits a bad design? You figure out where things went wrong, and find a new way forward. 

Here are few simple steps to turn a bad design into a good design:

1) Revisit Your Design Brief 

Go back to the design brief and evaluate if your current vision is different from the one you initially shared in the brief. There could be a change in expectations that is causing the conflict. There also may be some ambiguity that is tripping up the design team.

A quick analysis of design vs. design brief should chart out a path towards a good design. 

2) Design Analysis

Set up a meeting with the design team. Articulate your concerns with them and make them realize where the design lost its way. It could be that the design did not have a natural flow or that it missed the messaging. And it could be that this was the result of something missing or unclear in your design brief. 

Point out the areas of concern so that the designer gets the message loud and clear and gets back to the drawing board. If you’ll be sharing your feedback remotely, try sending screenshots and/or screen recording along with detailed notes. 

3) Brainstorming 

If you can’t quite figure out what’s missing and/or what can be enhanced, set up a brainstorming session. Discuss the designs you like and see how this design differs from it.

Understand what’s within the designer’s capacity, and whether what you’re looking for goes beyond it. Set out to mutually solve each other’s issues and eliminate each other’s blind spots. The happiest sound for a designer is the word “Approved”, so they will be more than willing to work with you to get the design where you need it to be. Even if that means stretching beyond what the approaches they typically take.

Access Good Design at Affordable Rates 

Is all this talk about the complexities of good design making you feel a bit anxious? We get it. Good design can be hard to find. Design quality can be hard to figure out. And it can be expensive and require a lot of time. But remember, the cost will be far higher to fix a bad design than it will be to invest in a good design from the get-go.

With Kimp’s subscriptions, you can access good designs that don’t break the bank. Just pay a flat monthly fee for all the concepts, and revisions you need. As well as the source files. Check out our plans here and sign up for a free trial to get yourself on the road to good design.