What is Good Design?

The difference between good and bad design can make or break a business. But what exactly is good design? Read our comprehensive article to find out.

February 21, 2023

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Good graphic design. What does that look like, and is there a system to it? If you are curious about graphic design, this article is for you. Because when it comes to succeeding in the business world, good design is pretty crucial.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. This, however, is not a quote about graphic design.

Although there’s no mathematical formula to determine what makes good design, there are rules and principles that help us distinguish good design from bad. In this article we’ll equip you with knowledge to understand how to make design both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Dieter Rams’ principles of good design
  • Principles of good graphic design
  • How to make design good: actionable tips
  • Good vs. bad design

Dieter Rams’ 10 principles of good design

Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer who created many of Braun’s famous consumer products and has been in the business for over 60 years. However, he is most famous for establishing the 10 principles of good design.

His idea is over 50 years old, yet these principles are pillars in the design world and are still used to determine whether a design is good or not.That is quite a feat, considering the 50 years of technological innovation and the evolution of design that came afterward!

According to Dieter Rams, good design:

dieter rams principles

2. makes a product useful

Innovative design and the development of technology go together like bread and butter. However, design never ends in itself; it always develops in tandem with improving technology.

1. is innovative

At the end of the day, you purchase a product to use it. Its looks may play some part in your decision to purchase. However, aesthetics do not trump usability, so the design should emphasize the usefulness and functionalities of a product. It should never distract the user from it.

3. is aesthetic

An aesthetically pleasing design is appealing to the eye on surface level. On a deeper level, it can positively affect people and their emotions. Or, in Rams’ words: “Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.”

4. makes a product understandable

The design of a product should clearly show its function. Playing into the user’s intuition, good design instantly shows the purpose of the product, making it self-explanatory.

5. is unobtrusive

An obtrusive design will be distracting from a product’s purpose. Therefore, design should be neutral in comparison to the purpose of the product.

6. is honest

It should not make a product appear something that it’s not. Good design should not try to manipulate the consumer with false promises.

7. is long-lasting

Even in today’s fast-paced society, design should be durable. Avoid being trendy to ensure your design never appears outdated.

8. is thorough down to the last detail

With respect to the consumer, nothing should be left to chance. In other words, no detail should be overlooked. Care and accuracy are essential.

9. is environmentally friendly

Good design is created to have minimal impact on the environment. A product’s lifecycle should be minimal in pollution (both physically and visually) and resources.

10. is as little design as possible

In short: less is more. Back to basics!

Although Rams’ ideas are universal and apply to virtually every field of design, they’re most relevant to industrial design (no surprise, as this was the field he worked in).

However, there’s another field of design that’s an integral part of virtually every business nowadays; graphic design. Before we dive deeper into the principles of good graphic design, and how to improve it, let’s get a better understanding of what this field entails.

What is graphic design?

Graphic design is a form of visual communication that provides information. It lays out ideas and changes how the audience thinks about particular subjects. According to the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), “Design mediates between people and decisions; whether subtle or overt, design promotes a point of view,”

While art and graphic design are similar on many levels, they are different in terms of their purpose. Art is about evoking questions, while graphic design is about fulfilling a specific purpose for an intended user.

Graphic design is a vast field. Here are just a few of the main types of graphic design you need to know:

Branding design

Each brand has a set of graphic elements that create its visual identity. Visual identity graphic design is precisely that: the visual elements that act as the face of the brand (logo, color palette, fonts, shapes, etc.).

Marketing and advertising design

The promotion of products or services is impossible without graphic design. All forms of marketing, whether traditional or digital, rely on graphics.

User interface design

When graphic designers develop the look and feel of any device or application, they are creating the user interface (UI) design. This process is what makes a device or application easy to use. Buttons placed a certain way, a picture that breaks up text; everything used when utilizing the platform or app is part of the user interface.

Editorial design

This refers to designing both print and digital versions of newspapers, magazines, and books. Getting a written message across is a delicate art, best left to the professionals, especially considering it can also involve printing, which comes with a set of rules and specifications.

Web design

Technically a part of UI design, website design still deserves a separate mention. Aside from creating user-friendly interfaces, a web designer also needs a solid understanding of information architecture (organizing information in a logical way).

Packaging design

The look and feel of the packaging are essential to persuade people into buying your product. But it also affects the practicalities of your product. Aside from visual choices (color, font, layout) packaging designers also need to consider materials, and how packaging can showcase and protect the product.

Motion design

Not to be confused with animation, motion graphic design is mainly associated with setting abstract objects in motion. Think about the opening credits in your favorite series and data visualizations during a news segment. That is not to say that motion graphics are not animated, but it does serve a different purpose than animation. Animation tells stories, while motion graphics convey simple messages, and enhance the user experience.

And the list goes on. There are many different types of graphic design services, depending on how much you want to get into the nitty-gritty of things.

Logo, websites, ads, packaging, signage - these are just some of the critical aspects in which graphic design plays a vital role in your business. So, since you definitely can’t have a business without it, it’s imperative to ensure your graphic design game is on point.


Graphic design principles

It isn’t until the basic design principles are put to play that things get interesting. Throw in the proper usage, and you’ve got yourself a visually striking design. We’ll go over each principle one by one to create an understanding of what each principle means.

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Like the concept of balance in physics, balance in design provides structure and stability. Examples of applying balance to a design include the distribution of visual aspects and the usage of different colors.


Contrast is the principle used to make one element stand out from the other. Whether it’s in size, color, or positioning, using contrast is the way to go if you want an attention-grabbing design.

Repetition and Rhythm

There is truth to the saying “all good things come in threes,” even in design. Repetition and rhythm in a design give us a sense of familiarity, which helps with association. It gives a sense of consistency and organization, which appeals. Ultimately, we are simple creatures of habit.


Connecting each element with each other is the principle of proximity. Creating a nice overview of things will positively affect the user experience. Sure, each element serves its own purpose. But tying them together declutters the design and creates relationships between elements.


Hierarchy serves to show dominance and priority to certain elements in a design. Making the title big and bold is a simple example of how to use this principle.

Now, of course, we appreciate a little rule break and some out-of-the-box thinking as much as anyone. But before you start to rebel a bit, it’s important to understand these principles. Once you do, only then can you make a conscious decision to go against them.


Closely related to hierarchy, emphasis helps to draw attention to specific design elements. Whether it’s through use of contrast, color, fonts, or proportion, this is how graphic designers place focus where it’s meant to be.


If you’ve ever tried designing anything for print, you’ll be aware how vital this principle is. The principle of proportion relates to adding visual weight and size of the elements in a design. It helps determine the relationships between the different elements and how they interact.

White space

If you haven’t gotten the memo this far, less really is more in design. White or negative space is unused space in graphic design needed for vital elements and information to be presented in a user-friendly way. White space is basically a part of every other principle on this list.


Even corporate brands that have a decades-long history of enforcing the same branding and marketing image add new symbols, colors, and imagery once in a while. Launching a new product could be an excellent opportunity to experiment a bit and add more variety to your brand image (e.g., the black can of Coke Zero). Variety adds visual interest and makes design look original.

How to improve graphic design?

We’ve given you a lot of theory to digest. And, honestly, understanding the foundation of good design is vital. However, if you want to make your design better, you’ll also need some guidance on how to do that in practice. Here are 5 golden tips to follow.

1. Understand the user

The first step in creating a good design is to understand the user. You need to know who your audience is, what their needs are, and what they want to achieve. This information will guide your design decisions and help you create a design that is both functional and visually appealing.

2. Keep it simple

Avoid clutter and unnecessary elements, and focus on creating a clean, easy-to-navigate design. This will not only make your design more visually appealing, but it will also make it easier for users to understand and use. And that’s the whole point of design!

3. Use color and typography wisely

Color can be a powerful tool in design, but it can also be overwhelming if used incorrectly. Choose colors that complement each other and are appropriate for the purpose of your design. Colors and fonts should primarily be used to enforce your brand image and improve the user experience. Only once these requirements are fulfilled, should you start thinking about the aesthetic appeal of these design elements.

4. Be consistent

Consistency is key in design. Use a consistent color scheme, typography, and layout throughout your design. This will help create a cohesive design that is easy to understand and use.

Remember that graphic design is a form of visual communication. Consistency in your designs also ensures the messages you’re sending are clear and relevant to your target audience.  This will also help build brand recognition and a lasting brand image.

5. Test and iterate

Finally, always test your design and be willing to make changes based on feedback and metrics. Testing out different design options is an ideal way to ensure you’re taking the optimal route and harnessing the power of good graphic design to its fullest potential.

Of course, creating good design is easier said than done. Aside from understanding the basics, mastering graphic design takes time and practice. Doing it yourself will ultimately cost much time and money. So, if you don't intend on becoming a professional designer, it’s always better to hire a professional graphic design service.

Whether it’s a freelancer, in-house designer, or an unlimited graphic design service, here are a few steps to ensure you get the best design results every time.

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  1. Design brief - First things first, it is crucial to develop a design brief. This document defines the main details of your design project. Think about including the goal and objective of the design, your target audience, your budget, and your expectations. The clearer your design brief, the better.
  2. Pairing up with a designer - Once you know exactly what you want, it’s time to pair up with a professional. Find a graphic designer that specializes in your design needs, and you’re golden.
  3. Set preferences & expectations - Once you find your match and are ready to start collaborating with your designer, it’s time to set your preferences & expectations. How often do you want to receive an update? How many revisions does your designer’s fee include? These are all examples of questions that are better to answer beforehand.
  4. Stay involved - At the end of the day, you are the client and know what you want. Therefore, it’s crucial to stay involved throughout the design process. Clear instructions and constructive feedback will help you avoid a final design that isn’t to your liking.

Good design versus bad design

Did you know that spotting bad design is actually much easier than spotting good design? The aesthetics of design and your opinion about it may be subjective. But a design not serving its purpose is anything but subjective.

A company’s name that you misread in a logo is an instant giveaway, for example. A website that gives you anything but the information you were looking for. Or even worse, icons that are so confusing you don’t know where to click and eventually just give up.

Bad design can be an information overload, ignoring usability, a confusing interface, or all of the above. One thing is for sure; it results in frustrated consumers, the single most important thing a business does not want.

Examining bad design

Scrutinizing worst practices may just be your golden ticket towards a good design. It is great if you know what you should do. But it definitely helps to know what you shouldn’t. Here are a few ways how:

Ask your worst critics to spill the beans.

Their harsh feedback may just give you that missing piece of your design puzzle. Give people an incentive to write a testimonial or share their thoughts directly. Go through them and take notes because this is where you’ll learn what doesn’t work.

Use the product you are finding a new design for, exclusively and excessively.

Because some flaws may only show up after excessive usage. Also known as “dogfooding”, using your own product is a way to step into your customer's shoes. Additionally, you can nip flaws in the bud before angry mobs plummet your rating average.

Go on a deep dive Googling “bad design [insert your field of operation]”

A little spying on the competition never hurt anybody. And between the three options, this is by far the kindest one to your ego. At the end of the day, we all make mistakes. It’s how you deal with them that is important.

Need good design? We’ve got you covered!

As you can see there are many ways to approach the question “what is good design”. However, the results are always visible. Companies with amazing brand design don’t need to rebrand for decades, while effective advertising graphics yield great results.

Hiring a designer in-house is not always an ideal option. Not only is it expensive, but the chances of one person being a pro with different types of designs are pretty slim. On the other hand, you can get a freelancer for virtually every graphic design service possible. This way, however, costs accumulate quickly, and you also spend heaps of time on hiring and vetting candidates.

If you want a hassle-free design experience and the best graphic design service for businesses of all sizes, you ought to try unlimited graphic design. Get your designs done by a team of pros and pay a fixed monthly fee (a fraction of the cost of a full-time designer’s salary!).

With ManyPixels, you can choose one of three affordable pricing plans and get started today with a 14-days risk-free guarantee! If you need any further info, we’d be happy to chat with you: book your free 1:1 consultation with one of our reps! owe

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.

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