Recognizing Good Design - A Checklist
by Beth Gorbet, Beth Gorbet Creative Services
Understanding what to look for, critically, will go a long way towards ensuring the effectiveness of your printed communications. Though a competent designer should do a similar evaluation, you may wish to double check using these guidelines or at least have the knowledge to ask relevant questions.
- Clarity - This is the best place to start. Step back, look at the piece as a whole, and ask yourself, "Does it work?" The design and content must work together to meet a well-defined goal. With the ease of desk-top publishing, there is a tendency to "over design" and therefore lose sight of the aim.
- Parameters and Functionality - Whenever you are evaluating design, make certain that the parameters of the job, the printing specifications and mailing instructions, are well defined. Is it the correct size? How many colours are required? Does it fold correctly? Make sure that the item meets these requirement and functions properly and practically. For example, if it is a self-mailing piece, does it meet postal requirements? If it is to be faxed, test it to make sure it can be read by the receiver. It is very important to do this with your letterhead since it is often sent via fax.
- Relevance - Each element - the headline, illustration, photo, text etc. - should be relevant and add to the function of the piece. A good understanding of the purpose of the project is imperative, as well as a solid understanding of the target market. Being accurate and thorough at this stage will go a long way towards saving time and costly errors later.
- Readability of the Headline - The size and length of the headline will depend on the medium - a poster requires a "quick hit", large type, few words, while a brochure can carry a longer headline. In all cases, the headline is the item which should grab attention and invite the reader into the piece.
- Readability of the Text - Equally important, once you have the audience, is to keep them. Generally speaking, people don't want to read a lot of text and no one will struggle to read your message. Make certain that it is of a reasonable size for your target market and pared down to bite size pieces. Subheads, rules, boxes and other graphic elements make dense type more friendly.
- Eye Flow - Understanding how the eye scans a page will allow you to control the presentation sequence in getting your message out. Though this is somewhat culturally dependent, in general, one reads in a "Z" path, beginning at the upper left corner, across the top and down diagonally to the lower left and then to the right. Also, it is difficult to get the eye to move up once it has moved down. Try it!
- Unity or Consistency - Type choice, graphic detail and the general "feel" should be consistent within a piece, as well as from one piece to another. A headline in a crazy type font coupled with a photo of men in business suits will project a mixed image to the reader. In short, if yours is a conservative organization, then each printed piece should reflect this image.
- Proportion or Emphasis - The eye needs a single place to focus and rest. The dominant element will capture attention. Make sure you control which element this is and how it relates to the others within the printed communication. Emphasis and proportion are related since the size of the various items impacts which we look at first. The larger, darker items carry the most weight.
- Colour - In addition to making sure that the piece meets the printing requirements for colour, you may wish to see a final colour representation before printing to evaluate the colour impact. Colour can help draw the eye through a piece and add emphasis. Don't think that you always have to use a costly four colour process. Good two and three colour designs can be equally effective.
- Balance - Balance refers to the optical weight of the individual elements when examined as a whole. Colour, dark items, unusual shapes, large portions and white space all affect the balance of the piece. Though the eye needs a place to rest - the emphasis - the other elements must be visually appealing to pull the reader through. A huge error in design is to fill each speck of space when an effective use of white space would add a great deal to readability - the goal of any printed piece!
It is important to believe that anything that passes by the eyes of your customer or potential customer, is a sales tool, presenting your corporate image, and as such should be the best and most effective possible. © by Beth Gorbet. All rights reserved.