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This is design and you are the judge

When you are working as content-strategist, marketing-manager or in any other department related to content (websites, marketing material and so on), you will also have to work with designers. And judging and greenlighting their work is very likely going to be your job too. But how do you correctly judge a designer’s work?

Objective criteria for design

Visual appearance is at a first (and also a second) glance a very subjective thing – just because you like how something looks, does not mean at all that another person or your customer will like it too. There is no way of solving that in the future and this means that a certain uncertainty will remain here. But there are some criteria you can measure a design in, which are free from personal preferences and should therefore help you in your work life. As a designer and creative director working in the field for several years now, these are questions you can ask yourself when judging design:

Is it readable?

First off, design is not art. Designers need to enhance the content they get to deliver it to the client, reader or customer in a direct, effective way. In this case, it does not help to shape the looks of your website-header, your folder-pages or your business card in a way that makes reading the important information extra hard. For example by putting text or important shapes like your company’s logo over a very busy illustration or photograph. Also people who should be good at design fuck this up. A good example I stumbled upon this week is the website of the “designmonat graz”, where exactly this happened.

Screenshot of the current “”-homepage

Is it structured?

Another thing a design should accelerate at, is conveying a lot of information in a clear, structured way. For example in vast amounts of text, a designer needs to create a visual structure as aid for the reader, including different font sizes and visual elements. A very important element in this category is white space, which is purely the absence of everything. Many non-designers fear an empty space, but it serves so many purposes! It divides things on the design that have nothing to do with each other. It guides the reader’s eye. And most importantly, it lets the reader rest for a second. White space is not your enemy, it is your friend!

Example of very cluttered, unstructured design

Are all elements serving a purpose?

This is something I see a lot when reviewing the work of a junior designer. They think their work is not “shaped enough”, and therefore they keep adding stuff to the mix. Stuff, that on a second thought, does not serve a purpose and impacts your website in a bad and non-productive way. And nothing will put your customer off more than a cluttered page that makes scanning and reading harder as it needs to be. So when judging a design, always ask and reflect “Do we really need all of these elements on that page or can we get rid of them?”

Does it represent my brand?

With this question, we are touching the subjective area of judging a design a bit, since there are many ways your brand can be represented correctly. But there are clear indicators here as well. Your brand has (hopefully) some sort of guidelines like fonts, colors, the placement and usage of the logo and other brand elements, which the designer must follow. Otherwise, a coherent brand appearance can not be ensured. So, if a designer gets too creative with your marketing material, you need to tell them to stick to your design rules. And for the case that there are no guidelines in place at your company, hit me up and we will sort that out 😉

Example of brand styleguides

Summing up

This blog post told you about readability, structure, purpose and brand representation, which are key objectives a design needs to succeed at to be considered as useful. This does not at any means indicate that the design is really good or excellent. It just ensures it fulfills its core purposes and meets minimum standards a design needs to meet. It is important to remember that evaluating design is a complex, subjective and multi-factored process with many people and many opinions included. But I hope this can help you when you’re working together with a designer the next time and are asking yourself: “Is this design good enough?”.