Principles for Great DesignEnsuring Great Design

I recently listened to a podcast called: UIE (User Interface Engineering) Brain Sparks: Jared Spool – The Essential Principles Behind Great Design Principles (iTunes Link) . The podcast is about designing software and websites but I found the principles applicable to any kind of design.

Here is what I learned:

  • Establish specific principles that pertain directly to your design.
  • Understand what you are designing and why you are designing it.
  • Know how your design will be used down the road.
  • Set up a goal that is visible to all involved.
  • Be prepared to reach your goal in several small steps.

Here are a couple of slides from Mr. Spools presentation.

Click to read the full “Essential Principles Behind Great Design” article.

The established principles that you set up will help guide you, ensuring great, functional design.

The final point made on the podcast stumped me, I wasn’t sure how to apply it to all segments of design, especially visual design (graphic art). Then it hit me…

Usability Testing:

In website and software design, usability tests involve watching users interact with the product to determine if it functions in the best possible way. Good design is easy to use and intuitive, it needs no explaining and you rarely have to search hard for what you are looking for.

So, in graphic design, especially for print, how do we do a usability test? Well, you could run the ad and see what kind of response you get, but you can’t really be sure what every person who views the ad thinks. I suggest showing it to several key people who will respond honestly about their first impression. It is important to pick people who have some knowledge about design, even if it’s just a good eye, and be sure that they know how to give positive feedback. I would also ask them the following questions before they review the ad:

  1. What is the first thing you notice?
  2. What is the first thing you think about when you look at the ad?
  3. What specific components of the ad are your eyes drawn to?

Be careful not to lead them, don’t tell them if you have any problems with the ad before they have a chance to look at it. Get their honest opinion before you try to discuss any problem areas.

After they have had a chance to review the ad and give you their comments, get out the goals and principles you established before you started designing and see how these comments compare. If you still have any concerns return to your “Usability Group” and ask them what they think about the specific problem areas and consider their response.

The Key:

Finally, after you have had the opportunity to review the design communicate the positive and the negative in an unbiased way with the designer. Tell them the things you really like about the design and express any concerns you have. Try to be as concise and non-accusatory as possible. You want the designer to catch your vision, understand your goals and follow your principles.

As a designer I suggest step by step written instructions with visuals where necessary. It is also important, when directions may not be enough, that you pick up the phone or sit down in person with the designer and review your ad in person.


  • Know what you want.
  • Communicate clearly.
  • Understand that the chance of it being perfect on the first try is almost impossible.
  • Conduct Usability Tests.
  • Review data with an open mind.
  • Approach the project in a business like, unbiased manner. Do not allow emotion into the conversation.

If you follow these steps you will walk away with a perfect design every time with the feeling that you definitely “Nailed It!” and it won’t be an accident.