Why is good design invisible?

Like a perfectly proportioned chair or a timeless sports guernsey that hasn’t been changed in decades, good design is invisible. It can be hard to explain. But it’s a powerful feeling.

Even if you’re not a professional designer, you can usually tell if something is just a bit off.

It could be as simple as a layout that’s too busy. Typography that’s difficult to read. Maybe the messaging doesn’t quite make sense. The images could be too big or too small. The list goes on.

We all notice bad design. We also notice when something has been over-designed. It’ll look like too many conflicting ideas jammed into a space that can’t handle them all.

Although we can’t help but notice poor design, good design is much harder to detect.

We’d go even further: good design is invisible. Like a perfectly proportioned chair or a timeless sports guernsey that hasn’t been changed in decades, it just feels right.

It can be hard to explain. But it’s a powerful feeling.

2022-2025 strategic plan for The Royal Women's Hospital

2022-2025 Strategic Plan for The Royal Women’s Hospital

So then, what is good design?

This raises a logical question: what, then, is good design?

Is it when form follows function? Is it the perfect arrangement of design elements on a modernist grid? Is it 24 point headings and 8 point body text?

Is it a solid set of principles that you work to every time on every job?

The answer might surprise you.

Good design is all of this. And none of it.

Good design means different things to different businesses.

A Harley Davidson sales brochure wouldn’t feel right if it looked like a Qantas annual report.
And could you imagine a government strategy document being typeset in comic sans?

Just being appropriate to a service or business sector, however, isn’t enough to qualify something as good design.

RSL annual report

2021 Annual Report for RSL Victoria

Good design doesn’t happen by accident

One interesting assumption that people often make is that good design can happen “by accident”. If there aren’t strict criteria, then surely anyone who knows their way around InDesign can do it?

That’s not how we see it. For one thing, fundamentals matter. Good designers are proficient with the tools of the trade. They understand and employ design principles that remain consistent, no matter the client or the job.

Sweating the small stuff also matters. Finessing typography and its conventions matters. Understanding the importance of a grid structure and when to break it matters. Speaking the language of proportion, shape, and scale matters. Choosing the right image and the right crop matters. Tweaking the balance of a layout until it feels just right matters. Design craft matters.

Sweating the big stuff also matters. Ideas matter. Storytelling and copy matters. Pacing matters. Varying the length of sentences, the melody of speech, matters.

Good design, therefore, is the marriage of ideas and craft.

It might look effortless. But rest assured, it requires lots of effort to look effortless.

2020 Annual Report for Murray Irrigation

2020 Annual Report for Murray Irrigation

“Good design is good for business”

In a 1973 lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, former IBM President Thomas Watson Jr. declared that “good design is good business”.

Nearly half a century later, that still rings true.

Businesses big and small have benefitted from embracing design as a key strategic tool. Good design allows businesses to communicate with confidence and provides a competitive advantage. On a small scale, it can be the difference between winning or losing a tender. On a large scale, it can make the difference between beating your competitors or being beaten by them.

Today, businesses have many visual touch points. For many, their website is how they introduce themselves to their audience. But there is still a place for the real, the physical, the tactile. Publications are one of the most important ways you can express your brand. Whether they are in printed form or live online as downloadable PDFs, they allow for serious storytelling and design impact. From a corporate prospectus or annual report to sales brochures and product catalogues, good design enhances communication, builds trust, and ultimately creates shifts in consumer behaviour that can work to your advantage.

Faced with a daily deluge of visuals that our brain is asked to decode, good design matters.

But design that is invisible – that just feels right – matters even more.

In need of good design?

We love helping our clients to tell their stories so if you’re excited to see what good design can do for your business, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.