Four Key Elements of Good Design

Understanding these four key elements of good design will help you create a competitive advantage 
for your brand.

4 elements of good design - Douglas Aug/Sept 2022

It’s no secret (or is it?) that informed and well-planned design can have a direct and positive effect on your business’s bottom line.

Before we get started, let’s define a few key things. 

Design has become a ubiquitous and elastic word that continues to evolve to suit any number of contexts. From fashion, hair and user interfaces to landscape and game design, the list of design disciplines is almost endless, with many sharing common processes or techniques.

Applied Design for Business

Design for business relates to a company’s visual brand and communication materials (posters, website, merchandise, etc.). It is the creation of a cohesive visual system that communicates a company’s purpose, personality and position.

That includes a logo, use of typography, colours, imagery, tone of voice and choice of media (all working together, like a finely tuned machine) to communicate what the company represents to its customers, employees, partners and suppliers.

With all of that in mind, let’s resolve one more very important question: What makes a design good? 

Design, like food and art, is among the most subjective topics available. What one person finds attractive can just as easily repel another. 

Accepting that people have different tastes is an important point to understand because it means that it is almost impossible to create a design (the look and feel of your business, for example) that will appeal to everyone.

The good news is that not everyone needs to like it. The design just needs to do its job. Yes, applied design has a job. When design is done well, it can do its job effectively.

Four Key Elements of Good Design 

Good design is the culmination of several critical parts, which typically must all be present when we’re talking about designing for business. Good design is informed and contextual; it is relatable to the end user and often becomes a (functional) workhorse for the company. In other words, it serves as a broad toolkit of visual assets that can be applied to things like advertising, social media, product packaging, website, stationery or vehicle wraps.

These four key elements of good design (informed, contextual, relatable and functional) must be identified and defined before you start to create a visual identity or any type of designed communication for your company. A good design partner can lead you through these steps toward a strategic design solution.

Informed — relates to a company knowing why they exist, how they are different from everyone else, what they do, how they do it, who they do it for and who their competitors are. Being informed sets a foundation for understanding the goals of the business and the nuances of the target customer or end user.

Contextual — knowing what the hallmarks of your competitive marketplace are. This will help set some parameters around what sort of visual language is going to make you look like you belong in your competitive category. Understanding these parameters allows a good design partner to make you look like a leader among your competitors.

Relatable — understanding your end user and designing a visual identity (or an asset like a poster or website) that resonates with them. Ultimately, this is something that they can relate to and that is attractive to them.

Functional — the unsung hero of a well-designed visual identity. Having a functional design system makes the act of doing business smoother and will produce professional and good-looking results. For example, you’ll want a logo that will reproduce well regardless of where you stick it (embroidered on a hat or super small on a piece of packaging). A successful system is akin to a perfect toolkit, equipped with all the tools you need to do the job easily and effectively.

Engaging Professionals  

One last piece of advice is to hire a professional designer or design agency who possesses the skills you require to be successful: They should be interested in your business; customize their processes to suit the unique aspects of your project; and exhibit confidence and leadership to guide you through the process.

Investing in the visual brand of your business will pay you back in dividends (ask any business owner who has found the right design partner and undergone a proper design process). The outcome is an informed and effective design solution that serves both the needs of the business and the desires of the end user. It gives the company a competitive advantage, a unique voice and a visual identity that sets it apart, and ahead, of its competitors. 

If you’re unsure that your brand is working as hard as it could for you, a good first step is to hire a design studio to run a brand audit and a competitive audit. This often inexpensive and quick health check will reveal what steps can be taken to make improvements to your brand.

Ross Chandler is the founder and creative director at Becoming Design Office whose clients include BC Parks, Modo, Hoyne Brewing Co., KWENCH and The City of Victoria, among others.