The Principles of Good Design

In our last post, we talked about the basics of good design. We’re going to finish up with talking about the principles of good design — both elemental design and design in general. When it comes to design, “principle” can refer to one of two things:

  1. Guidelines to be used to visually communicate the elements we discussed in our last post.
  2. A way to lay down a design philosophy, both for user experience design and product design.

With these two definitions in mind, let’s take a look at all the different principles of good design.

Principles for good elemental design

Regardless of what other design principles you might follow, there are a couple of principles that every graphic designer or graphic artist needs to be aware of when it comes to layout. Being aware of these will not only make you more effective when it comes to creating visual content, but also help the content you create be both more appealing and more informative.


Quite simply, contrast is how we are able to tell one object apart from another, and it’s often used to emphasize key elements in your design projects.

Contrast can be used to make elements “pop” and grab the viewer’s attention so that it serves as focal point for the design as a whole.


Also known as “white space” or “negative space”, this is the open area of any visual creation or project. More specifically, it’s the visible area between, above, below and within the objects and elements that have been used in a design.


Proximity is the way that all of the different elements that make up a project are grouped together. Put simply, it’s the nearness of one element to another. Proximity is meant to help both the designer and the viewer maintain the continuity between visual elements on a page. Along with contrast, proximity is one of the elements that is designed to provide the viewer with a focal point.


Alignment is the order and organization among the different elements that make up a project. Elements that have been aligned properly create a visual connection with each other in order to communicate a story or a message to the viewer.

Designers most often use alignment as a way to put all of the elements in a design together in a readable arrangement. For more on how you can use alignment to improve your designs, take a look at this article from Envato.


In most cases, repetition would be overwhelming and turn the viewer or customer away. Not so in design. Instead, repetition can be used as a visually appealing way to put emphasis on particular elements or grab the attention of a reader. Take, for example, this textless iPod ad:

The repeated use of people doing things with an iPod in their hand connects each of the four frames together, even though individually each person is different and they’re doing different things.

Principles of good design overall

As product design bleeds more and more into the overall marketing space, marketers will have to contend both with designing products and figuring how to both deal with bad bits of product design and elevate the good parts of that design so that they’re readily evident to the viewer or customer.

To that end, we’ve taken a leaf from the book of Dieter Rams, the chief designer for Braun from 1961 to 1995 and the industrial designer for Vitsoe for their 606 Universal Shelving System, 620 Chair Programme and 621 Table.

Let’s take a look at some of his principles of good design and see how they can be applied to print design as well.

1.      Good design is innovative.

When it comes to designing a logo or even just broadly for print, the possibilities for being innovative with your design are by no means exhausted. In fact, there have been several articles published about innovative design trends to watch out for in 2018, but here are a couple of the big hitters:

  • Responsive and contextual logos: when it comes time to design a logo, you need to create an aesthetically pleasing design that can be used in any kind of context – for example, posters, signs, installations and packaging.
  • Experimental typography: typography has always been experimented with – people have developed new typographic shapes and even modified pre=existing typefaces using illustrative techniques.
  • Metaphors pushed to the extreme: while metaphors aren’t new to logo design, they’ve recently become a focal point of deep creative exploration. Consider what kinds of thoughtful and clever concepts you can use to give your logo more depth.

2.      Good design makes a product understandable.

When potential customers look at your company’s logo or parse through their marketing materials, they should have an immediate understanding of what that product does or what it’s used for. It clarifies the product’s use and structure. It makes the product “talk” – but at best, it should be self-explanatory as to what the product is or what it does.

3.      Good design is honest.

Don’t try to make your product any more useful, powerful or valuable than it actually is. At best, you’re setting your customers up for disappointment. In the worst case scenario you may end up actually losing angry customers. Don’t try to manipulate your customer by making promises that you can’t keep.

4.      Good design involves as little design as possible.

Dieter Rams’ guiding words when it came to his designs were “Less, but better.” Start with the simple things first. Concentrate on the essential aspects to ensure that your products (and their logos) aren’t burdened by non-essentials.

What do you think are examples of good design? Feel free to comment below.

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