The 10 Design Commandments
So what are the rules of good design? Well depending on who you talk to these will change. Different designers will always have their own set of best practices. However, I think it’s a good idea to have 10 basic principles we can all agree on- a designers 10 commandments, if you will. So lets carve up our own list and bring it down from Mount Adobe. Ok it’s time to start parting with bad design:
1. Thou shalt have no end to learning. So you have your degree and you think you are done learning, nothing could be more wrong. As a designer you have to understand that ever changing nature of this business. There will always be new techniques, new software and constant changing industry trends. Join design communities, do tutorials, attend design conferences, follow design blogs & design professionals, post your work to online sites to get feedback or take an online class. Chances are what you learned in school will be outdated after the first year. You have to have the passion and the drive to make sure you are staying in the industry loop.
2. Thou shalt not use any pixelated or stretched image. First of all you should always be using the highest quality images possible. Nothing can ruin a good design quicker than a blurry or pixelated image. Take the time to either take an photograph or buy stock photos. Understand resolution and image sizes. But perhaps the golden rule of working with images is-DO NOT STRETCH YOUR IMAGES. Found a image but you need to stretch it to fit, put the transform tool down and walk away. If you are resizing-HOLD SHIFT!
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the client in vain. As a designer you will always be working for someone else. Make sure you listen carefully to the clients wants and needs. Learn to work within the client’s specifications and budget constraints. Does this mean you can’t suggest ideas or suggestions? Of course not, but do it in a helpful and non-condescending manner. Remember they are hiring you for your knowledge & expertise but it’s also their company, be respectful of their vision & goals. Unless you can sign your own paycheck accept that you are a commercial artist and that means, check your ego at the door.
4. Remember the deadline and keep it holy. Working within deadlines is essential for any successful designer. Be realistic. Don’t say you can deliver something in a time frame you can’t. Being able to meet deadlines shows you can manage your time and that you are respectful of a clients or agencies time. Plus if you can establish yourself as trustworthy and can work within multiple deadlines, the more likely you are to advance in your career.
5. Honour thy spell check. You think because you are a designer you don’t need good verbal or written skills, wrong! A spelling mistake is a great way to make your design look amateurish. Use spell check religiously. Have fellow designers or other professionals look over your work before submitting it. Double check the spelling of names and places. Do not rely on the client proofing it before it goes out into the world.
6. Thou shalt not over-kill. You do not need to show everything you can do in one project (I’m talking to you drop shadow, outer glow, gradient and lens flare lovers out there) Showing restraint and an editing eye is truly a mark of a great designer. I used to tell my students “if you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing.” Pick one part of your design to stand out. One truly interesting element is all you need to create for a design to memorable.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Stop cheating on programs with others. Use the appropriate programs for the appropriate project. Don’t use Photoshop to design a 12 page booklet or to design a logo. Don’t be afraid to work outside your preferred program to gain the best results for the project.
8. Thou shalt not steal or copy. Great designers are creative and have no need to steal or copy others’ ideas or designs. There is a lot of information out there to how much you can alter an image before it no longer falls under copyright. Also the lines are blurred between what is “being inspired by” and “copying it.” Instead of getting into the do’s and don’ts of copyright and creative commons, I will just leave you with my opinion. A great designer has to find their own unique and distinct style. Also reputation in this business is huge and you don’t want to get known as the designer who’s work has copied someone else’s. So feel free to get inspired but no five finger discount.
9. Thou shalt not bear false qualifications or expectations to your audience. Don’t know how to to do something? Don’t lie and say you can. Lying or exaggerating to get a job will always come back to haunt you. Plus, why would you want a job that you can’t do? This commandment also includes giving clients unrealistic expectations. Don’t promise a 90% increase in website traffic unless you know you can deliver. Wouldn’t you rather have your client pleasantly surprised than disappointed. This however does not mean to downplay your talents or abilities, just keep it rooted in reality.
10. Thou shalt not covet over used fonts. A list of design rules would not be complete without talking about the fonts that make graphic designers cringe. Those fonts that can literally drive a designer to tears. First off remember when choosing any font the first rule should be READABILITY!! I don’t care how cool the font is, if no one can read it-what’s the point? And then there are those fonts that every inexperienced designer and unknowing client loves to use. Some of the top offenders: Comic Sans, Papyrus, Algerian, Curlz, Cooperplate, Brush Script, Navoo, Bradley Hand, Dark Crystal and Bleeding Cowboys. Another good rule is not to use any fonts associated with a big brand; if people look at your design and associate it with another brand, you have failed in that design. Also you don’t have to beat a dead horse. For example; if you are doing a billboard for a florist, your fonts don’t need to be made out of flowers or vines.
So now that you have your commandments let’s keep from sinning against good design.