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The 5 Elements That Separate Great From Good Digital Design

By definition, design is a form of visual communication, often related to an idea, a brand, or an image. The role of a designer is to show information to a viewer with the use of imagery, type, and symbols. When communicating through design, it creates a sense of meaning for the viewer and evokes emotions in them, which helps create brand awareness. 

Before the 1900s, designers typically worked in print; designing newspapers, books, magazines and flyers. Then came the rise of the internet, and they had to quickly adapt. Today, digital designers create visual communication for practically anything that can be viewed on a screen, from social media posts to more complex website elements.

Today, there are approximately 4,6 billion active internet users worldwide (about 59% of the population), making it one of the best platforms for advertising. With that being said, as time goes on, it will become more challenging for a designer’s work to stand out in a digital world overrun with information.

How to Create Great Digital Design

…In other words, how to create in order to stand out. Great design involves a process; ideating, creating and refining. Each stage is as important as the other.

1. Have a vision

How do you know which direction you’re going to walk in if you don’t have the thought to do it first? 

A great idea is the building block for a great design. Start by letting your brain run wild, and visualise the aesthetic you want to achieve, as well as the feelings you want to evoke in people.

Take the first step. Moodboard, sketch, jot ideas down – Whatever you do that gets those creative juices going. This is the beginning of a magical thing called ‘Flow’. 

2. Keep it simple

Steve Jobs once said “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Our brains love simple things (whether we like it or not) because they don’t have to work as hard to understand the information we are receiving. By keeping your designs as simple and minimalistic as possible, you allow the viewer to process what you are trying to tell them much easier. 

Google and the University of Basel conducted a study in 2012 that revealed that a user will judge a website’s aesthetic and functionality in between 1/20th and 1/50th of a second (faster than you can snap your fingers). 

Remember, you are not creating a family collage, not every space needs to be filled with something 😉 There is already so much bad design clutter out there, keeping things simple will help you stand out. 

3. Make it functional (User friendly)

Typically, design is all about making information more visually appealing, but design also needs to be functional. Functionality in design is about taking plain black and white text and making it easier for the viewer to understand and process. Sometimes it is so easy to get carried away with what looks nice and forget to essentially get the message across. 

Two important things to consider when creating functionality in design are the legibility of the text and the hierarchy of information. The viewer needs to be able to clearly read what is being said (So using a simple font is helpful), and you also need to be able to guide their eye from one point to another (By using larger, bolder type for main headings, and smaller, more regular type for body copy). If the copy itself is very lengthy and somewhat repetitive, it can also be useful to take out anything that isn’t critically important. It is also a good idea to make sure that if you are placing text over an image, that it is clear and does not fade into the background.

4. Maintain balance

Balance is a key element of great design, and it refers to the distribution of the visual weight of colours, textures, objects, and space. Once achieved, it creates a sense of harmony and a feeling of peace, and since our brains have so much to deal with already, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind some of that. 

If you think of it in the same way you would a scale, your goal is stability and for each element to be equal in ‘weight’. In design, you typically get different types of balance: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial. Symmetrical design has elements on either side that look similar to one another, asymmetrical design has different elements on either side but still look balanced, and radial design is where elements are arranged around a central point and may be similar. By following any of these guidelines, you can achieve balance regardless of what elements you have to work with.

5. Focus on the details

Finally, the last point to creating great design is focussing on the details and making sure there is consistency throughout. If you decide to left-align column 1, and then want to change things up and centre-align column 2, just stop yourself, please. Try and maintain the same structure with everything.

Here are some tips:

  • Keep text alignment the same (or similar) for all paragraphs
  • Kerning and leading should be your best friends (seriously)
  • Fonts should be easy to read and visually appealing
  • Try your best to use high quality images, as pixelated ones can look messy and unprofessional

These may seem like small things to consider, but if a million small things are out of place, someone is bound to notice them. Think about it this way: not focussing on the finer details is like eating a pizza topped with banana, some bites might be lovely, but those bites with banana might throw you off a little (if you like banana on pizza, rather try imagining rat droppings, or even bugs on your pizza instead – then you’ll get what I’m saying). 

By creating your work to be not only aesthetically pleasing but simplistic, functional, balanced, and neat, you are well on your way to producing not just good, but great design. 

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