There are plenty of arguments on each side of this topic. Many would consider design to be free of borders and restrictions – and that no such formula exists. Others would argue that there are ‘best practices’ that could be seen as a formula for great design - but the concept is open ended enough for the designer to work within.
Many of the most highly regarded artists in history are recognised to have followed and even popularised many of these best practices - whether that’s as simple as the rule of thirds or as complex as the golden ratio.
We like to consider design to be a practical example of artistry. After all, art exists to convey a message and graphic design exists to create the most effective solution to get the right message in front of the right people. Which seem to be fairly similar concepts.
Ask the design community for consensus on the matter and what you get is contradictions.
It’s safe to say that the design world is full of very strong opinions – but that’s the nature of the creative industries. With something that’s so subjective, there’s always going to be another point of view.
But what we also found was that those who believed a formula to exist were the same as those who also think that all rules should be taken with a pinch of salt.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for anything it seems when it comes to creativity.
THERE ARE GUIDELINES
Granted, many of these guidelines are so widely recognised and effective when followed, that they could easily be considered a formula for great design. But by definition a formula for great design would provide perfect results every time.
For every reason to follow the rules of design, there’s another reason to break them.
So are we saying that there isn’t a formula for great design? It depends on your interpretation of the word ‘formula’.
Graphic designers exist to create the most effective visual solution. It doesn’t have to be pretty – it simply has to be effective and provide a function. The standard definition of a formula is a method or procedure to achieve an outcome so by that measure a formula exists.
At first, we thought that there wasn’t such formula for great design. There’s no rule that could possible encompass every brief. But then we realised that it isn’t binary. Formula or no formula. There’s more than one way to cure a headache.
There’s no reason why the formula can’t be created by the graphic designer for that particular project. After all, a formula is a set of procedures which could exist to just ask the right questions.
Who will be interacting with this design? How will they interact with it? What are we expecting them to do next?
These aren’t rules as such – they are a catalyst of thought. They make the designer question every action and always link it back to the ultimate goal – is this the most effective solution?
It’s easy with design to get a little carried away. ‘Pixel peeping’ and spending hours upon hours to create something that will make no difference to the final result. What we, as designers, all need to do is create our own set of procedures and processes to follow at all times.
WHAT DO WE ALREADY KNOW?
We’re sure many of us know the standard stuff – using a consistent font palette, the utilisation of white space, keep line lengths short. But these are all up for interpretation.
It’s important to understand all of these fully so you understand when to break them. If you know something well enough, you know it well enough to challenge it.
The creative industries wouldn’t be where they are today without challenge. If we all did what was “correct,” then we would never see anything new. With changing behaviour, clients are constantly having new challenges that need addressing with creative and innovative design solutions. There’s no one-size-fits-all for every possible eventuality.
Maybe there is a formula for great design. Maybe there are many formulas for great design. Or maybe the formula for great design is to create your own set of rules and processes for the brief in question.
Just get out there, ask questions and get creating.