The elements of good design

The elements of good design

Photo by Sarah Dorweiler, Evano Community (link:

We all like to create flyers, documents and presentations that are easy to understand and don’t confuse people. Luckily, there are some simple ways to achieve this. The main elements of good information design are:

  1. Clear and appropriate typography (you need to be able to read it easily and the font needs to match the message).
  2. Lots of white space (it doesn’t need to be white, it’s sometimes called negative space).
  3. A clear message (this is the hardest element as it requires you to actually think about what your key message is).

There are lots of other things that contribute to good design, including colour, but I think these are the most important.

Clear typography

This one is fairly self-evident and doesn’t require a lot of explanation, but it really surprises me how often people choose totally inappropriate fonts for their documents. Typefaces have their own personality and should be chosen with care. If you are looking for something whimsical or handwritten by all means use Bradley handwritten, but don’t even think about using this for a board report.

Lots of white space

A long email or report is more consumable by using white space to break up your text. Use spaces and headers to avoid large clumps of text and people will be more likely to read to the end. I recommend using this technique in emails as well as other documents. Using white space makes people feel less overwhelmed and more able to read the important parts of your message.

A clear message

This is the hard one. Sometimes we aren’t at all sure about what our key message is, and as a result it can get lost in a forest of words. We can beat around the bush and confuse people by not stating the obvious. I strongly recommend writing your key message out in a nice concise sentence and actually including it in your document somewhere, preferably near the beginning.

If you are starting from scratch with a document or even a simple email message, you should put your key idea at the top. If you want someone to respond to your email, why not tell them at the beginning that you expect a response, instead of at the end?

I know these ideas don’t sound very hard or radical, but you would be surprised how much difference using these simple principles will make to the information products you create.

Basic Principles WHITE SPACE

White space is also called neutral space and is considered to be as important as the words, pictures and objects it surrounds. It doesn’t necessarily need to be white.

Neutral space helps us make sense of what we are looking at. Imagine going into a room and seeing every wall covered with information, photos and messages. You would probably feel a bit overwhelmed. Your eyes would need to scan back and forth while you try and make sense of all the data and work out what the most important information is.

Way back in the 1950s there was a whole movement of type designers who thought that simple, uncluttered lettering was preferable to the ornate curliness of the 1920s and 30s. This was known as the Swiss Style and is typified by a very clean and uncluttered look. The catch phrase of the time was ‘less is more’.

Critics of this approach subsequently stated that ‘less was a bore’.

Less is more

So how do you achieve simplicity without oversimplifying your ideas?

Any ideas?