Top 8 Principles for Good Design

Good visual design adds a tremendous amount of instructional value to materials used in training. ‘Not so good’ design actually distracts and can restrict how much people learn. However, for many people, the notion of ‘good’ graphic design is extremely subjective. People tend to like what they like.

As a graphic designer at Innovative Learning Group, I balance the subjective wants of my clients, both internal and external, with a set of disciplined design principles that have proven to be effective. If you’re not a graphic designer, you may not be aware of what is considered “good design” and why it’s so very important when developing training, whether it be a printed job aid or an e-learning course. Design can make a huge difference to learners.

I recently came across an Instagram account by UI/UX Designer Dorjan Vulaj, who showcases his amazing designs and lists tips and tricks that can be applied to all design genres. In a recent post, Dorjan listed eight principles for good design. Many are those I’ve heard before, but I think they’re important to highlight, especially if you’re in the position of reviewing work.


  1. KISS
    Keep It Simple, Stupid. This principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore, simplicity should be a key goal in design.

This tip is vital with learning modules, a simple clean design lets the content shine. A sloppy deliverable can render your objectives useless and confuse the learner.

  1. Hick’s Law
    This tip predicts that the time and effort it takes to make a decision increases with the number of options.

The more options you have to review, the more it can overwhelm you. If I give you six or seven options, it definitely will take longer for you to give me feedback than if I just presented you with two or three.

  1. As Little as Possible
    Less, but better
    — because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.

I always edit myself before sending options and send my three best and favorites. Sending more lends itself to “Hick’s Law” as well as running the risk that your least favorite will be the one chosen.

  1. Aesthetic
    The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being.

Let’s be honest… it has to look good. In Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Objects, by Don Norman, he talks about the three aspects of design: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. Visceral design concerns itself with appearances. Behavioral design has to do with the pleasure and effectiveness of use, and reflective design considers the rationalization and intellectualization of the product. This book dives into more than just the importance of the aesthetic, but the actual science of affect and emotion. It’s a great book — I recommend it!

  1. IKEA
    The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias that can influence the outcome and perceived value of the product to a big degree. People tend to place a high value on products they partially have created.

Just like building that bookshelf by yourself, you take pride that you were able to decipher those directions and DIY. I like to bring clients in throughout the design process. What do they like? What don’t they like? What’s their vision for how they want it to look? By asking these questions, I get a sense of what to do, and the client takes pride that they helped create the end product. And a bonus… it actually helps to lessen the rounds of edits.

Now, on the surface this seems like an easy thing to do, but I’m walking a fine line. There can be times when bringing in more people can lead to too many cooks in the kitchen. This is a tip where I tread carefully.

  1. White Space
    White space or negative space is simply unmarked space in the design. Using white space evenly makes the content in the design easily scannable and significantly improves legibility.

My design style is simple — keep it clean. I’m a huge fan of white space. Not only do you need hierarchy in content, but you also need visual hierarchy in space. If you don’t have negative space for the eye to focus on the positive space, then your deliverable and purpose can be lost.

  1. Long-lasting
    Good design avoids being fashionable, and therefore, never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years
    — even in today’s throwaway society.

Try not to be trendy. Keep it classy.

  1. Proportion
    Proportion signals what’s important in a design and what isn’t. Larger elements are more important, smaller elements less.

This ties in with number six. Visual hierarchy in content and space is vital to a well-designed learning module.

Once you start to understand the core principles of graphic design, you may decide to take an extra moment or two to consider the visual part of the message when reviewing your next project. It’s definitely worth giving some extra consideration to the execution of exceptional design.

One Response

  1. Dawn Pierce

    Thanks for all the great information packed in here, Lee Ann! Coming from a non-design background, it’s great to have these simple tips and tricks to keep in mind – for better communication with graphic designers, for better communication and consulting with clients, and simply better understanding when working on a project that may not specifically include graphic design time. – i.e., I have to make a go of it on my own!

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