Design Guide: 10 Design Principles every Designer should know

Posted by Olivia dela Rosa on November 02, 2014

Design Guide: A beginners guide on how to become a better graphic designer - 10 principles and elements for succesful graphic design, illustrated with visual examples.

As a designer, you have to admit that sometimes your purchases are highly influenced by a product's appearance or branding. That product might be something very useful or important to you, but your choice is usually highly dependent on how that product looks. Nothing's wrong with that - though you can't help but wonder what makes it stand out from the others.

Hopefully as a designer, you ask yourself every now and then if you are producing good design. Unbeknown to most, outstanding designs don’t just come about: Good design is a product of well thought-out and well-executed ideas - but more importantly, it brings a solution to an existing problem.

Today we talk about the ten principles of what makes a good design and show you some print design samples to go along with it. Each key point will explain to you what really makes a design not only look good, but also how it should stay true to its form without compromising its aesthetic value. Taking cue from the acclaimed industrial designer Dieter Rams, we give you ten foolproof guidelines and visual inspirations in creating great design.

Good design is innovative Marcin Szmidt

1. Good design is innovative.

To be innovative means to have the ability to come up with a new idea from an old one. A good design should be able to look at an old design and reinvent itself into a new one. Thanks to technology that is rapidly advancing at this day and age, new opportunities for function and form arise.

Good design Steven Wincroft masks

Good design Steven Wincroft masks

Steven Wincroft masks

Good design Archiwum Planety

Good design Archiwum Planety

Good design Archiwum Planety

Archiwum Planety

Good design Ink Calendar

Ink Calendar

Good design USB stickies

USB Stickies

Good design makes a product useful Marcin Szmidt

2. Good design makes a product useful.

You have to be able to use the product too, of course. What makes a good design is that the design itself is crucial to the usability of it, allowing the structure to focus on the product's function.

Good design La Distributice

La Distributice

Good design Hanger Tea

Good design Hanger Tea

Hanger Tea

Good design Kelli Anderson Paper Record Player

Good design Kelli Anderson Paper Record Player

Kelli Anderson Paper Record Player

Good design Banana Airlines

Good design Banana Airlines

Banana Airlines

3. Good design is aesthetic.

A good design has to be visually appealing. It’s the opposite of, say, UGGs. Or Crocs. People who love it claim that they’re so comfortable and easy on the feet, but the exterior is not that much applauded. The product has to look great, which is also an indication of a well-executed design.

Good design Galaxy Envelopes

Galaxy Envelopes

Good design Airbnb rebranding

Good design Airbnb rebranding

Airbnb Rebranding

Good design Heath West

Heath West wall display

Good design Folded Paper Furoshiki

Folded Paper Furoshiki

Good design Rebecca Minkoff NYFW

Rebecca Minkoff NYFW invitation 

Good design Monument Valley

Good design Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Good design makes a product understandable Marcin Szmidt

4. Good design makes a product understandable.

A good design makes sense. Nothing is random and you can easily understand how that product works just by looking at the design elements. Its structure explains its purpose, and the design makes good use of the user’s intuition.

Good design Butter Better

Butter Better

Good design Mais Pilates Studio

Mais Pilates Studio

Good design Butterfly Tea

Good design Butterfly Tea

Butterfly Tea

Good design Dwelling Macau

Good design Dwelling Macau

Dwelling Macau

Good design Pixel It poster

Pixel It

Good design is unobtrusive Marcin Szmidt

5. Good design is unobtrusive.

Good design is more functional than ornamental, and it shows by being neutral but definitely not dull. They should work and seem like tools - just like Swiss knives, useful but don't demand too much attention.

Good design Bare Essentials for the Graphic Designer

Bare Essentials for the Graphic Designers by Ashwin Patel

Good design Precision & Poetry book

Precision & Poetry in Motion book cover

Good design Geometry of Pasta

Geometry of Pasta

Good design Apotek carrier bag

Apotek carrier bag 

Good design Byredo Parfums

Byredo Parfums

Good design is honest Marcin Szmidt

6. Good design is honest.

A good design isn’t trying to be something fancy or innovative, but basically what you see is what you get.

Good design Kuro Cube

Kuro cube

Good design Maemo identity

Maemo identity

Good design Eco Amp for iPhone

Eco Amp

Good design Eli Kleppe Haiku poster

Eli Kleppe Haiku

Good design Braille Rubiks Cube

Braille Rubiks Cube

Good design is long lasting Marcin Szmidt

7. Good design is long lasting.

Good design does not go along with what's fashionable or trendy, but gives way to something that will last for a long time whether in style or function.

Good design Chanel No. 5 perfume

Good design Chanel No. 5 bottle

Chanel No. 5

Good design Tamara Maksimovic

Tamara Maksimovic

Good design Summerbird Chocolate

Summerbird Chocolate

Good design Moca


Good design is thorough down to the last detail Marcin Szmidt

8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail.

Good design makes it look like its designer knows exactly what it’s doing. Each element of the design and each part of the product is well thought-out and executed with precision. Good design is made with the user in mind, and the user is not left to wonder how it will work out.

Good design Stay Humble Hustle Hard

Good design EXO architect


Good design Popupology


Good design PAR book cover

Par book cover

Good design Sin Lucros BFA Exhibition invitation

Sin Lucros BFA Exhibition invitation

Good design is environmentally friendly Marcin Szmidt

9. Good design is environmentally friendly.

It doesn’t just mean going green. A good design makes both the environment and life in general better. By being simple and minimal, good design saves the product from any visual or environmental pollution.

Good design Five Feelings Chocolat Factory

Five Feelings Chocolat Factory

Good design Xiaomi MI 2

Xiaomi MI 2


Good design 360 Paper Bottle

360 Paper Bottle

Good design ReTurned packaging


Good design Andrea Romani ecological business card

Andrea Romani's ecological business card stamp

Good design Flashkus


Good design is as little design as possible Marcin Szmidt

10. Good design is as little design as possible.

Instead of being burdened with excessive decorations and unnecessary elements, good design knows that less is always better. And with that, it accomplishes being attractive while making sure that it contains only the essentials.

Good design Amatos shirt packaging

Amatos packaging

Good design Cereal Magazine cover

Cereal Magazine

Good design Iota Playing Cards minimalist

Good design Iota Playing Cards minimalist

Iota Playing Cards

Good design Perpetual Calendar minimalist

Good design Perpetual Calendar minimalist

Good design Perpetual Calendar minimalist

Perpetual Calendar

You'll notice that these guidelines give emphasis on being simple, pure and stripping down your design only to the essentials. Your design might not end up as fancy or as eye-catching as you want it to be. But as long as you adhere to these principles in whatever design project you have, you can be sure that it will turn out great.

Done with your design and ready to print? Brochures, business cards, postcards, freebies - we've got it all covered. Head over to our Coupons page now for our current deals and discount offerings to save serious money on high quality print.

If you want to learn more about the principles of graphic design, have a look at this Wikipedia page that explains the basic elements of graphic design.

About the Author

Olivia dela RosaOlivia dela Rosa
Freelance writer and editor since 2011. Major design enthusiast. Resident writer and trendhunter for Printingdeals.


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