“What does it take to get a good job? What if I’m not sure what type of job I want? Can I, or should I consider working for myself?” As a rising, creative professional, you’re likely to ask yourself many questions. Sometimes it’s tough to know where to go for answers. As both a seasoned instructor in a design college and a professional in the industry who keeps her ear to the ground, I’ll do my best to provide you with the straight scoop when it comes to this crazy, yet fulfilling world of design.
For this edition, I’ve chosen to respond to a question from a student from IADT- Online. He asks:
When critiquing your or someone else’s work, what are some criteria to look for that give you a way to contrast what is good design and what needs work?
Well, as a student you learn the principles of good design in your classes. Things like typography, design fundamentals, and color theory just to name a few. Then, as you begin to better grasp those concepts, you can begin comparing your work and seeing how well you (or someone else) used principles of good design such as contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. You can also ask yourself about the quality of the typography and color use.
Again, you need to have learned these basics to be able to clearly ask yourself how well you adhered to them (or how well a fellow student you are critiquing did), so having paid good attention to what was taught in your typography and layout classes is important. You can also review the books that came with those classes if you feel you did not retain enough, or want to go further in your understanding. Try to look out for other good design books and/or start reading design blogs and other online resources for a deeper understanding. In addition to your classes, some great books on fundamentals include The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams (no, not the comedian) and Design Basics Index by Jim Krause. Books like these outline the basics of what you want to look for in your design work to help figure out if what you are creating is at least good design in terms of the fundamental rules and concepts.
Some other suggestions would be to examine good work by professionals. Check out trade magazines like Communication Arts, How, and Step-By-Step Graphics. This will help you to expand beyond what you see in class. Your fellow students may be very talented in addition to yourself. Still, the best way to learn about what makes good design is to look at good design. Get on the Internet and dive into magazines or pick up design annuals, read the articles, and immerse yourself in anything that inspires you. When you see what the profession itself views as cutting edge, quality design, as well as what it views as poor design, you’ll be better able to figure out what about your work, or the work of your fellow classmates, needs or already has that makes it quality design work. Basically, it comes down to having learned the rules of good design (layout, type, color, etc.), learning what makes cutting edge design, and then asking yourself how well you (or someone else) did.
Other questions you can ask yourself while critiquing are “Did this design clearly communicate what it was supposed to?” and “Did it solve the problem it was supposed to solve?” For example, if you are critiquing an advertisement for sneakers for senior age women and the designer used corroded fonts and colors that would be very popular to young men, then it’s not hitting its target market. Design has to be functional. So beyond good design principles, does it also effectively communicate? Many experts in the field of design will tell you that what is most important, more than your knowledge of the programs we use to create work, or the design skills themselves, is creativity and the ability to visually communicate. This gets into a more subjective area in some respects, but it’s still easy to look at something, understand what it’s supposed to communicate, and ask yourself, “Does it really do that effectively?” Also remember to be considerate when critiquing yourself or others. Wherever possible don’t just say, “That doesn’t work” or “I don’t like that.” Instead try to explain why and also offer suggestions about what could be done to improve it. The keyword in giving constructive criticism in a critique is “constructive.”
Lastly, realize that the art of critique is actually one of the best ways to improve your own design. The more you look at design work, whether someone professional or a fellow student’s, ask yourself why it works or not and what could be done to improve it. By practicing this method, you will be able to find the flaws and strengths in your own work with more ease and improve it accordingly. You will, in this way, begin to develop an “eye” for good design.