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Message What is good graphic design?


The idea that you can compare all graphic design to each other is not true. There are many graphic design Genres and styles and many have their own key characteristics so we must be careful to consider pieces individually and specific to the intention, its brief or its Genre. The concept of judging graphic design is itself an difficult task as there are many variables like; style, fashion, taste, culture as well as our takes on technical criteria such as balance, font choices, juxtaposition, the ‘golden section’ use of semiotics, fitness for purpose etc, all these things can affect our opinion. Opinion on what is ‘Good’ is also sure to change from designer to designer, client to client, audience to audience, a graphic designer may look at a piece of graphic design in a different way to a member of the public and judge its effectiveness by a different set of criteria? A graphic designer may judge on technical grounds and fitness for purpose whereas the member of the public may be more able to reflect upon the emotional impact the piece has on them as they maybe more removed from technical scrutiny and professional bias? I often become frustrated when a friend becomes excited about a piece of ‘graphic design’ that is ‘merely’ a picture with an obvious Photoshop filter, they may enjoy the image with a ‘purity’ that I can never have as I now tend to judge from a technical point of view (maybe I have become a graphic design snob?) The judgement of a creative outcome is so wrapped up in personal opinion and the influence of many other things that it makes a clear assessment very hard to complete? But in some cases it is important that graphic design is judged to develop ideas (especially in a commercial world) and so we look to sets of rules to do this.

This essay will try to show different ways in which we look at different pieces of graphic design/graphic design genres. I will give examples of contrasting graphic design practice and try to highlight the different ways in which each are judged and by who.

How should we judge?

If we are going to judge graphic design perhaps it is a good idea to firstly identify the pieces Genre as this gives us more of an idea of its characteristics and sets of rules that we can use to help us make a decision.

Genres and their characteristics

As I have stated previously, we should perhaps break down graphic design into different genres if we are to conduct any accurate judging of work. By breaking down the blanket term ‘Graphic Design’ we can identify specific genres of practice and then from this begin to think about the characteristics of each genre from where we can begin to ‘judge’. Here’s a list of some graphic design Genres I began to consider; Advertising graphics, Corporate and Branding, Layout design, Guerilla graphics, Applied graphics, Graphic art, Illustration etc. When looking at the characteristics of the different genres from this list I started to see some similarities. I started to realise that there were different approaches to graphic design practice? And that each approach has a slightly different set of rules to judge from. To show what I mean I have chosen two different approaches to contrast, each approach has a different Context and as the context changes so do the way in which we judge the works quality and impact? The first example is a commercial approach to graphic design, working for a client or for a commercial purpose (graphics for advertising, layout design, corporate design etc.) The second approach is a less commercial form of graphic design,( independent graphic art practice, personal practice, Guerrilla graphics, Illustration) where the designer works less with a brief and concentrates more on developing a personal style perhaps a bit more like fine art practice and companies or clients seem to approach them instead as the company wants their style?

Formal graphic design practice

The characteristics/process of making a piece of commercial graphic design could involve; Working for a client (client based) which creates some limitations as you work to ultimately please them. Quite often working on communicating to a target audience, basing your designs on the research that you’ve done, creating for the audience’s eyes, making visual images that are not necessarily to your own personal taste. There are also technical ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ so it’s a challenge to make technically correct designs keeping to layout and branding theory. The challenge of producing a good piece of commercial graphic design maybe; To be as creative as possible within tight guidelines of the brief (from the designers point of view) a good outcome from the point of view of the client may just be an outcome which is fit for the purpose, communicates well to the intended audience, continues to create awareness of the brand/product and ultimately helps to sell the brand/product.

Advertising and Branding

“Fanta” And example of corporate graphics could be the work on the Fanta product below for the coca cola brand; As you can see in figure 1,2,3 and 4 I have used the soft drink brand “Fanta” as an example of Graphic design that can be seen everyday within society. “Fanta” (owned by coca cola) is already a strong product that is noticed worldwide because of the strong identity that the brand has created over time. It has become noticeable because “Fanta” has created a strong communication with their audience using their signature colour which is a vibrant orange and signature imagery, Using the colour orange, is a representation of the product’s orange flavour, which is clear to see the reason why they have used it,.this has not changed drastically for many years even though there have been many advertising campaigns which tends to suggest that a graphic designer has set rules in the brief when coca cola approach them. It may not be obvious to see but each detail is designed to balance the whole “Fanta” identity, it supports the use of colour orange, but importantly the product itself. An important factor is also the environment it will be displayed in, a piece of graphic design should lend itself well to its surrounding and work well within the space. As part of the campaign the advertising is seen on shop windows above allowing the fluidity of the design to come into its own and make sense. The designer would have been given the space or made aware of its dimensions and have to consider this as another ‘rule’ to follow in the brief. A designer working with Fanta would have to work within this already established identity, having to conform to existing ideas to match the product and please the client.

But is this example good or bad design? From a clients point of view it continues to create awareness, show the product identity, creates a link between product and audience, creates desire? and ultimately sells the product so its probably deemed a success (perhaps this could be judged by sales during and after the campaign is launched) From a graphic designers point of view you could say that its a technically strong example that is fit for purpose but did it give the designer pleasure, did they feel they were creative, was there a sense of satisfaction? or was it just a job to pay the bills?

Creative graphic design practice

The second example I have chosen is an example of ‘Guerrilla Graphics’ by the ‘artist’ Banksy. Banksy is often thought of as an artist but I believe his work is more influenced by Graphic design than fine art and that he falls into the category of ‘Graphic Artist’ producing work that is not intentionally commercial (although his motives may now have changed as he becomes commercially successful?). The characteristics/process of creating a piece of Guerrilla graphics could be; This form of graphic design share characteristics with art practice, its a way to express yourself that involves your own opinions and thoughts, using images to give a message, which is similar to a fine art process but using a graphic medium instead. The work is less ‘client based’ and more about personal reflection, social commentary and expression, it also allows the ‘Graphic artist’ to formulate a personal style and pleasure is given to the artist from the creative process and act of producing. A graphic artist may more often than not work freelance and be approached by clients as a result of their style and approach. The measure of a successful piece of Guerrilla graphics is a much more personal experience, it’s about the act of producing and the enjoyment of displaying and viewing.

Guerilla Graphics “Banksy”

I’ve decided to use Banksy’s as an example because I believe that he has become a inspiration to society, and has lead other’s to express themselves through street art. Banksy’s work is known across the world similar to worldwide brands such as “Fanta”, but instead of directing his work to a specific audience or working for a client, or going out to intentionally make money he uses street art to express his inner thoughts and opinions. His work is controversial as it may encourage people to stop and analyse and enjoy it but at the same time it may cause others to reject it as ‘vandalism’, which I believe is part of the beauty of the work and part of its importance. We have our own opinions, thoughts and beliefs which help us decide whether we like a piece of work or not, this goes beyond the technical quality of a piece of work. Fashion also has an effect on how we judge, some may now not like the work of Banksy as it is now seen to be too commercial, some may not like it as it is no longer new, and some may no longer respect it as it has been copied too many times and has lost its original impact. I still like his work as it speaks to me about my life, where I have grown up and in a visual language (graffiti) that I am familiar with! Banksy has his critics for exactly the same reasons showing that it is ultimately down to personal taste.


My conclusion is that whilst there is definitely not a single set of rules to judge all graphic design with we can look at different examples and judge them by different sets of rules or look for certain qualities. I think that when we look at a piece of work that it is important to judge it within the context in which it has been made. We can judge a piece of design on technical merit, the way it looks, commercial impact and its impact on society but ultimately the way in which we judge is mainly down to personal taste. Good graphic design is ultimately whatever we think it is and as long as we can justify our decisions and are prepared to discuss them then this is ultimately a positive thing!


Banksy’s piece: “Fanta” images: Moving Brand: Non-Format: Street Art: Basic Graphic Design knowledge:

What is good graphic design?  
What is good graphic design?  

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