Design best practice


Some simple rules of design layout are applicable to all media forms. At minimum, content used should be high quality, as detailed in the points above relating to copywriting, photography etc.

The emotional language of design

An keen awareness of visual language and metaphor allows a designer to tap into a culture’s visual memory to produce either traditional or novel results. Often this is a subconscious memory. Intended recipients may not be aware of the history of a particular design element. They may not know when it was popular as a trend or artistic movement. However, simply due to the amount of visual information we are bombarded with—many recipients will recognise the elements and the associated connotations of their use. This unspoken visual language is ever present in the stylings of everything visual, from fashion, to photography, to typeface design. Just as people respond emotionally to language, or to music, they respond to the emotional language of design.

White space

A rule that applies to all design is that white space is important. There should be sufficient empty area within a design to allow the eye to rest. As a practical example, this means that margins for text areas should be generous. The actual typography that uses the defined text areas should be elegant and not too dense visually. If it looks hard to read, it probably is… and readers will lose interest. By far the most common problem with layout is that clients are keen to provide as much information as possible, no matter the size of the item. Often this results in an overcrowded layout that is unpleasant to look at. The use of word processing features such as word count can be utilised to assist writers to produce and fine tune the quantity of text appropriate for a proposed layout.


The use of design grids in layouts can be helpful. Essentially, design elements including graphic and text are visually aligned into pleasing arrangements. Alternatively, unstructured or broken grids can also be used.

Designing for Print

The strength of print is that it is a traditional media that is easily accessible for a large proportion of the population. It also has the emotional connection of tactile feedback. It is relatively portable and does not require a power supply to use. In many cases it is the only logical choice. It is a media related to the real world, signage, packaging, books, the list of applications goes on.

From a quality point of view, imagery and text has it’s best opportunity to shine in print. Certain colours may not be quite as vivid as video, however the clarity of detail (resolution) is far superior at this point in time. The use of different printing substrates ranging from papers to plastics, pre–mixed spot colours and special printing and embellishing effects allows for an extremely wide array of presentation possibilities.

Material supplied for print should follow these Specifications for Print.

Designing for Motion Graphics

Motion graphics design includes everything from film and video productions for TV advertising, to Flash animations on the web. Designers need to think in terms of time as well as space. The strength of motion graphics is that it appeals to the minds interest in movement and change in an image. Motion captivates, rather than necessarily informs.

Material supplied for motion graphics should follow these Specifications for Motion Graphics.

Designing for Web or Mobile App

Web design includes applications ranging from company intranet to internet websites. It may incorporate technologies including content management systems, e–commerce and databases – alongside content such as text, images, flash movies, video content, PDF, or other document files. Typically clients want a presence on the web. That is an admirable aim, as a surprising number of organisations have either no presence, or a token presence on the web.

Opportunities and Limitations

The web presents a unique opportunity, simply because it is an interactive media. It can be made as smart as a customer can reasonably afford. It can be integrated with business process and evolve in sync with all aspects of an organisation.

Designing for web also involves unique limitations. The area of study known as Human Interface Design provides strong guidance in this area. It evolved to meet the needs of people interacting with software programs and analyses how people respond to graphic user interfaces and navigation systems.

Web usability aspects that cause major problems include;

  • Links that don’t change colour when visited.
  • Breaking the back button.
  • Opening new browser windows.
  • Pop–up windows.
  • Design elements that look like advertisements.
  • Violating Web–wide conventions.
  • Vaporous content and empty hype.
  • Dense content and unscannable text.
  • Lack of accessibility for disabled users (now a legal requirement).

Design for usability

Web users, particularly the demographic that is prepared to buy on the web are a difficult bunch to please. Despite the amazingly cheap cost per page view and the subsequent ability to store masses of information for a user to access, many people use the web to skim for information. If the essentials of what a user wants to discover are not quick and easy to find, they will move elsewhere. Your competitors are also only a click away.

A basic rule for web design is that navigation should not break with user expectations… unless it is part of a unique offering and produces exceptional value for a user. This includes not breaking the navigation features built into all browsers. A user should be able to tell where they are in a site at all times. It should also be obvious how to get from A to B. Designers must plan with the hyperlinked nature of the web in mind, including the depth of hierarchical navigation systems. There should be no more than 3 levels of informational nesting within a site. The minds ability to produce a mental map of the hierarchy is diminished if a site becomes more complex. Users will tend to get lost and frustrated.

Items should be well labelled and appropriately sized. Visual clutter should be kept to an absolute minimum. Structural design considerations are immensely important. For example, in an e–store, user clickable actions such as Add to Cart, and Checkout should be immediately obvious and easy to use. Sadly many e–stores are so poorly designed, a customer who wants to buy may simply give up in disgust and go elsewhere.

How to capitalise on the opportunity

The ability to expose your organisation to a global market, to offer unique services and methods of interacting with your target market are all extraordinary opportunities. The ability to capitalise on the opportunities the web offers requires dedication and focus. Ensure management allocates sufficient development budget. Design your business process appropriately, including any IT support requirements. Finally, ensure effective design of your website.

Material supplied for web should follow these Specifications for Web or Mobile App.