Good graphic design versus great graphic design

Sometimes you’ll see an advertisement, a piece of marketing material, a website or some corporate stationery that stands out as special. It’s often hard for the layperson to put their finger on exactly what makes the difference between a piece of graphic design that’s just good and something that is truly great.

At Baker Marketing we believe that getting your marketing strategy right before commencing your design process is essential. Design based on sound marketing strategy results in increased brand awareness levels and ‘cut-through’, greater brand recognition and increased sales and profits for your brand and business.

The most important elements of marketing strategy to get right before commencing a design process are:

  • Primary and Secondary Target Markets. Know which segments of your marketplace are the most profitable for you to focus your design investment.
  • Customer Needs Analysis. Gain an intimate understanding of the needs of your target markets so that your design outcomes will gain their attention and delight them.
  • Desired Brand Positioning. Bring design expertise and marketing strategy together to create synergies and the desired perception of your brand, and products or services, in the minds of the target markets’ members.

With the right marketing strategy guiding decision-making, creating a great piece of graphic designs often boils down to these five main ingredients: design principles, simplicity, details, accuracy, and knowing the rules and when to break them.

Design principles

Often at the root of great design is an understanding of basic design principles. These principles are what students learn about at design school. They come naturally to most designers but aren’t often consciously considered by the experienced designer. But just look at any great piece of great design and you’ll see there principals at work:

  • Contrast. Separating elements using, colour, tone, shape, size or direction.
  • Repetition. Creative cohesiveness by repeating design elements.
  • Alignment and Proximity. Positioning elements to create a visual pathway and hierarchy.


As any writer will tell you, keeping a story simple takes work. It’s the same with design. The hard work in graphic design is taking away what is un-neccessary until all you are left with is the essentials — while avoiding the trap of creating something simplistic.

Getting the process of simplification right comes from understanding the objectives and the audience. It starts with understanding the marketing strategy, listening to the client and asking the right questions. The best designers are great listeners! When a designer understands the brief and achieves it with less, the result is often an elegantly simple, great solution.


When I talk about details, I’m taking about the little things that make a big difference. Sometimes these may not even be apparent to the casual observer. I’m talking about a subtle texture here, a border there, tweaking the colour of an image or the spacing of the type within a single word. Once the designer has a achieved simplicity sometimes a hint of complexity can achieve greatness.


Great graphic design work is accurate. If the elements in a design are meant to align, the great designer makes sure they are perfectly aligned. If two elements should be the same colour they make sure there is not a hint of difference between them.

Making sure copy is accurate, free from spelling or grammatical mistakes and typos is essential too and the area in which many designers fall into mediocrity. Checking and double-checking work is the only way to achieve accuracy. The graphic designer should never leave it to the client, or their audience, to find a mistake.

Know the rules and when to break them

Who said things have to be a certain way?

There are lots of rules in graphic design and following them can ensure that a designer doesn’t unintentionally draw attention to something that is not meant to stand out.

But as author and designer David Jury wrote “Rules can be broken — but never ignored.”

Great graphic design often breaks or bends the rules designers set for themselves or breaks out of the mould that the audience expects. The result can be something that surprises and delights!

Going from good to great

At Baker Marketing, marketing strategy underpins every graphic design project we undertake, and our graphic designers create great work because they understand the ingredients above. Talk to us about your next project and help us make it great!

Image by Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons