What makes a design "good"?

“The Book Designer” competition for a design award badge

eBook cover design award badge competition on thebookdesigner.com

Alerted by my good friend Winnie Anderson to Joel Friedlander’s competition, I entered last week. I’m not a bit competitive, so this was a leap into the unknown! He wanted a new design to replace his current award badge for the best ebook cover design each month. He’s now posted a selection of entries and asked people to vote: https://dzyn.biz/awardbadgecompetition

So what does make a design “good”?

From a visual and aesthetic point of view, the answer is entirely subjective to the untrained eye; a design either works or it doesn’t. But behind the creation of every design …be it a car, a book or a website, there is one crucial question: “Is it fit for purpose?” Design is far from skin-deep and requires objective analysis and thought.

As a lover of icons generally, I took a forward-looking approach to the award badge, reflecting that ebooks are opening up new possibilities for designers beyond the constraints of print, and because I think Joel’s regular cover design award would translate into an iOS app very well ….but I’m well aware that the stylised look won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Seeing the other competition entries has made me aware that even designers sometimes overlook the importance of clear branding, visual distinction and scalability.

These are my criteria for the design:


This is specifically TheBookDesigner.com award! On the old badge, the website URL – which is Joel’s only evident branding – was not very visible. I had a problem with it’s length, so I discarded the www (ebook authors and designers should know how URLs work). I feel that I have strengthened the connection between Joel’s website and the award by using the brand colour for the URL and placing it first followed by Award.

Design is about making decisions on where to put emphasis. Some entrants have focussed on the word “Fiction”, others on “Month 2013” and others on “Design”. One has the words Gold Star large on a ….yup, a gold star, while the rest of the messaging is insignificant.

Visual Distinction

The internet is awash with badges and seals of all types, including guarantees, splash announcements etc. I wanted to create a badge that instantly communicated the connection with books and had a fresh distinctive look that would work on the majority of winners’ websites.


At smaller sizes, details are lost and small type becomes illegible. This is a massively important consideration for logo design and I felt was equally important for this badge.

Joel has presented the competition entries at quite a large size, but some of the designs won’t scale well. Most of the other entrants have gone with a small font size for the domain, which will be illegible at smaller sizes. For anyone who cares about accessibility on their website, the award badge needs to be legible.

I’m not by any means saying my design is best. I predict that number 2 by Kit Foster will win because it’s legible and the retro look is so popular …but the fact that it looks like an award for Fiction, not for Cover Design is misleading. IMHO

This is my entry. Please vote for the one you like best: voting closes this Sunday 24th March 2013.

Sue Brettell

Sue is a versatile designer and avid wordsmith on a mission to demystify website design for busy entrepreneurs. She has been self-employed since 1989, increasing her repertoire from book design through branding to website design and has several blogs and ebooks in the pipeline.

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