bbG Blog

What is good design, really?

To answer these questions, we must first find out what design really is. Most people – even some designers – perceive design as visual accessories that are added to the business or a product after it’s done. Sad reality is that many of my past freelance design gigs only requested my services at the end of the product development process. It was like putting decorations up on a Christmas tree, but that tree might as well be a birch.

Let me tell you why that’s bad. According to Brandon Hill, design as far as startups are concerned can be split into three categories, the first being user experience, the second marketing, and lastly, branding. For the purpose of this particular discourse I’d like to propose an even simpler categorisation, and that is:

  • How it looks
  • How it works

‘It’ referring to the startup or product in discussion.

So we’ve established that design is much more than just visual aesthetics, even though it is also a part of the definition. Or, as Steve Jobs once put it:

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

What makes design “good”?

Okay, but what makes design good then? Well, we could certainly follow Dieter Ram’s principles as they did in the Startups, This is How Design Works, but I feel those are somewhat abstract for your everyday entrepreneur just trying to bootstrap her way up to the riches.

Inevitably, what’s good for business, must also be beneficial for the customer – or else, you’d be out of customers pretty soon. It follows that good design is tailored around customers, and also helps solve a need that they have.

Let’s take an example of Airbnb and their recent redesign. After the release, many people started complaining about how unoriginal the new logo is – but similarity between logos happen all the time. There is a limited number of options, anyway.

What makes the redesign good is not the somewhat generic-looking BÉLO, but the consistency that they’ve implemented into their branding. Their social profiles, website, apps, and ads all feature the same squiggly line, the same colors, and even the same custom font called ‘Air’. This helps customers recognise the extensiveness of this brand and makes them trust it more (Hey, if they’re everywhere, they must be pretty competent, right?).

Of course product design is another very important aspect – their website’s and apps’ design are always tailored to offer the best user experience possible for users looking for and renting out real estate.

It’s the same thing with Apple – their products are extremely well designed, but if they were launched outside their big Apple brand, wouldn’t be nearly as successful.

So there it is. Good design is building a product around users and keeping its branding consistent.

So Aesthetics Don’t Really Matter?

After reading the last couple of paragraphs you might think “Ok, but then I needn’t hire a Dribbble celebrity. I’ll just get someone to create something consistently ugly and we’re set”.

And you wouldn’t be so wrong.

Let’s take a look at an example. There is this company called Ling’s Cars. Their website is horrendous, but it’s definitely consistent with the rest of their straight up crazy marketing efforts. And judging by the numbers in the following video of Dragons’ Den, this ‘ugly branding’ is doing them just fine.

But of course you’re probably not a startup that advertises with tanks and missiles, so a nice-looking website will definitely make you more money. And that’s why you need to hire design talent. People don’t know exactly what makes one site better-designed than another, but they still trust attractive websites more. If you’re DIY-ing, here’s how you can improve your design.

You need the whole package. Polished landing pages, an intuitive product, and consistent branding. And that’s why good designers are expensive.


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