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10 Rules to Properly Judge Commercial Design

Motivated by the many simple opinions announced in digital and graphic media, the well-known Argentinean designer Adrián Pierini, enlist 10 essential points that clients, marketing and creative people, should ALWAYS consider when evaluating strategic design pieces.

This article may be a bad one… or it may be good. How would we evaluate it? Which criterion would we use? Our experience? Our literary knowledge? Our interest in the subject? Or may be our low or high expectations of it?

Actually, depending on the approach to something, we would obtain different visions on the same reality. Perhaps as many as human beings on Earth, who have influence in the way we understand our environment and everything contained in it. Nowadays, when visual culture is more and more powerful, graphic design is not an exception. New launchings are judged with different parameters which, in many cases, are not truthful. Evaluating a design piece is, paradoxically, as simple as complex. Simple, as superficiality tempts us and seduces us to think only in the aesthetic and the tangible side as an argument. Complex, as we need more than a good criterion; we have to know how to read between the lines in order to talk with suitability about the design.

Then, how could we establish a more accurate opinion on this problem? Which are the golden rules I should consider when evaluating a communicational piece?

I retail 10 points that should not go unnoticed and that, humbly, are no more than conclusions I reached after many years of experience.

Rule Nº 1

Pretty and ugly do not exist

The job of strategic designer does not always imply creating pretty, shocking or grandiloquent things, but he should ALWAYS achieve the client’s commercial aims. The visual communicator is just an instrument, a medium that uses objective rationality to reach the subjective emotion of the target. No more, no less than that.

Rule Nº 2

The underlying story of the design cannot be cancelled

When we express our opinion on a piece, we must know its background. That would allow us to understand the evolution of the launching and the aesthetic. To innovate does not mean to “ignore”, and that is why there are many developments in the market that, despite the fact that they are not very innovative, they are a great example of the respect for the brand history and the consumers’ feeling for it.

Rule Nº 3

The aims to achieve cannot be ignored

As I said at the beginning of the article, there is a bad tendency to the superficial valuation of the design projects, and that relativity is a consequence of how they ignore what has determined the layout. What were they looking for with a redesign? Why did they apply a radical change? Did the brand need to go back to its origins? Was there an identification problem at the sales point that required a change in the structure? The overrating of the global tendencies and the forced comparisons between categories, usually incompatibles, turn out to be some of the vices that underlie in many professional argumentations which, sadly, destroy an efficient piece, just because it does not align with the general tendency.

Rule Nº 4

To consider always the customs and cultures in which the design must interact

Those who know the problem of brand-packaging will agree with me when I state that an aesthetic resource cannot be applied at random. The sense of colours, of shapes, of words varies from one continent to another, from one country to another, from one province to another and even… from one family to another. Action and Reaction must be the motto. Strategic design must be subdue to the strictest laws of supply and demand, and it is basic to understand that demand. And with good reason, the consumers bear a great amount of feelings, emotions and valuations, made through conscious or unconscious messages from their parents and grandparents. This cultural heritage will determine whether the proposal will be admitted or rejected, and there is little critics can do to escape this basic rule. A designer must speak for the target, his/her basic reason will consist in taking the client’s message and translate it in an appropriate language, able to reach consumers in a focusing way and to generate a solid, specific, lasting, and above all authentic emotional dialogue.

Rule Nº 5

To know the technical limitations and the current legislations

When speaking about a design, some aspects must be considered such as the requirements of implementation of the category, the laws in the country, or the physic characteristics that the product demands. Factors such as the printing system, the types of material on which an art can be applied (this implies many important themes, as ink absorption, clarity and bright possibilities, toxicity of the material, etc), the local level of technological development, the abilities and knowledge of the people involved in the process, the care in supervision, the adequate deal in the later distribution, etc. are enough reasons to generate, in the different aesthetics, an inequality in quality. It is not the same to create a wine label than a packaging for chewing gums. It is not the same to print in offset on an extra white and high quality paper, than in flexography in 4 colours, on polythene.

Rule Nº 6

Context eventualities and strategic reactions rules

Big companies are always alert to the market movements. Not every development has an organized process. When a competitor threats with the launching of an innovative product which will attack the category, marketing teams react rapidly and look to face the novelty with different resources, packaging design included. In this context of movements and vertigo, priorities are modified, aesthetic factors are more functional than ever, and layouts become the spokesman of the defensive strategy. When analyzing a design, it is important to consider this situation. Was it fast? Was it effective?... It was excellent!

Rule Nº 7

To consider the amount of funds assigned to the idea

The lack of money generates an interesting duality: in some cases, it becomes one of the main causes of degradation in a design and in others; it contributes to the emergence of creative solutions, when the lack of resources turns out to be the principal advantage of the layout. Now, although it is true that some designers had known (or were able to) explode the lack of funds, that does not generally occur. It does not necessarily have to be with inability, but with the influence of many external factors, where we can include the client’s fear of making incursions into ground-breaking ideas, the impossibility of implementing innovative ideas on a large scale, the necessity of being direct in order to minimize the risk of making mistakes in the message decodification, etc.

When judging, then, one should be benign and value the huge effort some designers have to make to reach worthy solutions in such adverse circumstances.

Rule Nº 8

To evaluate the design in the codes of its category

One cannot pretend that a coffee looks like a perfume or that a box of cereal looks like a soap powder. Each area has established, as time went by, a language that consumers understand rapidly, and that helps them to detect the product in an immediate way in the market shelves.

When judging an art, it is fundamental to frame it in these characteristics. In that way, one can understand better the election of the typography, the images and even the shape of the pack.

Rule Nº 9

To consider the achievement of the commercial aims as a parameter of success

Is it right to establish that a successful packaging is designed badly? Can we argue that a layout is inadequate just because convention states that beauty is a synonym of creativity? No.

My experience tells me that although a good aesthetic makes undoubtedly a message more effective, it does not guarantee commercial success, and even less to reach consumers’ hearts. A strategic packaging is not a decorative element; we are not talking about trophies with the ones we can presume how pretty it looks. There are products with questionable aesthetics which maintains inalterable and, even so, people love them. Others have gone backwards, looking to eliminate their image of extreme modernity, as they realized that strategy has separated them from the consumers. Every point detailed in this article demonstrates that a critic must be deeper and indissoluble of its circumstances and context. Above all, resources must head towards selling and, with that aim, we should then establish what is really convenient.

Rule Nº 10

To see beyond and to understand that an analyzed design is the beginning of something greater

At last, it is fundamental not to be content with the first impression. When watching a piece, one must understand that packaging is the spearhead of multiple messages and subsequent actions. A correct design is the one which offers conceptual and aesthetic elements, able to maintain and nourish the commercial strategy. To evaluate an art in the longer term, there are two basic points to be considered: the functional aspect, I mean, the ability of the layout to allow an expansion and new lines; to generate through by-products a solid and consistent brand image. On the other side, the emotional aspect, how the elements in the composition will create a solid and lasting bond between the consumers and the product.


In this article, I intended to transform the judges or critics toward design pieces. Many marketing people and designers express their opinion knowing few or nothing about the piece, diminishing a work that took months, or even years. Judging is easy; to do it properly is not.

Just seeing some web sites and reading the debate towards a new launching is enough. Even though there are some fine opinions, many are too simple, basic and even degrading. Those who worked in this marvelous discipline can really benefit and grow with the critics, but these, to be adequate, should be based on valid arguments and in something concrete, in the reality. That is why knowing the underlying causes will create a more respectful atmosphere, a healthier and more constructive debate.

Appropriateness in the category and in the target, optimum decoding, efficient transmission of the aims and commercial success, are some of the main arguments a professional designer should take into account when judging and expressing opinion. A packaging does not always have to be “modern”, “innovating”, and “ground-breaking”. Professionals in strategic communication do not have to design for the vanguard, but always, ALWAYS, look for effectiveness.


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