The subtle art that differentiates good designers from great designers

Comparisons can be difficult. The concept of relativity, by which we ascertain that a particular subject is better than another subject, allows us to choose the better among the best. It helps us in making decisions effectively. And even when humans have no innate means of determining the value of something, we often evaluate things on the basis of emotions and experiences.

Clearly, most of our decisions are based on gut level. A design that solves our problems, a design that adds value overpowers a design which just looks pretty. It’s head versus heart that allows us to differentiate between perfect and defective.

Bringing that subtle difference into your designs is what separates a great designer from a good designer. Like any other art, you don’t design something because it’s required. You design something because it fulfills the gap between needs and requirement. It’s shaped by how well it answers “why we are doing this?” or how it solves the purpose.

Not everybody can be famous. But everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Now that we recognize this subtle distinction, let’s see the difference between good and great designers-

For great designers, a critique is a critique. Not an insult.

As a designer, you’ve probably had the experience of working with an over-skilled and over-confident customer who is always asking for more revisions in designs. And you would often hear them saying “If only I knew Sketch, I would have never troubled you”

Critique in design

Every bit of it is frustrating, right?

But you know what? Great designers do not bow down to criticism. This is the first difference between good and great designers. Great designers take every criticism in their stride. They do not sit down to work just to get paid and get it off their shoulder as soon as possible. Wanting to finish any design in a hurry is a trap that you set for yourself- it will eventually lead you to failure. Unhappy customer; demotivated you.

Start with why. Understand what ails your user. After that sit down with a clear mindset, put down every design skill that you acquired, on paper. Understand that even your customer has some deadline. So do not produce an output for the heck of it. Respect each other’s time and ideas.

The design process is a human-centered approach to solve daily problems with empathy. So, naturally, you can not get it right in one go. It will come to you in phases. If you take every feedback as constructive criticism, you will slowly move your way up. You will eventually start seeing the faults in your work. You will gradually start looking at the missing silver lining. You will finally learn to see the difference between ordinary and extraordinary.

By virtue, we all are prone to self-doubt. Damn the world! Become your own worst critic. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate. Do it till the world bends on its knees. Most of the advice will sound very generic. But that’s how it works. Here are our two cents-

  • Don’t get too obsessed with the details. Get married to the problem, not your solution.
  • Don’t be too cocky. Keep designing, keep iterating, keep talking to your users. This will help you improve.
  • Do not spread out in multiple directions. Start with baby steps in one direction.
  • Do not be afraid of failure or rework. Criticize your designs before anyone else does.

Great designers are ambitious and determined

Let’s face this, becoming a great designer is stupidly difficult. But Oh! Wait, Becoming a designer was your childhood dream, right? Is design something that you can do in your sleep?


Great designers do not wear any halo. They are people with SMART goals. They are ambitious and determined to the point that they can drive inspiration from everywhere- whether it’s a walk in the woods or a getaway to a foreign land, they’ll find new shapes & different hues to find a new muse.

They don’t compete with other designers, they compete with themselves. They don’t work to earn praises, they work to be a better version of themselves. They focus on execution, not results. They aim to solve the problem, not just social acceptance. Ambitious designers expose themselves to new ways of thinking. They move away from tried-and-tested methods and use their creativity to find a unique style, a new approach to old problems.

Great designers simplify everything, habitually

simple design

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak,” said painter Hans Hofmann.

Simplifying things is not only important in branding and design, but it also applies in life, in general. Great designers have an eye for detail; they question the necessity of every element. See too many colors? They bring it back to monotone or dual-tone. Too many micro-interactions? Cut it down, mate! Great designers establish order, even if it means breaking certain rules.

At its heart, the design seeks to solve problems. So sweat out the details. Play along with colors, interactions, typography, icons, and shadows. Revisit areas where the user might face friction while interacting, re-do what is the most simple way to perform a task. All these details separate the good from the bad. While the stunning visuals do attract people, the user experience is actually an altogether different thing.

It’s like opening a window to an amazing view but taking utmost care to shield it against unwanted noise from surroundings. It’s about taking care of aesthetics without compromising on experience.

Great designers think more, design less

And they do it like a boss. The buzzword for this phrase is “Minimalism”. Minimalism is not about losing something. It’s about having the right amount of everything. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, she defines tidying as “taking each item in your hand, asking yourself whether it sparks joy, and deciding on this basis whether or not to keep it”.

Think more design less

Great designers weigh their options in a similar way. They think twice as much as needed before stuffing a website/application with all the design knowledge they possess. They stay cautious with colors, they take care of white space, they worry about contrast, alignment and fret about every small detail.

Great designers sketch more. They make use of pen and paper and use it as an outlet for ideas. Their design decision is devoid of user-bias and they take user feedback for every conflicting decision.

Great designers think about the user, all the time

user centric design

When Sony sells their TV, they conduct worldwide user research through home visits and user interviews in order to incorporate the user’s perspective from the very beginning of product lifecycle. Before a new product is launched, Sony reaches its consumers and tests on the various factors such as viewability, understandability, and responsiveness. On the basis of results, Sony repeats this cycle while continuously correcting usability problems.

Similarly, great designers worry about every small issue that the user might face, like- how to solve the cart abandonment issue? How to make user on-boarding more intuitive? How can we make shopping experience pleasing? How can we make a 3-step checkout process?

A fellow designer Anton Nikolov says- “Becoming a great designer is a different story. It is almost an endless road. It is crazy exciting!” He declares himself as “NOT a Great Designer”. Are you too caught up in the rubble?

If you have experiences that illustrate the difference between good and great designers, share it with us in comments. We would love to hear your thoughts.

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