Self-assessment of your design work

Sometimes an assessment of design work happens in silo, when a designer doesn't have their colleagues in the room to help them identify if the work is done. If I find myself in a situation when I have to make a sole decision on the readiness of my work (it might be as a preparatory step before I show up at a design critique with my team) I apply a self-assessment technique that I commonly use in my art practice. I found that this technique is quite applicable for my design work too, regardless of the design space I’m working in. It could be a publication, a logo, UI or marketing materials.

As I already mentioned, the main purpose of self-assessment is to identify whether a design work is done. It’s an opportunity to recognize incomplete areas of the work or areas that seem a bit off and to then decide on methods and techniques to improve these areas.

The stages of the process I describe below are optional. It always depends on the project goal, its requirements and particular use cases which of these makes sense to use.

Step one. Look at the full picture

The very first step I take to assess my work is I look at the full picture to evaluate how the elements of my design are working together. If each of them “speak” to each other. To be able to do that properly I leverage the Principles of Design:

  1. Balance
  2. Emphasis
  3. Movement, direction of movement
  4. Unity and harmony
  5. Proportion and scale
  6. Pattern, rhythm, repetition
  7. Variety

The definition of each of these terms can be easily found by googling. I’d rather want to focus on how to apply them. This is how I’d look into each while assessing my work:

Balance

  • Are there any elements that can be removed or moved without affecting the overall balance to simplify the design?
  • Are there any areas that seem empty or cluttered? Is it intentional or does it make the composition seem uneven?
  • Is there any sense of weight of an object, color, texture, or space that makes the work seem skewed?

Emphasis

  • What area of my design catches attention first?
  • Is this the right area where I want the viewer's attention to go?

Movement, direction of movement

  • How’s the viewer’s eye taken through my design? Do I want it to go from top to bottom or from left to right?
  • Is there anything in my design that obstructs the movement? Was it made on purpose?

Unity and harmony

  • Do all elements work well together to support the main theme of the design? Or do they interfere with each other?
  • Do all areas seem like cohesive parts of the whole?
  • Do all areas and elements seem equally complete?

Proportion and scale

  • Does the size of all elements in my work relate to each other supporting unity?
  • Is there an element in my design which size draws the viewer's attention to a particular area in my work? Does it support areas I want to emphasize?
  • Are there any disproportionate objects in my design? Is it intentional?
  • Does the format of my work help support the design, or does it break it?

Pattern, rhythm, repetition

  • Do I use pattern, rhythm, repetition in my work?
  • Does repetition of elements give a sense of unity in my work?
  • Does rhythm support the movement in the work?
  • Do I use the pattern for decorative or supportive purposes? If I remove the pattern, would it change the mood of the work?

Variety

  • Do I have enough variations of elements to support the mood of the work?
  • Are there too many variants of elements to keep the viewer’s attention?
  • Are there too few variants that make the work look boring?
  • Can I add more variety of elements without breaking the overall design? How might it help support the design?

Step two. Analyze the details

Even after I have analyzed my work by applying design principles, the process is still incomplete until I look at each element of my design in detail. To make sure each element performs its job as intended. On this second step I get help from the basics of art and designs that are usually called the Elements of Design. Although there are debates of how many elements we actually need and have, I prefer to pay my attention to six of them:

  1. Color
  2. Line
  3. Shape
  4. Texture
  5. Value
  6. Space

There are plenty of resources online describing these elements. I’m going to focus on how I use them to examine if my work is complete.

Color

  • Does the color scheme I use in my work (monochromatic, complementary, analogous, triad, tetradic etc.) support the design?
  • Do the colors I chose work well together? Is there a color that seems off?
  • What emotions do these colors convey? Does it support the theme of my work?

Line

  • What characteristics does my line have: weight, shape?
  • Do my lines support the rhythm and movement in my work?
  • Do my lines support the mood of my work by being soft or edgy?

Shape

  • Do the shapes and lines I use work well together?
  • How many shapes do I use in my work? Is it too many or too few? Can I simplify it or add more shapes?
  • Is there any shape that gets in the way of the viewer’s eye?

Texture

  • Do I use any texture in my work?
  • How does the texture I use support the design?
  • If I remove the texture would it break the design?

Value

  • Is my design light or dark? Is it how I want it to be?
  • Are there parts in my design that are too dark (or too light)? Does it interfere with harmony?
  • Are there any areas that blend too much into each other when I squint?

Space

  • Is there any object in space that makes my work seem unbalanced? Is it intentional?
  • Is there any area or an object that has more space around? Is this the area or an object I want to stand out?
  • Does spacing support the rhythm in my work?

A list of design elements and design principles that use as a reminder

These two steps summarize the whole process that I repeat until I’m happy with the result. The beauty of this method is that I can use it anytime in my design process. I don’t necessarily use it in each of my design work. Oftentimes this analysis happens unconsciously. But in times when I don’t feel happy with my work, or in times when I feel stuck, it often helps determine what’s wrong and how to fix it.

Hope you find this process or parts of this possess useful in your everyday work or in your creative side projects. If you have any questions I’m happy to chat on Twitter or Linkedin.