How do you know when it’s good?

Real Arters weigh-in on the art of recognizing a good thing.

Over the course of every creative project, there comes a time (or maybe thousands of times) when you step back and evaluate your work or the work of the team. But assessing an abstract idea’s journey into real-world design is an art in itself. Appraisal of any kind tends to fall within one of two kinds of measurement: measurement against standards and measurement against ideals.


When we use a yardstick to determine the height of a robot or we make sure the kerning in print piece fits the rules of a brand guide, we’re measuring against a standard. It’s how we know when the explicit requirements of a project have been met. Is this shade of teal the proper hue? Does the text meet the desired character count?

But any creator knows that just meeting standards doesn’t guarantee that something is good.


The second type of measurement is more ineffable and complex. When we measure against an ideal, we unconsciously combine, weigh, and assess too many factors to quantify. It’s the technique we might use to decide if someone is a good person, or if a design concept has that magical zing the client hopes for. Measurement against an ideal is described more often as a feeling or an experience than a pure statement of fact.

From concept to code, here are the ideals that Real Arters use to know when they’ve achieved something good:

“When it looks, feels, sounds, operates, communicates as intended for the overall purpose, it’s good.”
—Joe Althaus, Engineer

“It’s ‘oh my god, that makes perfect sense.’ It’s smart and well designed. It’s meaningful. It’s magic. The colors and shapes are symbolic. All the type matches in the right ways. It’s ‘ah-HA!’
—Crystal Dennis, Design Director

“There are two big clues for me when I’ve written ‘good’ code: 1.) When adding/modifying a feature to the code is not difficult, 2.) I do not break existing functionality when making changes.”
—Tom Spaulding, Front-End Developer

“Hierarchy, balance”
—Reka Juhasz, Graphic Designer

“I consider it ‘good’ when it interacts exactly the way the user would expect it to work, across all mediums. It may not be the exact same experience for each person, but it should be the same level of ease and engagement.“
—Brian Stephens, Front-End Developer

“It’s ‘good’ when: a) I get my expected result b) my performance tests have improved from since the last test c) John, Nathan, Gary, or Dustin say ‘yeah, that works.’ c is optional, of course, but a & b definitely are my required criteria.”
—Ian Kaplan, Web Developer

“In a perfect world, good would mean all of these things: an amazingly crafted finished piece, and the true and right solution to the problem. That said, I don’t think you should ever really know when it’s good, because if you can truly say ‘there is nothing wrong, nothing to change, problem solved, mic drop’ then you will never push your skill level past where it currently rests.”
—Candy Neimeyer, Graphic Designer

“I know it’s good when I can come back to my computer after leaving it alone for a while and I still love it.”
—Andrew Althouse, Senior Designer

“It’s not just when the client is happy, it’s beyond that point. It’s when all the tiny little wrinkles that only we would notice are ironed out, when all the wish list items are addressed, and when I can’t find anything else that could be better.”
—Cody Brown, Videographer

“Cliche answer, but I know something’s good when I’m a little bit jealous that I hadn’t thought of it first. It’s a strange mixture if giving the person a mental tip ’o the hat, and being slightly envious.”
—John Nesbitt, Presentation Layer Developer

“HR isn’t quantifiable as good in the same way a logo or a program or a video is. I use the people test. Are most people genuinely happy when I interact with them at work? Yes? Well then, that’s good.”
—Casie Lord, Executive Administrative Assistant and Head of HR

“For me, it’s in the details. When I’m making a video, and after I’ve watched it for the thousandth time, and there aren’t any more of those little details jumping out and distracting me AND it creates the reaction or feeling we were hoping for, then “it’s good.” However, it’s better if we’ve achieved “good” and pushed ourselves in the process.”
—Bud Dickman, Video Specialist/Editor

“If it’s something that’s yours: you know it’s good when you want to show it off. If it’s something someone else did: you know it’s good when you wish you’d have thought of it.”
—Cassandra O’Connell, Graphic Designer

“I follow the Supreme Court’s definition of hard-core pornography: I know it when I see it”
—Gary Riggins, Software Engineer

“You know the feeling you get when you reach the last page of a book and you get excited and sad? Feeling that is when you know it’s good.”
—Helen Weselcouch, Designer/Producer

“When I’ve tried a bunch of things but keep coming back to that one idea.”
—Jenn Gobrail, Art Director

“The more I sample from different disciplines of creative, the more my definition of “good” shifts.”
—Saundra Marcel, Creative Director

“If I look in the mirror and I see the character before I see me, that’s good.”
—Shelby White, Front-End Developer

“If I look back and the project is actually detached from me… making me think… crap… who even did that? How could I do something like that again? Those are the winners.”
—Sara Hinegardner

“I know when it’s good when I present a concept, design, or proposal and the reaction from the client says it all. It’s the best feeling and one that everyone at Real Art makes possible for me all the time with clients because they are all amazing!”
—Alison Westfall, Account Executive

“An idea is good when it’s so simple, obvious and familiar that I feel like I’ve seen or heard of it before yet it’s never actually been done and completely new. An idea is great when I think ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’”
—Chris Wire, CEO

Got you hooked? Here’s more:


Should Everyone Learn to Code?
Real Arters respond to a key conundrum of modern day computing

Good Design

By Hand
The simple power of putting pen to paper


On Inspiration
How nostalgia and pop culture create incredible ideas

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