It's tricky to identify good design because good design is often invisible.
When you see a poster that makes you want to buy a product or you fill out an online form that is quick and easy, did you think about the design? The answer is most likely no.
You know a design is good when it doesn't take precedence over the message.
If you see a poster and are confused with what the product is, that's not good design. If you fill out an online form and it takes a long time because you can't figure out where the "next" button is, that's not good design. While you may not be able to identify what about the design isn’t working, the fact it doesn’t work makes it bad design.
If you are a graphic designer, the most important thing to realize about design is that the audience is key. A great way to ensure your design is done well is to take into account the audience's needs, habits and preferences and then design to meet those needs.
Once the audience is taken into account, also remember that good design is frequently utilitarian. That is, it does the job it is meant for and the usefulness of the design trumps the visual element. If your design allows the message you are trying to convey to take priority, it's doing its job.
Katherine Hepworth is an assistant professor in the Reynolds School of Journalism. Her interdisciplinary research combines traditional academic research skills with insights and techniques learned through professional graphic design practice. She researches power relationships past and present through visual evidence and trends in the use of digital technology in higher education classrooms.