“This sucks!”

I tell this to myself every now and then, looking at the finished design proposal I’ve been working on for the past couple of days. At the same time, I’m perfectly happy it sucks. At least I know for sure I need to go back and do something different. Just as I know I can take a well-deserved break when I say, “This rocks!”

However, most designs fall somewhere in between. You’re not sure if it’s as good as it can be, nor do you know exactly where to look in order to improve it.

For these cases, I suggest you try ROI analysis: Relevance, Originality and Impact. It’s a neat trick that helps you objectively look at your design and find areas that need improvement.

Note: You’ve probably heard of the acronym ROI, as it has multiple definitions. It most often means “Return on Investment” — a term used to describe the relationship between the benefit derived from an investment in time, energy, resources, etc. But in this case, it’s used in a design context. Let’s learn more about it below:

Relevance: Will the design work with the audience?

Being relevant is about making your design appropriate and appealing to your audience.

Parents are interested in pictures of children and parenting; teenagers are drawn to sex, vampires and Justin Bieber, and older folks usually want to see some grace and style.

Whoever your audience is, they should be able to look at your design and say: “Hey, this is something for me!”


Both posters deal with ballet but they have vastly different audiences. Notice how the left poster for New Ballet Ensemble uses visual language relevant to children and parents, while the poster for Smuin Ballet uses dancer in jeans to attract people interested in different kind of dance.

While this can seem rather easy to do, sometimes it’s pretty challenging:

  • What should a kindergarten website look like if it’s targeting parents into healthy living and organic food?
  • What should a poster for ballet school look like if it’s targeting your next door neighbor who listens to 50 cent?
  • What should a bakery brochure look like, if it’s targeting people buying gluten-free products?

As you can imagine, stereotypical designs for kindergartens, ballet schools and bakeries simply won’t do here. You need to understand the audience better, and reflect that in the design so they see it’s specifically for them. That’s what being relevant is all about.

The ultimate question here is: Will your audience recognize themselves in your design, or will they find it strange and alienating?

Originality: Is your design fresh?

While relevance is priority number one, there is more to good design than showing your audience something they’re interested in. Lots of your client competitors are doing the same thing.

That’s why visual originality is important. It differentiates your client from other players on the market, making the brand more memorable and authentic.


Packaging designers deal with same products and design elements over and over, but they never seem to lack original ideas (image via The Dieline).

So ask yourself, “Have I managed to stay relevant while creating something visually fresh and novel, or is this looking like everything else out there?”

If you’re not happy with the answer, remember in design, originality is often nothing more than doing things slightly different than the norm:

  • Use illustrations instead of images
  • Display larger-than-life type
  • Try black and white images instead of color
  • Test out an uncommon layout
  • Experiment with unusual color combinations
  • Design with type

Of course, it can be a combination of these things or something different altogether. But the point is you can often introduce originality just by altering some aspects of your design. There’s no need to go back to the drawing board.

Impact: Is your design grabbing attention?

Imagine someone browsing a magazine looking for a story. Will they stop to look at your design if they come across it, or will they simply turn the page and keep browsing?

A design with strong visual impact has strong stopping power, which is of paramount importance. If people don’t notice your design in the first place, hardly anything else matters at all.


The Lake Nona website is a great example of impactful design — it instantly grabs your attention and makes you want to look around.

Achieving this effect requires you to think about it at the outset. Whenever you come up with an idea, think about its visual power and impact. Will people stop to look at it, or is it something easily ignored?

Good design always has an impactful visual appearance.

How to score your designs

Look at your design through each of the individual attributes — relevance, originality and impact, and then assign a score of 1 to 5 for each attribute (5 being the best score).

Be objective as possible! No one but you will know about this, so it makes no sense to make things seem better than they are.

If your total score is anything below 10, bad news: you have more work to do. Reconsider the aspects of your design with lowest number of points, or if that’s not possible, think of a completely different idea or approach.

The important thing is that you know what’s wrong and what you’re trying to fix — and that’s the beauty of ROI analysis.

Do you have your own method of assessing your designs?