Matt Felten

Defining Craft & Design Quality

May 6, 2024

One of my earliest managers would call work that wasn’t good enough “too cutting-edge,” and I still think that’s hilarious. My work was definitely too cutting-edge at the time. These days, I call the quality of design work craft. While measuring craft and quality is quite challenging, to me, there are four aspects of craft to look at: tools & techniques, systems thinking, taste, and attention to detail.

Tools & Techniques

The first aspect of craft is knowledge of your tools and processes. This could show up as how well you prototype in Figma, how well you facilitate workshops, and different techniques for validating your work. These are the hard skills of design, things you can learn with time and experience. Maybe you take a course, watch videos on YouTube, or just learn as you go. If the four aspects of craft are a weighted scale, I tend to have a lower weight on this one only because it’s the most straightfoward to improve on.

Systems Thinking

The second aspect of craft is thinking cohesively about the systems at play and understanding them well enough to make them intuitive. There’s a quote that says, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” and that summarizes this one well. This could be creating and iterating on the user journey, diagramming how the APIs will work and what data will exist along the way, or reworking the information architecture to match mental models. Once you’ve dug in to really understand the problem space from different angles, you can then start pulling the levers of simplicity.


The third aspect of craft is taste. Taste is a subjective lens through which we judge if a product feels modern or dated. In the perpetual form vs function debate, it firmly leans towards how it looks. Taste is cultivated by immersing ourselves in diverse content, nurturing a broad curiosity, and forming opinions about what we perceive as good and areas that could be improved. Importantly, tastes are not static, they evolve with time and context, and we let them adapt over time. It’s why a design portfolio always needs to be updated, because your tastes have changed.

Another interesting thing about taste is that when taste and tool expertise are out of sync with each other, it can really be a morale hit. For example, early in your career a designer might be an expert in a particular design tool, but might not have the taste developed to know what to make. I’ve also seen the opposite, where a designer has high taste (and expectations for their work) but is still learning how to actually accomplish it.

Attention to Detail

Attention to detail is the fourth aspect of craft. It’s not just about being thorough, it’s about having the discipline to meticulously assess every aspect of your work. It’s about having a clear rationale for every design choice, being thoughtful about every possible state, and investing as much effort in the unseen parts as the visible ones. It’s about adhering to the design system or brand guide, and knowing when to deviate from it when necessary. This is directly the level of completeness, polish, and finesse in the final work.

Matt Felten