As a designer, Irene Au once said: “Good design is like a refrigerator – when it works, no one notices, but when it doesn’t, it sure stinks”. While there is a plenitude of tips on how to make a good design, which are surely beneficial to be followed, what if we take a closer look at the other side of the same topic, a.k.a bad designs? In this article, we’ll be observing some examples of bad design as well as the most common mistakes that designers make. This way, you’ll know exactly what not to do and how you can avoid making the same mistakes. Plus, additional perspective can do no harm!
25 Most Common Graphic Design Mistakes
With that in mind, it’s worth giving a thought to specific examples of graphic design mistakes that designers often make. We have recognized 25 potential features of a bad design and we are eager to share them with good designers, non-designers, as well as designers-to-be! In other words, with all of you who may be interested in such a topic!
Let’s begin with this pretty obvious but essential one! Trying to fit too many words in a space that can’t stand its volume is never a good idea! We know that you struggle with a lot of content and what seems to be the best option is to just fill your empty space to the maximum. However, you can trust us when we say that this option won’t pay you back! Both the entire space and each line of text need room to breathe. So, for readability purposes, 50 to 60 characters per line would be the ideal length.
Using words instead of visuals
Design is a creative field that heavily deals with visuals. However, amusing typography can also add a lot to the graphics as long as what attracts attention is its shape and form and not its excessively long, linguistic content. Watch out especially for infographics and presentation designs. Including too much text in a piece of marketing material that is supposed to be primarily visual is the fastest way to kill viewers’ interest. So in order to not turn your audience off, try to provide stunning and engaging visual communication.
Image source: Adobe Typekit Blog
When it comes to kerning, this case is pretty delicate as it can oftentimes be ignored or invisible to the untrained eye. Bad kerning literally kills your design, no matter how fancy it is. Some non-designers won’t care excessively about it, however, this becomes a huge mistake made. Fixing this problem doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time and effort, and the result will be truly astonishing. Kerning is mostly automatic and may seem easy. Yet, when applied over the broad spectrum of variables like font faces, copy blocks, line spacing, etc., it can become an issue.
Although fonts can be quite entertaining, they should never be used in excess. Overdoing it by combining various types of fonts, forms, and colors won’t make your design look smooth and simple! Non-designers and beginners tend to reach out for plenty of possibilities because they have the urge to experiment with different styles of fonts. However, overdoing your design with too many different fonts will end up giving it a disorganized look. When it comes to the rules of design, you definitely do not want that!
Not choosing the right colors
In regards to the choice of color in design, let’s first think about what you should do. Good color combination provides the right amount of contrast and readability to the design. It grabs the viewers’ attention and under no circumstances does it bother them. Yet, choice of color combinations can be a tough game for many designers. An awesome project with good communicative potential can oftentimes go awry if you fail at selecting the right colors.
Using Too Many Different or Flashy Colors
Apart from choosing the right colors, you may also fail at choosing the right quantity. Adding too many flashy colors to your graphic will turn it into a circus, and this can ultimately give your audience a visual headache. To prevent that from happening, try to keep viewers interested by giving your design a classy appeal. Overall, avoid these mistakes at any cost if you don’t want to drive potential clients away.
Placing elements arbitrarily
Properly aligning elements is a way to create visual order and symmetry in your design. After all, a lack of alignment can lead to a graphic design looking messy, and you do not want that. If you fear to exaggerate, remember what Salvador Dali once said: “Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.” Using this famous quote as a reference, you should use a grid to arrange all the elements in your project properly and neatly instead of arbitrarily.
Failing to create contrast
Here are some examples of contrasting colors: light grey, navy blue, bright orange. Hence, if you put these colors together side by side as a part of your logo, flyer, or website design, you’ll achieve what we call contrast, and this merely allows each element to pop and stand out. Think of FedEx’s dark purple and orange logo for example. When elements on your design are hard to distinguish from one another, it will take more effort for your audience to understand your message. Unsurprisingly, this is the type of situation we want to avoid.
Lack of negative space
Negative space on a design fairly often tends to irritate non-designers. Contrary to the common belief of beginner designers that every inch of space of your design should be used, negative space is actually a blessing to design! To make it crystal clear, the lack of negative is a sure sign of an amateur or inexperienced designer. Therefore, instead of looking at the negative spaces as empty, boring spaces, recognize the value of blank fields on your design. Negative space is equally as important as spaces that are filled with content.
Think of Google’s main page for example. We bet you’ve never had to experience a time where you couldn’t figure out where the search bar is. The web page is left empty, and this allows for the search bar to stand out at all times.
Not leaving enough white space
Imagine the situation where you place two completely different elements very close to one another. You probably expect that it’s going to be pretty hard to understand which one is more important. However, at the end of the day, it’s not only about applying different visual styles to the image but also about maintaining the contrast using white space.
In fact, to make elements contrast each other, you need to separate them with a blank area. Mind that having too much blank space or cramming too much content into a small area isn’t a good idea either. Think about websites with excessive advertisements in it, and you’ll understand the visual clutter that can be caused by the lack of sufficient white space.
Not scaling properly
Scaling in design, even the most dramatic ones, should successfully do the job when conducted right. For some reason, non-designers are reluctant to use large and small scales and that shouldn’t be the case! Scaling can work wonders, and it can even increase the attractiveness of a design. However, while it’s being done, make sure that the elements are not stretched in wrong or distorted ways.
Focusing too much on popular design trends
If you can’t help but feel the urge to get inspired by stunning works of famous designers, don’t resist and feel free to apply some the elements into your work. However, note that if you do it constantly and don’t leave space for your own creative ideas, you might want to reconsider the case. What is fashionable is usually broadly likable by everyone, but at the same time is also not original. So dig deeper into less popular inspirational examples or graphic design trends. The best option would be to develop your own personal style and make it apparent in your work.
Ignoring visual hierarchy rules
Readers need to know what to read first, second, third, and so on. If you ignore the well-established rules of visual hierarchy, it can create confusion and ultimately mess up your message. Hierarchy is an important principle of graphic design. It communicates the importance of each element on the image that is logical to audiences.
Image source: Behance
Applying a hard-to-read text into your design is like sabotaging your efforts to communicate your message effectively. In the end, it’s not only about creating a pleasing visual outcome but also about conveying the right information. Some things just need to be communicated, and in order to achieve that, the text should not only fulfill the design goals but also be fairly easy to read.
Two of the most important aspects to consider when it comes to text is the right placement of text and the contrast between the text and the background. So, be sure to not place a bright and bold text over an equally bright background. Instead, use a light colored text for dark backgrounds and vice versa.
Inadequate space between lines
This point is all about placing elements adequately. Neither having too much space between the lines nor too little is the right design path to follow. By having too much space, you are causing your text to appear disjointed. On the other hand, having too little space can make your text appear too tight and crowded within the design.
Remember that there is nothing wrong with making line breaks since it allows readers to take a break and process the information. Good line spacing is one that is organized, intentional, and helps the readability of your text. Therefore, do whatever you can to make sure that everything stays neat and simple!
Striving for complete symmetry
A lot has been said about the field of design and its potential errors. Common mistakes include those concerning typography, colors, spaces (white, negative, in between elements). At the same time, symmetry is a large field of science, where its rules also happen to be commonly used in the design.
Many designers, as well as non-designers, strive for perfect symmetry in their graphics. Consequently, they often happen to commit a common misstep. Trying and make a design look too impeccable with symmetry won’t play in your favor! The use of absolute symmetry can simply make a design appear rigid and boring. In order to avoid it, insert a few surprising elements here and there!
Inappropriate font combinations
It’s understandable that you want to produce an eye-catching design, and spreading some fancy fonts around your graphics can definitely make your image look interesting, that’s for sure. Yet, there is a risk if mismatching fonts end up being chosen in combination. This will result in your graphic looking poor and disorganized. Hence, watch carefully for the signs of catastrophe resulting from inappropriate font combinations. Don’t use them in excess and don’t match them together if you don’t feel like they visually go hand in hand.
Mixing and matching images that don’t go together
As Neville Brody once said, “Digital design is like painting, except the paint never dries.” It’s true that our piece of design is editable and can be modified at any chosen moment. Additionally, other designers’ and friends’ suggestions can play a role in shaping its final form. Just like the mistaken combinations of fonts, a set of images can also internally fail at fitting together. Matching images that don’t go together is a sure signal that a non-designer had his or her hand on it.
Using raster images
Image source: Fox Tracks
Pixelation or mosaic effect on digital images caused by insufficient resolution concerns raster images. Raster images are made up of pixels that become blurry when enlarged. Therefore, you can probably imagine that it’s a mistake that will never be made by a pro since they rather use vectors. Vectors are created with geometric lines and curves, and it looks sharp and crisp no matter to what size is scaled.
This mistake of using raster images instead of vector is very common among non-designers. When the resolution bottoms out, image and writing become hardly visible. In other words, nothing is left of your design efforts and this becomes a true bummer.
Copying others’ work
Copying others’ work is also popularly referred to as plagiarism, which is an act of fraud. It obviously doesn’t have to be illegal if you happen to use the free internet collections of projects or images. While it is desirable to look around for inspiration in other artists’ creations, copying a work conceived and executed by a designer without informing or asking permission about it and passing it off as your own is a huge no. Let’s just call this what it is: stealing. Although the initial success may be evident, in the long run, this kind of behavior will end up hurting the designer’s credibility.
Using amateur software for professional work
Do you believe that investing in software is not needed because your talent will win your designs over? Let us tell you otherwise! Really, there is nothing like having a good basis to start with, and this includes investing in the right and professional software. With numerous online resources available, creating an appealing design takes neither much effort nor time, and apparently, some of these non-professional software have a lot of quirks.
Among most evident drawbacks – most of the freebie programs use raster graphic images instead of the industry-standard vector. Saving up money by using free programs may seem like a smart choice, however, this could not be further from the truth. In the long run, you could end up experience a loss of time and missed sales opportunities.
Saving in the wrong design formats
Before clicking on the ‘Save as’ button, you’ll profit from knowing where your picture is actually going to be used afterward. Saving in the wrong design formats will lead you to creating the wrong visual effects. Most softwares are okay with TIFF (Tagged Image File Format), JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group), and several other extensions. However, when finalizing your graphics, make sure you save them in the correct formats depending on what features are required for the design.
When choosing a file format for a photograph or design image, choose wisely between raster and vector. Think whether it’s going to be printed or displayed online. If you know what these image formats are destined to be used for, you probably won’t mishap on this one.
Relying too much on free images
The internet is full of images, and it’s no crime to be inspired or fascinated by them. Similarly, it’s also not wrong to borrow some of those appealing pics from time to time, especially when it comes to stock photography which permits you to get loads of ready-made photos! Although the use of stock photos is an affordable solution which may seem ideal, be wary of the “creative commons” photographs. The essential catch here is that websites granting unlimited usage for free typically offer images in low resolution. Another disadvantage is that you run a risk of copyright infringement.
Therefore, whenever possible, resist the urge to save money and just invest in buying photographs that guarantee exclusive usage through the purchase license. This way, no one else has legal rights to use your images. This will utterly protect you and your brand down the road.
There are at least a hundred things that you shouldn’t do with your design project, but one of them is much more essential than others. Don’t get too excited about your design to the point of adding too many elements to it. In other words, stay away from over-designing!
Have you ever thought about it as a threat? Too many bold color choices, graphics, and in general, making the design far too busy will end up hurting your design concept more than it will help it. An over-designed web page, logo or flyer may still look nice to you, but we just don’t want it to be distracting and filled with too much decoration. Keep in mind that ‘less is more’, especially in design.
Losing your message
On top of it, somewhere between the wrong match of fonts and stolen images, lies the essential danger of losing the message that you are carefully preparing to communicate to your customers. You should be aware of this point and make sure that you keep it in the back of your head while designing. Afterall, you don’t want to lose the big picture. Remember that the main goal of every design effort is to allow consumers to make a connection with the brand. So, make no mistake of drifting away from this goal in the process.
Now that we’ve finally covered all the examples of bad designs and common mistakes that designers make, we hope that you are able to learn from them and know exactly what not to do! By avoiding these mistakes in your own work, you can be on your way to making the best and most successful graphic designs.
Besides having grown up in the design Industry, Christiaan has advised some of the world’s largest companies on their branding & packaging designs. Has been the resident judge for design awards, and has spoken at numerous global design & marketing events. Christiaan founded the London office of the award-winning Cartils agency, and has founded the DesignBro.com platform.