7 Deadly Sins of Graphic Design

Erring may be human and forgiving, divine, but too many wrongs in the world of design can mean the end of your career as a good designer and the start of your career as…well a bad designer. (Or maybe it might be the end of your career as a designer in general.) However it’s not too late to turn from your gradient-layden, unspell-checked, improperly-kerned ways!  The designers have spoken and you would be wise to heed their warning.

These are the 7 deadliest design sins:Just because you have a lot of information to work with, doesn’t mean that you can’t keep things simple. When working with an abundance of text or imagery let your inner neat-freak organize the information consistently. Use grids and guides to keep things balanced/clean and utilize negative space to cut the mess to a minimum. Even just the smallest bit of consistent white-space can balance things efficiently. .Every day millions of fonts are added to databases like Dafont.com and Fontsquirrel.com. In some ways this can make things a lot easier for us designfolk who may need a free Helvetica look-a-like in a pinch. But as the wise Uncle Ben once told Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” (He was obviously talking to us designers by the way) we need to exercise a little (or a lot) of restraint when we are given leeway with fonts that are on the fancier side. A majority of fancy/decorative/script fonts are very difficult to read, especially when used in abundance. The fix: When a decorative font is necessary, use it as a header, as opposed to a body copy, so that it is still legible.*Taps foot and looks at you over glasses* I’m lookin’ at you folks who adore gradients and drop shadows. These things have their place but it’s time to give it a rest. Since the skeuomorphic design revolution (Thanks Apple!) flat, sharp design has taken a front seat while flashy gradients and drop shadows have moved to passe. Check yourself when using these elements and consider alternate choices that will make your design bolder and your message more effective.This is more of a general sin that extends beyond the design world, but it’s deadly nonetheless. Nothing screams “unprofessional” like a big, fat spelling error. Luckily most design tools like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign have built in grammar add-ons that will offer a little peace of mind. Knowing that your design was checked and double checked (by computers and humans alike) is a comforting thing. o.We’re all a little crazy about something. Designers are kind of crazy in general but we are specifically paid (hopefully) to go bananas over the little things – like how much space there is between letters. Spacing characters evenly is a basic rule of design and shouldn’t be neglected. Don’t commit this sin before it’s too late (i.e. before it gets printed or chiseled onto some monument and you have to live with it forever.) When working with any kind of typography it is imperative to keep your tracking, kerning, and leading (yes they all mean different things) in mind. Otherwise, your designs will suffer. You can practice up on your spacing skills by giving the Learn to Kern game a go. It’s a quick resource to keep your skills sharp!Multimillion dollar companies have millions of dollars (as evidenced by their “multimillion dollar company” status) to sink into branding and design. Often before a logo is seen by the public, a company will spend these millions of dollars to arrange focus groups, perform intensive design research, and consume copious amounts of coffee. All of this is to ensure that when the final logo is seen it will produce the proper emotional response from its audience without any prompting or context. SO, let’s be kind to those designers! Let’s celebrate that intensive research! And should we let all that coffee consumption be for naught? Of course not. You can do your part by leaving that logo alone. That means not stretching it, recoloring it, or giving it a reindeer nose for the company Christmas newsletter.When Pocahontas told us that we could “paint with all the colors of the wind” I think she’d be a little disappointed in how some designers throw their paint (or pixels, in most cases) haphazardly throughout their designs. Remember those little color wheels you painted on paper plates back in kindergarten? Well the principles you learned then still remain: Keep your colors straight and pare your palette down. Too much color can overload your audience while too little may bore them. Utilize complementary tones to keep your design consistent, but engaging. Take note of each color’s position on the wheel and give your scheme extra thought before dipping it in a multi-gradient puddle (a big no-no…).Design may be about communication/advertising but at its heart it is still an art form and it is still all about being creative. It’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to experiment – that’s what creativity is all about! By avoiding these “sins” you can avoid revisions and perfect your own creative process, ensuring that each graphic you produce is communicating more effectively than the last!


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