6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes
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6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

Design is a powerful tool, but its use can be both effective and flawed. In this review, we will discuss common graphic design mistakes that are relevant to both graphic and interface designers.

Interesting fact: each of us tends to believe that a bad design is one that was created by someone else. To substantiate this opinion, we have collected examples of bad design decisions. This collection will help you avoid many of the pitfalls in this area. Enjoy, smile and learn from other people’s mistakes.

Putting jokes aside, it should be recognized that graphic design is the art of presenting ideas through visual and textual means. Its mission is to convey a specific message effectively and beautifully. I prefer to call it a “practice” rather than an “art” to avoid confusion in novice designers who may mistakenly believe that design is only related to creativity and aesthetics. This misconception often leads to serious failures.

Design always aims to achieve a specific goal: to sell, inform, entertain or evoke emotion. Effective design addresses its target audience accurately and persuasively, while ineffective design fails to do so.

While design perception is subjective, there are universally recognized signs of design failure. Let’s take a close look at these mistakes so you can avoid them in your projects.

1. Insufficiently expressed hierarchy of elements

In design, hierarchy acts as a director in the world of visual elements. It controls the observer’s gaze, giving structure to the perception.

Hierarchy in design is a way of arranging information that emphasizes its importance, sequence, and the relationship between elements. An effective visual hierarchy directs the user’s eye from the most prominent elements, such as the main message or key point, to less significant details.

It’s a subtle combination of size, color, contrast and spacing between elements that turns complex messages into easily digestible visuals. Errors in hierarchy can lead to confusion, disorientation, or even repulsion of the audience. Problems with hierarchy are often noticeable even to the layperson, but sometimes we ignore them:

1.1 Absence of difference element’s visual weight.

When all elements draw attention equally, none of them stand out. When everything from the headline to the small font of a footnote has the same visual weight, the design becomes a chaotic jumble of words and images in which the main message is lost.

Overloading the viewer with content can be counterproductive – it’s hard to absorb too much information at once. An example is any news site, where try to find relevant information is often a challenge – wading through ads, sponsored articles and automatically playing videos.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

1.2 Lack of accent points in the design

A key element of any design are accent points that draw the viewer’s attention. Their absence causes the eye to wander without purpose, and the designer cannot effectively convey the main message to the audience or evoke the desired emotions.

When all elements are equally important, the viewer is lost as to what to pay attention to first. This has a negative impact on interaction with the design and can lead to user confusion. One solution is to use additional free space, which helps to balance content and increase focus on key elements.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) An event poster with no emphasis on date and time is a bad idea (2) What did you notice by scanning this banner? I’m guessing just the photo. The most attentive might also find a name.

1.3 Lack of space and grouping

The problem arises when related design components are placed too far apart or without a defined system, causing confusion. Complex and unusual layouts with multiple columns, blocks and sections can confuse the target audience. While an experienced designer can deliberately use this approach, extra care must be taken – achieving the perfect combination of readability and creativity may take several attempts.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) It is natural for us to scan numbers in ascending order and lines from left to right and top to bottom. But not in this case. How long did it take you to get the gist of the message?  (2) I think with a menu like that, it would take forever to make an order

Here are some guidelines to help you avoid common mistakes:

  1. It is important to clearly separate the main message from the additional information.
  2. Before delving into the details, create a design prototype to clearly demonstrate the hierarchy.
  3. Don’t be afraid to leave open space for elements to “feel free”.
  4. Backtrack regularly to evaluate the design from different angles or to solicit other people’s opinions, making sure it makes sense and is intuitive.
  5. Remember that visual hierarchy not only beautifies, but also serves to communicate effectively and improve perception.

2. Wrong selection of color palette

Colors play a key role in visual design. They set tone, provoke emotion and convey information faster than words, shapes or images, thanks to the peculiarities of the human brain. Research confirms that color perception affects us instantly and often imperceptibly.

Color is a powerful tool, but choosing the wrong color scheme can undermine even the most carefully considered design. That’s why it’s important to choose your color palette carefully to create a memorable project.

2.1 Neglecting the psychology of color

Each color provokes certain emotions or reactions. For example, red can be associated with urgency or passion, blue with trust and calm. Green often means agreement, red means rejection. An inappropriate color can be confusing and evoke opposing emotions. This is especially critical in logo design.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

The author of this poster clearly made a mistake with the color scheme (red to indicate cold water in shower and turquoise for hot water inshower). A good designer always takes into account that color is perceived faster than words.

2.2 Overcomplicated color set

Simplicity is often more effective than complexity. Using too many colors can overload the viewer’s perception and reduce brand recognition. Excellently, the color scheme should include 2-3 primary colors, complemented by a few secondary or accent hues.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) ) I get the author’s idea, but the execution is a bit rough (2) Many website builders repeat the same mistake: bright backgrounds combined with decorative unreadable fonts. This approach negatively affects both the interaction experience and the business.

2.3 Neglecting usability

Very important that our design should be accessible to everyone, including people with various types of visual impairments, including color blindness. A common mistake is a lack of contrast. For example, light gray text on a white background may appear sophisticated and trendy, but if it is too pale, the main message can be lost.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) It takes a lot of effort to read thin gold letters on a red background (2) Absolutely crazy color palette + glitter = bad design.

You may be wondering why I didn’t mention conflicting colors. The fact is that when it is used correctly, it can create an impressive and effective design. For a while, this approach was even fashionable. So, this technique is quite acceptable, but it is important to realize the purpose of its use and remember that the main thing in design is communication.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) In this example, conflicting colors look pretty good and help get the message across (2) This one doesn’t. The eyes are straining too much but there is no information.

Here are some helpful guidelines to avoid common design mistakes:

  1. Always start by clearly defining the goals of the project and the needs of your audience.
  2. Choose colors that match your message or desired atmosphere.
  3. Limit the number of primary colors to 2-3.
  4. Use a color wheel, contrast checking tools and web resources to select a harmonious color scheme.
  5. Seek feedback regularly and be open to adjustments.
  6. Emphasize readability, remembering that color is not only decoration, but also a means of communication.

3. Improper use of fonts

Typography is the voice of your design. It conveys not only text, but also style, mood, and context. Fonts can be as expressive as images, but misapplication can wreak havoc. In addition to visual problems, inappropriate fonts can alienate your audience, make content inaccessible, or distort the intended message.

It’s important for designers to strike a balance between visual appeal and functionality, making sure that the chosen fonts facilitate but not hinder communication.

3.1 Overabundance of styles

With a huge selection of fonts available, it’s easy to get carried away and use several at once. Many people think that this will add uniqueness to the project. However, too many fonts make the design look uncoordinated and unprofessional. Viewers can hardly understand why 8 different styles are used on one page, which gives the impression of clutter.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

I counted nine different styles. This text remains readable only because of the negative space.

3.2 Unintelligible text

Decorative fonts play a role in graphic design, but using them incorrectly can impair readability. The key is to keep the text clear and easy to read, especially when it comes to the main content. Carefully chosen tracking (character spacing) and line spacing can significantly improve both readability and visual perception. After all, let’s not forget that the main task of design is effective communication.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) Is it stylish? Oh, yes! Discreet? Hell no! (2) The designer of this cover has gone all out.

3.3 Out of context

Just as a playful, eccentric font is inappropriate for official documents, a strict serif font may look inappropriate on a poster for a children’s event. Always consider the context and audience you are designing for.

Please note: some fonts are impressive alone, but may lose their appeal when combined with others. To find the perfect combinations, use online services designed to match font pairs.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

1) Comic Sans font looks out of place on a police car, as it’s more for children’s book covers. Source: @epicdesignfails. (2) Packaging should provide information and reflect positioning. This box fails to do either of those things. The two-color fill lettering looks especially bad.

To successfully master the art of typography, start by defining your ultimate goals: Who is your audience? What message do you want to convey? Typography resources, font pairing tools, typography guides, and design programs with kerning and spacing features can help you with the rest.

To avoid styling mistakes, follow a simple rule: choose 2-3 complementary fonts (e.g. one for headlines, one for body text). Strive for simplicity and elegance. And, of course, don’t forget to seek feedback and constantly improve your project. Properly executed typography can transform your design, taking it to the next level, so give it the attention it deserves.

4. Problems with alignment and coherence

Alignment and coherence are like the rhythm section in music, setting the tempo of a composition. They give balance and structure to the general visual narrative. It is not only a matter of aesthetics, but also of effective communication.

4.1 Arbitrary placement of elements

One of the main mistakes is the chaotic placement of elements. Without proper alignment, the design seems disorganized and disjointed, which makes it difficult to perceive and interact with the content. Also, you should not mix different types of alignment without a good reason. The best and most user-friendly option is left-alignment.

Another frequent problem is inconsistent indents between elements. They should be uniform to create a balanced and harmonious design.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) They say there’s a message encrypted here. Did you get it? Source: r/designfails. (2) How do you read this sign on the t-shirt? There are too many options. Source: r/CrappyDesign.

4.2 Lack of repetition

Using repetitive elements or styles helps create a sense of cohesion and consistency in design. When we apply the same colors, fonts, and design approaches to similar elements or sections, the user experience becomes smoother and more intuitive. Otherwise, if we accidentally introduce new styles, the design can appear disjointed and uncoordinated.

The repetition of elements is not only a sign of a designer’s quality work, but also contributes to brand recognition. This is why many companies develop and follow their brandbooks.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) Some people say that minimalist design is outdated. But it’s too much for me. Can we bring back minimalism, please? Source: r/CrappyDesign. (2) With such an obvious lack of repetition, this design looks completely amateurish. Source: r/CrappyDesign.

Here are some helpful guidelines to avoid common design mistakes:

  1. First, define style constraints: which fonts, colors, and design elements will be used and which will be excluded.
  2. Use the grids available in most design tools. They help establish rhythm, ensure uniformity, and improve readability and user interaction.
  3. Analyze your work regularly for alignment, indentation, and styles. A good method is to zoom out and look at the design as a whole.
  4. Always remember that in design, it’s not just what’s visible that matters, but also the space between elements.

5. Misalignment of audience and context

To be considered a professional designer, you need to create work that is not only beautiful but also purposeful. It is important to make sure that the design is relevant to the target audience and context of use.

If a designer does not consider the audience and context of placement, they run the risk of creating ineffective, albeit attractive work.

5.1 Ignoring storage medium characteristics

Each storage medium, whether print or digital platforms, has its own unique characteristics and requirements. A design that looks great on a computer screen may not be exactly the same on mobile devices or billboards. It’s also important to keep in mind that different storage mediums appeal to different audiences, so it’s important to keep in mind the location of your work and its target viewers.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) Surprise around the corner. Instead of “Just do it, anything is possible” it is read like “Just do nothing, it’s impossible”. Source: @epicdesignfails. (2) The design made the text unreadable. Source: r/CrappyDesign.

5.2 Design does not fit the message

One clear indicator of ignoring audience and context is the mismatch between the design and its message. Take the Comic Sans font, for example. It is recommended by the British Association for Dyslexic People, but its widespread use in non-serious contexts and association with memes often turns any content into a joke.

Another example is designing for an international audience. It is always important to take into account the cultural differences and characteristics of target users from different countries.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) No. It’s not the name of a goth band, it’s an advertisement for an electrician. By the way, the odd font with the shadow is on the verge of being readable. Source: r/CrappyDesign. (2) More than questionable font choice. r/CrappyDesign.

Meeting these challenges goes beyond design alone; it starts with in-depth research and careful planning. It’s important to research the preferences, lifestyles, and needs of your target audience. It is also necessary to familiarize yourself with the platforms and environments where your design will be used. Put yourself in the user’s shoes to assess whether the design is appropriate and relevant.

6. Design overload

In the pursuit of uniqueness, we designers sometimes straddle the line between artistic expression and excessive complexity. The latter refers to the addition of redundant elements that can obscure the core message, confusing viewers and distracting them from the main point.

Unfortunately, some clients may be unfamiliar with the concept of minimalism in design and believe that the more elements the better. In such cases, it is our job as designers to educate our clients and avoid the following mistakes.

6.1 Incomprehensible message

As already mentioned, the main function of design is communication. We should strive for clarity and comprehensibility. A well-crafted design directs the viewer’s attention to key points. If the user gets lost in the multitude of elements and cannot understand the main message, it indicates that the design is overly complex.

The problem also arises when designers in the hijacking of creativity forget about the principle of clarity, creating something completely incomprehensible and confusing.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

1) Let’s hope this is just a creative visual solution for a sticker and not a failed logo. Source: r/CrappyDesign. (2) I’ll help you out, it says “style in language”. But this cover for sure has no style. Source: r/CrappyDesign.

6.2 Too many elements

White or free space is an indispensable element for any design. It provides visual rest, emphasizes key elements and creates harmony in the distribution of content. You don’t need to strive to fill every corner of the design! Graphics and other elements should fulfill a specific function – to improve communication and add aesthetic value. If removing an element doesn’t affect the overall perception, it’s probably not needed.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) The designer seems to have put everything related to “The Lord of the Rings” in the picture. If there were fewer elements, the result would look more stylish. Source: r/CrappyDesign. (2) Too much for one door. The overlap makes some of the words almost unreadable. Source: r/CrappyDesign.

Follow the principle of “simplicity is the key to success”. Start with a clear understanding of the purpose and core idea of your design. During the design process, take breaks to evaluate whether each element helps you achieve that goal. Be prepared to remove unnecessary elements without regret, focusing on clarity and effective communication. Feedback from peers and the target audience can also be very helpful. Remember, the true art is not only in what to add, but also in what to remove.

6.3 How to avoid common mistakes

While some aspects of design can be subjective, there are universal standards and best practices that separate good design from bad design. Attractive design is based on fundamental principles such as contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity, balance, hierarchy, and strategic use of available space.

These principles not only improve the visual appeal of a design, but also facilitate effective communication and resonate with the audience. Ignoring these fundamentals can lead to design chaos and confusion.

When “bad” design isn’t actually that bad

It’s important to remember that there are styles in design that intentionally mimic what many consider “bad design,” but that doesn’t mean they are really bad. They may evoke nostalgia or challenge traditional norms. For example, brutalism in design inspired by brutalist architecture and it is characterized by a raw, unfinished aesthetic with inconsistent colors, basic fonts, and a lack of traditional hierarchy.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) redesign of the Dezeen website, Hanna Korzun. (2) poeTRY, Aiza Israilova

Anti-design or “ugly” design

This style challenges established views on aesthetics, based on the deliberate application of what is traditionally considered “bad” design decisions: the use of neon backgrounds, uncoordinated patterns, elements without clear alignment, and so on. Many brands, especially in the fashion world, choose this approach to stand out from the competition.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

(1) Catfish font, Max Mollison. (2) Anti-design website, Darina Korepanova.

6 Common Graphic Design Mistakes

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