We’re not perfect either…try to avoid these 10 common design mistakes

1. Fonts

Do your font choices make sense? Fonts should be selected based on the ‘feeling’ that you want to convey. Write down some keywords for the project and try to find fonts that evoke a sense of the keywords. Ask friends or co-workers for their opinion as well.

A good rule of thumb is to never use more than two font families in a single document. You also don’t want to be known as a one-trick pony and use the same font in multiple designs—it shows a lack of creativity and exploration. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen portfolios with this mistake and it’s an instant red flag.

It’s important to know that opposites attract, so a sans-serif paired with a serif font often works well or a heavy header juxtaposed with a thinner lighter font for the body. If a font system has already been established for the brand, skip down to #4 as there are other ways to create a hierarchy with your fonts rather than introducing some random font.

Here’s a great guide: http://www.typography.com/techniques/

2. Color Palettes

Creating a color scheme is essential to good design. Luckily for us designers, the Internet was invented. Check out Adobe Color CC (https://color.adobe.com/) to get started or Dribbble offers a cool feature that always you to browse by HEX# and shows the colors used in the work.

Remember that colors on screen are not a true representation of printed color, so referencing a Pantone Color Bridge Guide for coated/uncoated stocks is a good idea once you have the initial palette narrowed down. If you’re a pro, you’ll realize that no Pantone is going to match 100% but at least you’ll be close.

Learn more about converting colors here: http://www.thegraphicmac.com/quickly-find-cmyk-equivalent-pantone-color

3. Grid System

Using a grid in your layout effectively creates structure, sets the foundation, creates balance and acts as an invisible force that holds your design together. You’d be surprised with how flexible grid systems can be with a little practice. Look up the experts such as Josef Müller-Brockmann and Massimo Vignelli (http://www.vignelli.com/canon.pdf) to get an idea.

Setting up a baseline grid is your next goal in InDesign to really nail down your layout.

Crash-course: I work in picas and set the baseline grid to 3pt in InDesign preferences. The leading for all point sizes needs to be divisible by 3 and the text box needs to have ‘align to baseline’ turned on in the paragraph tab (select view more options if it isn’t displaying).

4. Visual Hierarchy/Rhythm

A good way to ensure you have the right hierarchy is to imagine the design as a billboard on the side of the highway. You have about 2.3 seconds to read and understand your message.

When selecting a typeface family, experiment with the wide range of weights, styles, and widths available for that character set to create rhythm. You can also create a visual rhythm with casing, indents, letter spacing, leading to vary the look of the font. This will create the contrast with peaks and valleys within the design. You are the conductor, so start waving your baton.

5. Understanding the Audience/Goal

Never lose sight of the final goal of the design set by the client and your team. If the work you are focusing on is not assisting or getting you closer to accomplishing the goal, it’s time to switch gears. I’m a self-diagnosed detail monster (thanks WebMD), and can quickly tell when I’m spending too much time fussing over little stuff. It’s in the small details that make the difference but try to find a balance.

6. Less is Always More

Repeat after me: let your design breathe and don’t be afraid of white space—not every single space on the art board needs to be filled with color, shapes or words. If you overcomplicate the design, the message will be lost. Sometimes a design can be so minimal and streamlined that the client will wonder where the time went, but assure them that this is just the final result of simplifying to the point where the solution is obvious. If you don’t know the name Dieter Rams, look him up.

7. Keeping the Client Involved

Trust is everything. When beginning to work with a new client, it’s very important to get to know them, their product, their business, what they eat for breakfast—you get the idea—and start a positive communication line. This sets the tone for the rest of the relationship and once established, the design process becomes much easier because you understand their needs, goals, and stylistic preferences.

8. Typography 101: Em/En Dashes

Do not mistake the em dash (—) for the slightly narrower en dash (–) or the even narrower hyphen (-). Those marks serve different purposes and are further explained in other sections.

Em Dash: a pair of em dashes can be used in place of commas, parentheses, and if used at the end of a sentence or in place of a colon, only a single dash is used. No spaces.

Upon discovering the aliens—all 28 of them—the unicorns galloped away.

After three weeks on the moon, the astronaut was fed up with his living situation—or, rather, lack of one.

En Dash: The en dash is used to represent a span or range of numbers, dates, or time. There should be no space between the en dash and the adjacent material. Depending on the context, the en dash is read as “to” or “through.”

The 2010–2011 season was our best yet.

The king holds throne hours every Wednesday, 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m.

*The only exception to this rule is if you introduce a span or range with words such as from or between. Then revert to your old habits like in the example below.

The king holds throne hours every Wednesday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

View more tips here: www.thepunctuationguide.com

9. Set Up Files Correctly

Is your resolution correct?

Is your color mode correct?
Are you using the correct program to build your files?

Are you naming all your layers and organizing via folders?
Are you working non-destructively in Photoshop?

Are you keeping your color swatches organized and consistent in all creative programs?

Do you have the trim, bleed, live areas represented?

10. Using the Correct Creative Programs

Illustrator: Creating illustrations/vectors/special graphics. Not for typesetting your 3-panel brochure.

Photoshop: Color correcting/adjusting images, backgrounds, creating assets for digital projects and probably a host of other cool things I have yet to discover. Again, not for typesetting any print work.

InDesign: Combining all your vector/image assets and composing/typesetting your project. If InDesign isn’t your best friend by now, you should hang out more.

Jamie Britton | Senior Graphic Designer


common design mistakes
Get The Latest Updates

Join our email list

The latest in marketing news delivered in a bite-size monthly email.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Related Posts


Treat that fear of missing out.

Join our email list.

The latest in marketing news delivered in a bite-size monthly email.

test before

I'm interested in:
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

test after