Top Mistakes Graphic Designers Make

Top Mistakes Graphic Designers Make

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Top Mistakes Graphic Designer's Make

Below is a list of very common mistakes that so called ‘graphic designers’ make.

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How many of these do you do regularly?

  1. Take constructive criticism too personally
  2. Not knowing any famous designers in particular Paula Scher, Milton Glaser, Paul Rand and not knowing WHY they were famous
  3. Not Staying Up on Current Events and Design News
  4. Not Owning the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook
  5. Charging too Little for Design Projects
  6. Not Using Contracts to Cover Your Butt
  7. Not Setting Deadlines for Projects
  8. Doing Spec Based Work (If you like it you can pay)
  9. Not Asking for a Down Payment before Starting a Project
  10. Using Poorly Designed Fonts from Free Font Sites
  11. Using Display Fonts as Text Fonts
  12. Using the Comic Sans Font
  13. Using too Many Different Fonts in One Design
  14. Forgetting White Space is your Friend
  15. Not Sketching Before Designing
  16. Not Using Rulers on Screen
  17. Relying Totally on the Computer, Especially for Kerning
  18. Using Photoshop Filters After Your First 6 Months
  19. Using Low Resolution Web Images for Print
  20. Not Designing Logos in Vector Format
  21. Making Logos Unable to Reproduce Well Small
  22. Forgetting to Learn Keyboard Shortcuts
  23. Not Saving Frequently
  24. Not Backing up Files on an External Hard Drive
  25. Not Getting Enough Sleep!
  26. Stealing or ‘borrowing’ Other Peoples Work
  27. Using the dash quotation marks instead of true quotation marks.

If you are doing the following (below) I wouldn’t call yourself a ‘graphic designer’, well at least not a professional one and would recommend doing some more research into the subject area.

12. Using the Comic Sans Font (for the right purpose
13. Using too Many Different Fonts in One Design
19. Using Low Resolution Web Images for Print
20. Not Designing Logos in Vector Format

But remember rules can be broken.

This list was compiled by myself and Gino Orlandi over at You The Designer.

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What other mistakes do graphic designers make?

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60 thoughts on “Top Mistakes Graphic Designers Make”

  1. I’m new to graphic design, and in NO way am I saying that I am a designer..

    ..i’m more of your run-of-the mill chap with a little more creative spark than you’re average Joe.

    Vectors, i’ve never done one.. mostly because the only application i’ve learnt it a little photoshop.

    Boet (afrikaans for brother, just used informally haha) you continue posting things like this and your blog will go far.

    Perhaps some “youtube” style tutorials that you have (or will still compile) could be posted 🙂

  2. Here’s a slightly-related question for you: Why do WordPress themes look so amateurish? Is it a limitation of WordPress, or are there just not any talented designers working on WordPress themes?

    My site was initially on WordPress, and I designed my own theme. Even with having complete control over my own theme, I felt limited in what I could do, and I eventually abandoned WordPress for Joomla. In fact, I found a Joomla template that someone else designed that I like so much I am using it and not worrying about my design anymore.

    In general, Joomla and Mambo templates are light years beyond any WordPress theme I’ve seen. What is your take on why this might be?

  3. @ripley I replied to both your comments in the wordpress plugins article.

    @mlankton I guess that because more people use wordpress, thus more themes get created that are done my amateurs. I also think that wordpress is more focused on the content rather than the design of its page.

    That is my take anyway.

  4. Very good post there, outlining quite a few points that i sadly fall on my face to haha! I take constructive criticism too personally sometimes, i’ve got alot better than when i first begun though :).

    Thanks for the nice read.


  5. I will print this and keep it in my room.
    Good work

    Niyaz PK’s last blog post..Orkut getting the loops wrong

  6. I agree with you. On most counts.

    1. Not thinking creatively. Stealing other peoples work.

    2. Using RGB instead of CMYK colors. and if using CMYK, just trusting the program to convert them. You must invest in a Pantone formula guide.

    Think simple.

    K. Lammi’s last blog post..New Work: Serif Books

  7. Jacob! Your use of apostrophes is terrible.
    For someone who writes about the faults of graphic designers, this could not be more representative of a typical error of our field. It is particularly awful here because of your criticism of other oversights and imperfections.
    Please consult Strunk & White. Better yet, write an article about it. Designers are in dire need of a collective lesson in punctuation.

  8. Hi LL,
    Well we are still all learning and I know I am not perfect! Far from it and I also agree with you on the typical errors of our field. We are in dire need, much alike everyone in the digital age who rely on automated software to fix their mistakes. Thanks for your comments.

    • Here in 2016, I was going to say the same thing. Frankly, I’m surprised this was pointed out nearly ten years ago and you still didn’t correct your mistakes. You give good advice, but credibility is certainly lost when such mistakes are present and go uncorrected.

  9. Top Mistakes Graphic Designer’s Make
    is either
    Top Mistakes Graphic Designer IS Make
    Top Mistakes Graphic Designer HAS Make

    Should have been “Top Mistakes Graphic Designers Make”

  10. Hello Jacob! Well done!
    I am also a BAN COMIC SANS follower. Its the most digusting font IN THE WORLD!
    I think we need one more point here:
    NEVER use your own logo, business cards, anything for yourself in your portfolio.
    I noticed you were guilty of that.
    Ive seen too many designers who fill a bulk of their portfolio with their own logo and advertisements etc, and clients look upon that BADLY.

  11. That is interesting, why do you think that is a bad thing by putting your own logo and ads in the portfolio? It is the first time I have heard that but I suppose it could look bad. I will have to look into that.

  12. what a great article … this is very helpful for everyone who wants to be a great designer … thanks for this ^^

  13. Just want to say that this list was great. It’s wonderful insight into things designers (especially new ones) should remind themselves of every day.

    I wanted to comment on adding your own material (business cards, flyers, etc.) in your portfolio as per Twisty’s comment. While I understand why this would be frowned upon – perhaps clients assume your own marketing material is posted there because of a lack of anything else to put in its place – I personally am just as proud of the work I’ve done for my own business as anyone else’s. And, as a new business owner myself, a portfolio based entirely upon work done for others takes time. Some of us haven’t been at it long enough to fill all that space with freelance work yet…so to Twisty, give us a little break here!

  14. Hi Gina,

    Always nice to get new commentators with something useful to say. I agree with you because as you can see I still have my work in my portfolio. Perhaps when I have more sufficient work outside of University I can remove it.

    It also shows that have designed it ourself and can do so which is also great.

    Hope you stick around Gina and comment more often.

  15. I REALLY loved reading this, and there have been several people who I have worked with who NEED to read this! (Albeit, they do not work with me now.. probably because they need to read this.)

    However – I would like to add that as a graphic designer who builds display ads for a newspaper, there are a few things on this list that are unavoidable at times. Working for a newspaper where you crank out 30-50 display ads in two day’s time, AND build pages… it’s a whole different bag of beans. Pulling images off the web to use for print, and using Comic Sans (NOT BY CHOICE, but by CLIENT choice!)– these crimes are committed at times.

    When you are on such a tight deadline, often, stretching ads to fit the page, having to copy the disgusting work of a “GENIUS GRAPHIC DESIGNER” (READ: The Redneck down the street with Microsoft Word) — it happens, you get over it and you wait for that one project where you have time to put your own interest and effort into.

    On another note, I am also a picky font fanatic. Other fonts that make my blood boil, (Much more so than Comic Sans) — Bradley Hand, Papyrus, Cooper Black and Apple Chancery or ANY Chancery type font.

  16. Hi Desiree,

    Welcome to JCD first off 🙂 Glad for you to join the discussion.

    Why don’t you email them the page so next time they may keep their jobs. I suppose newspaper advertising is a little different but it doesn’t sound like the most appealing job.

    I am also not a huge fan of papyrus however I do not mind cooper black, its just so friendly, the only problem would be that it is used so darn often.

    Hope you stick around on JCD.

  17. Ok. Now that everyone’s done cutting off each others privates off, how about we thank whoever wrote this article and for all the nice little ideas we’ve been given here today.

    *hears everyone here chanting like the dreadful psychotic Microsoft word…FRAGMENT FRAGMENT FRAGMENT*

    Please spare me the butchering, I’m glad we’re all trying to improve our ability to handle constructive criticism but I think I’ll pass 🙂

    In short, has anyone here got links to more interesting articles?

  18. Wow… this list is great… and so it’s your site! This post contains every tip my teachers suggested me in years!

    chiara . from Italy

  19. wow thanks so much! I suffer taking criticism personally, slowly getting over it though and another thing i found interesting –

    “Not knowing any famous designers in particular Paula Scher, Milton Glaser, Paul Rand and not knowing WHY they were famous”

    i dont know many designers actually, still learning!

  20. Great article. Great Web site.

    Confession time for me:
    1. Criticism sometimes is a struggle for me, but mainly so when the person criticizing cannot offer any reason other than, “I just don’t like it. Change it.”

    2. I have no idea who these folks are (but then, I have no formal art or design training — only journalism and editing).

    4. Looks like I need to buy another book to add to my growing collection.

    18. I do my best to use filters sparingly, and then just to complement an effect.

    As far as using personl work in a portfolio, well, sometimes it’s all one has to show. I’m slowly getting into the freelance gig, and until I grow a large enough portfolio of good work, I think the personal will continue to have a place in portfolio.

    Keep up the good work, Jacob.

  21. Loved this article. I found all the advice useful and was thrilled that even as a total amateur, I am in sync with many of your 30 font choices. I do think the obsession with hating comic sans is almost as strange as the obsession people have with over-using it. I am a fine artist with a graphic style, and I need to be reminded to tone it downat times. We tend to go overboard with the mixed fonts and eat up all the white space. Less is more!

  22. i don’t know if it’s because it’s already been beaten to death or what, but papyrus is way more annoying to me than any other font. it’s everywhere and there’s even a few businesses here in saint louis that used it for their front signage!

  23. so this free fonts thing, not sure how paying for a font is any different.

    dafont.com is surely acceptable. Ive used it for commerical work. The same artists make the fonts.

    So I assume you mean poor quality fonts from anywhere as free fonts have good quality ones so novice designers reading this might think not to use dafont.com etc and thats misleading.


  24. Such an interesting article.
    I agree with you, especially on using comic sans.
    I have no idea, i just hate that font since first time i saw and i always hate if somebody told me to use it in my design.
    But, why using photoshop filters become one of those mistakes?
    Did you never find blur images to be sharpened? Did you never find images with noise to be despeckled?
    My question caused of curriosity. And i really need your answer.
    Thank you Jacob Cass,Your articles are so interresting.
    I’m a new designer, and nobody thought me about design, i just like it and learn it by myself from books and articles, then try to do my best.
    I think i’ll need more your advices.
    One last thing, forgive me of bad sentences, because i’m neither englishman nor american. And i don’t speak english well.

  25. White Space is your Friend?

    Yes, definitely white space is a friend for who is taking care and giving much more attention to their designs. A professional Graphic Designer will play with white spaces.

    White space is really a friend it is giving more contrast to the designs and an elegant look.

    Designers kindly remember white space is your friend always. Use it on right way.

  26. my rules is this what u think about it?

    Do it right way,first time, right time,every time. Tommorrow is another day, do it maxi mum today.

    Work smartly, live simply.

  27. pretty spot on….
    maybe also do a list of the top mistakes some new freelancers make when they get a studio job…
    A few examples include:
    1. Not know your shortcuts
    2. Cannot research quickly
    3. Spend too much time playing around on small details, rather then overall presentation…
    4. Cannot meet deadlines
    5. Cannot use both Mac and PC
    6. Ignore the brief
    7. Ignore the client
    8. Too damn slow…

    just to name a few…

  28. That list is as accurate as it gets. But you missed one potential one when it comes to the client. If they take over the design,you aren’t doing the job,They are. This does come as a surprise to most but it happens too often not to be listed.

  29. I’m new to design, I recently completed a Cert 4 in graphic design and I love it!! Currently, I’m applying for a traineeship so I need all the help I can get! I guess I’m just trying to say thanks for the straight up, useful info. And if there’s anything else you think I should know bring it on! You’re a real inspiration for newcomers like me and I hope I can aviod being a bad designer! Cheers mate 😀

  30. Great list but there is one I think doesn’t really belong here.

    “Not Owning the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook”

    While this book is good for satisfying your curiosity about how things are supposed to be done, I find it pretty useless for the way things actually are done. The pricing guidelines are a hoot. Same with the terms they think and illustrator will be able to get compensated.

    I use my Designer’s Handbook to prop up my keyboard at the proper angle. It works excellent.

  31. I noticed several of your tips have to do with how graphic designers get paid. I’ve found that the web industry as a whole could use a few tips on setting prices. Most small business owners are not willing to pay necessary fees because there are too many people willing to work for next to nothing.
    Think about it – the guy you’re quoting doesn’t work for free – why should you?

  32. @ Desiree – I too work in a job where my main duty is to produce reader offer ads for newspapers (UGH UGH UGH, no matter how hard you try, it’s sometimes impossible to produce anything nice; quite often the branding guidelines are disgusting), and I too relish the chance to work on something looser from time to time. I have found myself doing 4-5 hours of freelance a night on top so I can kep learning and developing a style, as my boss is waaay behind on trends, and has an odd idea of what looks nice… thus I can’t do this or that, but endless, endless circles over filled with text is what he wants, therefore despite argument gets. I had some time off sick and came back to a pile of ads with 5 or 6 feature circles dotted all over them, with giant drop shadows, all the text aligned to the top leaving a massive gap at the bottom on the left side only, and the picture stretched out of proportion.. but he still comments on my work as if I’ve never done any design in my life!! Because I’m trying to move on, I will be printing this list out and making sure I adhere to it, but as Desiree said, it’s often impossible to follow these rules when working in our specific field.

  33. Some really great advice for how not to get your feelings hurt when creating something for somebody. Although in web development a down payment is very useful for commitment from the client.

    Here is the scenario, you work for 6 weeks on a development. They mess you about another 6 weeks later they finalise the dev, you invoice and they pay on 30, 60, 90 or 120 days!

    Result: You have to wait half a year to get paid.

    Design can be over in a relatively short period of time and there is where the difference lies I think, dev never ends!.

    How can you put cooper black in the same boat as comic sans – which you admit to using.

    This is a little misguided, if you are dissing Cooper Black – a font created nearly 100 years ago and heavily used in 60’s psychedelia artwork – you are also doing the same to it’s parents Cooper and Goudy. Classic typefaces that have stood the test of time.

    Comic sans and papyrus are literally the typeface poop on the bottom of my shoe.

    Any client who asks me to use comic sans is politely asked to choose a different font face or kill themselves. If they don’t back down I kill them my self and engrave their tomb stone in comic sans! That is the only time I use it.

    Only joking I love comic sans, it’s just so funny and er.. comical. Hate hate hate it.

  34. Hey, I just have a quick question… What is such the big deal with Comic Sans Font? Why is is hated so much? Please, no attacking replies.. just a regular response that makes sense will do. 🙂

  35. Ehhh ok, Nevermind, I read about why it’s so much hated. People actually wrote about hating it worse than how a Natzi hates a Jew.. kind of ridiculous I think. I say, if you like it, think it will look good, and you will use it the right way, then why not? I read also it was very popular and people used it for everything, driving people crazy .. hence.. making them hate it. Someone made a good point also. So many people jumping on the I hate Comic Sans bandwagon and you jumping aboard yourself doesn’t make you look so creative. So many people hating it now makes me wanna stick to it.. hahaha.

  36. Nice post. I used to charge very low when i was new to freelancing. I used to make the additional changes for free then which used to be endless. Once i started charging, the changes were very less. Initially i was afraid that i might loose the client. But i realised in a wrong way they such clients are anyway pain in the ….:)

  37. I have been screwed over way too many times by cover artists. My first one charged me thousands of dollars. My most recent one got angry because I asked her to make corrections – I am the boss. Although she asked for a milestone upfront, I haven’t released it yet. She went PSYCHO on me the other day, and I get up early and go to bed late waiting for her to get on the computer to finish the work. When she got ill, she had her assistant do the work, then when she came back, she started over, asking me to explain it all over again. I can’t get her to respond so she can finish it by tonight. So don’t tell me the client is the nightmare. I also know artists have to take on projects, but if they take on too many, mine never gets done.

  38. I’d also add – new designers doing print layouts in photoshop instead of using correct layout apps such as Quark or InDesign.

    As for comic sans, most design illiterate people use it because it comes free on their systems and they think they’re being ‘creative’. Any designer using that font would get laughed out of the agency by their peers, however, if you’re designing a comic, you could most probably get away with it – the clue is in the name.

    Another bug bear in print design is seeing Helvetica replaced by Arial (also because it’s supplied with most peoples systems).

  39. Awesome post Jacob.

    @Twisty I personally disagree I think if it’s a good piece of work that can impress a client and your proud of it, then why not show it; It’s what a portfolio is about.

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