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21 Common mistakes that designers make and how to avoid them



Are you starting out as a graphic or logo designer? Well you are probably overwhelmed and scared that you might do things the wrong way or you don’t know where to start. We have all been there and sometimes even after years of experience in the field, we need some reminders to make sure that the final result is spotless. So let’s talk about a few of the most common mistakes that I have noticed or experienced and also what my research on these has brought to light, shall we?


The most common mistakes that designers make that we talk about today:


  1. Doing free work

  2. Not understanding the brief/instructions

  3. Not listening to the client or the feedback

  4. Copying others

  5. Too many fonts

  6. Overthinking

  7. Promise the world – Give nothing

  8. Kerning

  9. Stretching text

  10. Comic sans

  11. Not naming files properly

  12. Not organising project files/folders

  13. Flattening Photoshop files

  14. Printing images under 300dpi

  15. No proper spelling/Grammar check

  16. Forgetting the target audience for each project

  17. The Know-it-all-guy

  18. Working restlessly

  19. Not admitting mistakes

  20. No confidence

  21. Not updating their portfolio regularly


Image by https://www.geckoandfly.com/24871/sarcastic-work-for-free-quotes/

1. Doing free work

A doctor or a lawyer don’t have to do free work, so why do people ask from designers to work for free? As designers we are probably not saving lives but we are most likely to save companies, and we try to make this world a more beautiful and pleasant place to live in, right? Now, all of us have done some of our first projects for free, but it was for practice. After that there is no excuse. It is time to say no. Your time is the most precious thing and it should be valued.



2. Not understanding the brief/instructions

It might sound simple but it’s not. This is one of the most common ones. It’s not necessarily yours or anyone else’s fault. Especially in cases that you are working directly with a client, he/she might have never worked with a designer before. So the phrasing and explanation that you would receive might need “translation”. Start by asking questions, 1-2 at a time, and try not to think as a designer but as a regular thinking person, not many technical terms or complicated things. When and where it’s possible, set a meeting with the client. Face to face interaction is the easiest way to communicate his vision and your thoughts. Oh and keep lots of notes!


Image from https://www.commcentric.com/

3. Not listening to the client or the feedback

Imagine meeting with your client at a quiet coffee shop. He/she is explaining his vision to you and you are looking outside the window. Not a very nice image, right? Not only does it show unprofessionalism but also by not paying the necessary attention to what the client is trying to communicate with you could be crucial for the overall project. It would be like you’d be working on “invincible” guidelines and vision, with no clue of their target audience or brand mission. This will probably lead to designing the PORCHE logo for a fast food chain. Imagine that.



4. Copying others

Back in 2012, while I was still in Greece, I was very lucky to come across the second creativity book from Austin Kleon, a New York best selling author who draws. The name of that book was “Steal like an Artist” and it immediately caught my attention (bought it straight away and read it the same day). I still remember this diagram of his, showing the difference between “COPY” and “INSPIRED BY”. Nothing in this world is 100% original and we should stop overthinking about that. We are free to “steal” from our mentors, inspirations, big brands, small brands etc but there are rules. The best practice is to take notes while you are researching. Write down what you like about a design/style/logo of a brand you saw. Then go to the next one and do the same. After you have a few notes on different designs, review them and see how you can combine features of some or all of them into your design. That way it is still yours, just inspired by other designs.




5. Use of too many fonts

How do you feel about the above image? Well don’t make that face, I know how you feel when you see something like that but it happens. Many designers think that by using many fonts, the text is more attractive to the reader’s eye, that they show how good of a designer they are or that this is the way to separate text sections that strike out of the page/screen. This is far from the truth though. The reader gets confused and the overal result is not eye-pleasing. Try to use 1-2 fonts, throughout your projects, that compliment each other. If you really want to use more than that, I would honestly advise you to use a different variation (thin, bold etc).



Image taken from https://www.thedailystar.net/shout/life/news/how-deal-overthinking-1660567

6. Overthinking

I am so guilty of this. Probably more than all of you combined. I am naturally a perfectionist and I can spend days on top of a project to try and make it 200% perfect. Let me start by saying that nothing is 200% perfect and it can always become better or worse. I read a saying once that said “No art piece is ever complete. The artist decides when to stop working on it.”. You can keep on working on a logo, or a layout for years if you want but I am sure you have better things to do than getting stuck there. Try to take a break and have a look at your project after that. Your mind will be clear and it will be easier to spot actual mistakes instead of the ones that our minds create every 2’.


Image from https://hyken.com/tag/over-promise-and-under-deliver/

7. Promise the world – Give nothing

“I will create the best logo that you’ve ever seen. And I can do it in 2 days. I will also send you 5 completely different version in the first 24 hours”. Now this is a promise than no designer can keep. Even if you can send 5 different designs in 24 hours probably none of them will be the best logo in the universe. And even in the unlike scenario that one of them is, you will need some revisions and feedback and you will also need some sleep. A client that has their mind in their head will not believe that promise either. Have you heard of the saying “good things take time”? Well, best logos need time. You will need to sit down and brainstorm, research, sketch, erase, sketch again. And a client that is serious about their business will respect that.



Image from https://www.creativebloq.com/typography/5-embarrassing-examples-bad-kerning-91412894?utm_source=Adestra&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=10269&utm_term=4882043&utm_content=12357

8. Kerning

Some of you may not be very familiar with kerning or you might not remember that it’s called that. Kerning is the term that describes the spacing between the characters in your text. Next time you open Illustrator, go to the Character Tab and experiment with it. You will have fun. It is a very useful tool but please use it with caution. I have seen characters so far away from each other that you think they are probably in a serious fight. And then there are those characters that look like Siamese twins. It could be creative and interesting on a typographic layout (use it in 1-2 word phrases) but in paragraphs it’s just not right.


Image from http://forthandwild.com/blog/typography-donts

9. Stretching text

We all need yoga but the poor text doesn’t! There are fonts that are condensed or wide but they might be useful for very little text. In big text it looks wrong and it’s not legible. It also definitely doesn’t show that you are an expert in design. When in doubt, be simple.



10. Comic sans

Why does this font even exist? I see it so often that sometimes I feel like I am doing something wrong in this. Comic sans its one of the very “basic” system fonts that happens to exist everywhere. My friends that doesn’t mean that you should use it. If you can remove it completely please do so. It is a useless font that is one of the most unprofessional ones and gives a childish feeling to whatever you are designing. But I would honestly love to hear your opinion on this.



11. Not naming files properly

There is a joke among designers about that. When we start working on a project and we think it’s the final one. So we name it “procetnamefinal.ai”. Well it wouldn’t be a bad name if we didn’t end up saving “projectnamefinalfinalfinalfinalFINAL234134.ai” too. And don’t tell me that this never happened to you because you would be lying. Try to save 1-2 versions of each project and don’t be afraid of adding something descriptive to the title so you know which version it is e.g projectname_BW.ai if ths version was a Black & White one. It will save you time and frustration.



12. Not organising project files/folders

Again I am the most guilty of all although my desktop is NOT like that. But the fact that my folders are cluttered doesn’t mean that yours should to. Name your folders and projects properly with your personal style so that you recognise everything. Don’t save things on generic folders like: Desktop, Downloads, Documents etc.



13. Flattening Photoshop files

This is such a pain when it happens. I have received .psd files that were flattened and the client was asking for outrageous changes. And let’s not forget about this mistake made by me a couple of times. I regreted that decision instantly. Make sure you keep your .psd files with all the layers active (and if possible properly named) and save a flattened .jpg too if you need it.



14. Printing images under 300dpi

PLet's face it, pixels were cool only in Super Mario. And I know what you will say, the client has sent you a low res image. And on screen it might look okay but did you zoom in? I thought so. Try to ask as many times as possible for a high res one. If the client doesn’t have one, explain to them that the resolution is not ideal for print and that the result will be pixelated (this conversation should preferably be in written form). If they are okay with it then proceed to print. After all, this is not your fault.



15. No proper spelling/Grammar check

Double check, triple check. I know that noone know all the words in the dictionary and we all make mistakes. Proofread your projects carefully and if you are not sure about some word(s), search it on Google. Use grammarly and thesaurus for most of your text but don’t depend entirely on these.



16. Forgetting the target audience for each project

Every project, every brand that we are working on has a specific target audience. It’s that imaginary person that the company has created as their reader/client/recipient and they make everything for him/her. For example, if this blog had a target audience of 12-16 year old boys and girls, my kind of writing would probably be very different (much more pep talk there). Always have in mind the client’s target audience and you will do just fine, I promise.



17. The Know-it-all-guy

Even if you have worked with CocaCola or Apple, you CAN’T know everything. Software is updating, trends are changing, and the world is (hopefully) evolving. Have in mind that you can always learn more so just listen to what others have to say too.



18. Working non-stop

Don’t kill yourself over a project. Focus, break, focus, rest, repeat. When you take a break and come back to your project, your mind has cleared and you can see mistakes or get more inspiration. After working 20 hours non stop on a project, chances are that it is either completed for 10 hours now or it will not be finished if you don’t get some rest and come back to it with fresh eyes.



19. Not admitting mistakes

We all make mistakes, everybody knows that. No one is perfect so don’t feel unnecessary pressure to be. Admitting that you made a mistake to either your client or to your boss shows strength and willingness to become better. Instead of blaming everything and everyone else, say “I am sorry, I made a mistake, how can I avoid it next time?”.



20. No Confidence

It doesn’t matter if you are still a student, with no experience, or an experienced design savvy. We all go through these days where we wake up and we feel like we are not good enough, that we won’t make it in this world, that our dreams and goals will just crash and burn or that everyone else is better than us. Let me tell you something: You ARE good enough, you WILL make it, your dreams WILL come true and NOONE is better than you. Stop comparing yourself to others, every person is unique in what they are doing. Every one of us had and have entirely different lives and experience, influences and way of thinking. So why are you comparing yourself to me or him or her? Embrace your flaws and try to be a better person and designer for  y o u r s e l f ! If you are confident in your skills and capabilities, and you believe that you will succeed, well you will! Okay enough pep talk for today, let’s continue.



21. Not updating their portfolio regularly

Finally, this is a very common mistake and you might say that it’s not very important. But there are portfolios that haven’t been updated for the last 12 months. Now imagine if a client or any potential boss has found your portfolio about a year ago, saw something good enough to come back to it now. What they see today on your portfolio is exactly the same as what they saw a year ago. Try to update it at least every 3-6 months and always add a very good or important project to it after it’s complete.


There are other common mistakes that us designers do but I believe these are the most important ones. If you pay attention to these 21 mistakes I am sure that your designs will become even better with time and the process more pleasant. Remember to take breaks guys and keep up the amazing work. I would love to discuss anything that's bothering you and feel free to send any subjects that you would like me to write about.

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