Design Crime Scenes

There are many design elements and principles that we have all been guilty of using at some point in time, however we are still seeing them being used incorrectly now and they pop up from time to time in designs. Novice designers occasionally make these poor choices by jumping behind the tools and diving right in to create something they deem is successful. However, in return, they have created some eye cringing material instead!

At the end of the day, the goal for all graphic designers is to be creative, innovative, and have their work stand out from the crowd. In order to create inspiring and successful design solutions, we are going to delve into why you should avoid these graphic design sins. We have also given you a few pointers on how to save yourself from creating a design crime scene.

Your choice of typeface is as important as what you do with it.

“Can you make the logo bigger?” This is a saying that we hear quite too often, and we have all fallen into the trap at some point of stretching out (horizontally or vertically) or squishing down elements just to make it fit better on the page. This includes logos, text and design elements that are stretched out so much that they look oddly tall and skinny (giraffe), or short and wide (hippo).

When elements are stretched they result in appearing warped and awkwardly out of place. This is especially evident if nothing else in the design has been stretched out. Although the viewer may not know the technicalities behind this crime, their eyes immediately pick up on it. Text is the most common culprit of this stretching fad. If you want the letters in your text to look taller, or wider we suggest changing the typeface to convey your message more effectively. Nonetheless, if elements need to be resized they should be transformed and scaled proportionally.

In the past (and I mean in the 1800 to about the 1920’s) designers were praised for their attention to detail and adverting material that would fill the entire space by incorporating many design elements. Nonetheless, today we try to steer away from designing things that can give the reader a dizzy spell.

Some clients/designers are too excited when it comes to creating something visually and make the mistake of vomiting out every single thing that was contained in their mind. As a result, they try to incorporate a wall of text and a large library of images into the one project. Depending on that particular project, some information becomes irrelevant and may not be the most effective in translating the message. This goes in saying that a lot of images can also affect readability.

Just because you have a lot of information, it does not mean that you cannot keep it organized. We suggest pulling out key words and making sure any information that is utilised in a design is absolutely crucial in conveying the desired message and adheres to the project scope. If you are incorporating a lot of elements, use a grid layout to help create a well-balanced composition. Always think about having a purposeful hierarchy in your design to make sure the placement of each element is well thought out, and use negative space to allow information to be easily processed.

You want to make your text POP and stand out on the page, so what do you do? You double click the layer on Photoshop and bring up the layer style dialog and scroll your eyes down to the bottom of the list and that drop shadow is just staring right at you. It’s doing a dance and telling you ‘I’ll make your design look professional and fancy so you end up using it….and give yourself a pat on the back for producing something ‘totally awesome’. Unfortunately, a bucket load of graphic designers are shaking their heads at you.

How can you take that step towards being a professional graphic designer? We suggest avoiding the drop shadow style in Photoshop right this instance. Drop Shadows instantly yells cheesy lighting effects and comes across as incredibly out-dated. Creating unnecessary clutter, the shadow itself forms somewhat of a distraction and detracts the attention away from the text itself. Our main focus goes straight to the effect itself that we forget about the message conveyed completely. As an alternative we suggest blending the shadow subtly into the background using transparency and colour if you are after the soft, feathered edge look. Another method we recommend would be hard edged drop shadows which give your text a retro feel. Remember; the text is the primary focus, not the drop shadow!

There are so many handcrafted typefaces available to us that some times we can get a little carried away. Although some fancy/decorated fonts are supper cool to look at, they can be quite hard to read and are not legible in big bodies of text. Avoid using these for body copy as information becomes lost and not easily digested.

When a decorative font is necessary and incorporated in your design, we suggest only using it for the title or main header. This works effectively as the ‘attention grabber’, however used in body copy then legibility becomes compromised. This in return compromises the visual hierarchy of your design as there is no differentiation between importance of information (detracting the effectiveness of the conveyed message).

For a good laugh read about some typefaces that we love and hate from our childhood memories in our blog post ‘Trip Down Memory Lane.

Nothing screams home made more than ye old Word Art and Clip Art. Both of these Microsoft publishing design tools was everyone’s ultimate favourite thing to incorporate into print or digital presentations. Both were readily available, but were so over used back in the 90’s that they are well past their use by dates. When a design is seen utilising Word Art or Clip Art it screams unprofessionalism and indicates that the designer did not take their time into looking for other resources to enhance their work. They have not thought outside the box nor done any prior research into other designs to get a grasp of expectations and standards.

With technological developments we now have much better resources and services out there online and right at our fingertips – so take advantage! Illustrations, vector graphics and artworks that are of high quality (paid and unpaid) or photographs and typefaces of all kinds are available to us in order to achieve more professional designs. In saying so, do not fall into the trap of using ‘conventional’ stock imagery. By ‘conventional’ we mean images where you find a man or woman smiling foolishly at a blank piece of paper in his or her hand. So let’s put an end to this design crime scene and finally say goodbye to Word Art and Clip Art!

When arranged incorrectly, using multiple fonts create confusion and can easily lose the attention of any reader. However, if you’re going down the road of using different fonts in your designs make sure you select ones that complement each other well. There are many fantastic typographic designs that successfully use multiple fonts in order to convey a message effectively. As a general rule you wouldn’t want to mix both a Serif and Sans Serif typeface in the same body copy. Type is an excellent tool to distinguish different groups of elements in your design, but mixing different typefaces in the same group often leads to confusion.

When designing, you need to ask yourself what emphasis do you want the font to make? To form a focal point you can use a bolder font with more weight, if certain elements need receding, use a font that consists of lighter, thinner strokes. When placing fonts in your design, consider the characters’ individual characteristics such as shape, form, weight and detail. All this can come into play and help strengthen a composition’s visual hierarchy.

We all would have been guilty of using this incorrectly at some point in time. Remember opening up Microsoft Power Point and splashing a bright coloured gradient background on every slide? Nothing is more eye cringing than seeing a harsh gradient that does not fade out well, or one that incorporates every single colour of the rainbow (we’re talking about those layered rainbow cakes). Using gradients is the easiest way to label your work as ‘tacky’. It is so difficult to apply a gradient well and make it look professional. In most cases when it is applied to a design it is a means to make a design look ‘finished’. However, utilising a gradient in the background is not a solution nor is it adding to the purpose of the design.

If you want to apply a gradient to your work, we suggest applying it over the top of an existing layer and playing with the design options such as the opacity (lower that gradient layer). Use the gradient to enhance the foundation, but do not rely on it to stand alone and be the big main attraction. It is all about the application!

Decorative, and over the top borders are unnecessary to a design layout as it does not add to the effectiveness of a message. Borders detract attention away from the focal point of the design as it becomes overly cluttered. Brands that use decorative borders unintentionally evoke an out-dated vibe.

Elaborate borders are often targeted at the female market and are frequently seen in lingerie, or beauty brands. This intentional use of decorative borders or design elements is to be seen as elegant, romantic, and a little bit naughty. Restaurants and cafes are also commonly seen to use this design element to try and achieve a fancy high-end style but often brand themselves as tacky instead. We are not saying that every business should be contemporary and modern. There are many decorative and intricate brands that look amazing when done right!

Before considering using any type of border please be aware of your target audience and find out what appeals to them (are you targeting a niche group?). Make sure it fits in with your brand, and that it conveys the right message or tone. If you must incorporate a border of any sorts in your design layout or brand we suggest using a minimal or understated one. The border should not be the main focal point and detract the attention away from the delivered message.

There is nothing worse than seeing a ‘lost dog poster’ quality type image incorporated into a design. We are living in a world where your go-to tool for taking a photo is your smart phone. There are many new mobile cameras that take crisp, high quality photos and when done correctly with the right techniques and editing skills, these photos can look amazing. However, on the opposite end some people only utilise blurry and low resolution images taken on older mobile phone models. There are also a few who make the mistake of compressing their images. This is often a mishap that we do not pick up on immediately. Exporting photos that were once large and compressing them into a small file size will drastically affect the quality.

In saying so, the size and resolution required of an image is dependent on the design job. Image size requirements differ for websites, print (on paper or products), and large scale signage. Our tip for you if you are providing images as a client is to make sure to check if the design agency you have approached has any procedures or guides for providing content. Most companies will specify what is vital in order to achieve the best quality service. For social media usage a blurry photo can be viewed as an unprofessional or sloppy job. On the other hand, if you are using the right techniques and editing skills to create subjects that are in action (eg. motion blur or time lapse) these blurry type images can be amazing. Keep in mind intentional blurring can be immediately recognised from a poor quality unintentional out of focus photo.

No professional wants to be remembered for creating generic material and this “cookie cutter” effect is something any client will want to avoid. In this ever-changing world, design trends are evolving all the time with new programs being developed and utilised by designers. This makes it very easy for designers to fall behind and become out-dated. As a tip we suggest that you keep your eyes peeled and experiment with different styles. There are so many community groups, media, news, blogs and inspirational websites that are available to us all. Sites like Pinterest, and Behance are great resources to help you stay inspired and aware of what others in the same field are producing. Read books and buy magazines. Who says print is dead? Stay on top of the game and always strive to be innovative.

Were you guilty of any of the design crimes? Let us know if we have missed out on any.