7 Awful Design Mistakes + How to Fix Them

Design is about a lot of rules. As a designer it's just one of those things that comes naturally to me, but I know that's not the case for every one. 

 Seven design mistakes and how to fix them.

I'm really the kind of person who likes to break rules, but these design rules are pretty hard and fast. These are things that will make your graphics look top notch, rather than sloppy and amature. 

It's like painting your walls. You want them to look gorgeous, even though you totally did it yourself and hated every minute of it. (Maybe that's just me when it comes to painting my walls.)

Mistake #1: Using the wrong file type.

You put a JPG version of your logo on top of a color background or image, which means it has an ugly white box around it. 

This is the holy grail of ugly design mistakes. Everytime I see someone do this, a tiny piece of my soul dies a little bit, that’s how bad it is. And EVERY designer in the world agrees with me on this one. 

 On the left is the PNG on the right is the JPG.

On the left is the PNG on the right is the JPG.

If you want to put your logo on something that isn’t a white background, you MUST use a transparent file, typically a PNG. 

But, Erin, what if I want to put my logo on black background and it’s hard to see? My reply is, don’t do it. Use a light colored background. Sure, it’s limiting but its a million times better than putting a white box on a background. 

Ideally, your designer gave you an all white version of your logo that you can put on a dark background. If not, ask for one. Odds are they won’t mind too much. It’s usually pretty easy to implement. 

If all you have is the file with the white background, then I suggest using this quick tutorial for removing that white background. Or again, ask your designer to resend your transparent files, if possible. There might be a small fee for their time, but it’s totally worth it. 

MISTAKE #2:  Pictures on top of pictures.

Here are the thoughts that run through your head. I want to share this awesome cookie picture, but its not branded to me. So, I’m going to put it on top of my awesome teal background with my logo in the corner. 

Yeah...that doesn’t really work. 

Imaging you walked in to a doctor’s office and they had painting taped to the wall without frames. You’d probably be a little bit worried and wonder if this doctor even went to medical school. 

This is EXACTLY what people think with your sloppy, random photographic plopped on top of another image. First impressions are everything. 

 Good example of perfect symmetry. See how perfectly centered the picture is on top of the pattern. That makes it more intentional and professional.

Good example of perfect symmetry. See how perfectly centered the picture is on top of the pattern. That makes it more intentional and professional.

There are tons of ways to fix this problem, so don’t stress! 

  1. Use frame! Draw a box around your photo, and make it look intentional.

  2. Only use one photo! Less is ALWAYS more when it comes to design. Not every single thing you post needs to be your exact brand colors, there are other ways to “brand” an image.

  3. Put a transparent box OVER the picture, also called an overlay. This is a common way to add more interest to your graphics. It keeps your brand colors front of mind, while allowing you to use images that aren’t quite perfect.

  4. Pay attention to symmetry. This one is hard to explain, but if you really want to have background or different section, use symmetry rules so that it looks professional and polished.

 Example of adding a branded overlay to an image. Also a good example of left justified text (see mistake #6).

Example of adding a branded overlay to an image. Also a good example of left justified text (see mistake #6).

MISTAKE #3: Never adjusting letter or line spacing. 

So, this one isn’t super awful, but learn to fix these little things with your text and you will start looking like a pro. What I see most of the time is people using the default settings. 

Default is boring. 

First up, tracking. Tracking in the space between each letter. You can change the tracking up or down to make the letters closer together or more spaced out. 

 script font - no extra space. serif font - a little extra for symmetry. Tighten up leading (line space) to help stack the lines.

script font - no extra space. serif font - a little extra for symmetry. Tighten up leading (line space) to help stack the lines.

Tracking is a great to add emphasis on a particular word, or adjust symmetry. 

However, some font should NEVER have the tracking adjusted. Script fonts are supposed to flow. They are supposed to touch each other. Adding spaces between script letters is just plain annoying, and frankly, it looks dumb.

Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 9.35.33 PM.png

Adjust the tracking on any serif and sans serif fonts all you want, but leave scripts alone. 

Leading. Leading is the space between lines in paragraphs. When you are making graphics, play with the leading. There’s no right or wrong, unless you go with the default. 

 This is default line space. bleh.

This is default line space. bleh.

Default is boring. 

MISTAKE #4: Too much information on an image. 

I’ve made a lot of posters, flyers, and ads in my years as a designer. The one rule that always, always applies is “less is more.” 

When you are making graphics for your business, especially for social media, keep the information on the graphics to the necessities. Remember you have plenty of space in the caption or comments of a post to include more information. 

Your graphic is like a book cover, interesting enough to catch the eye of someone walking by. THEN, they flip it over to see what it’s about. 

Oh, by the way, this is exactly the same way you scroll through Instagram. Everyone once in awhile something catches your eye and swipe over to the person’s grid. 

MISTAKE #5: Lack of white space.

White space is your friend! White space in the empty room on a page or graphic. Also called negative space. 

It’s crucial to good design to give your content space to breath. 

Flip through ANY magazine on the shelf and you will see clean margins, white backgrounds, and lots of empty space around headings and images. Space between lines of text and paragraphs. The overall composition of any design is dependent on white space.

Lack of white space makes your images too busy and cluttered. 

This is another one that’s easy to fix. Use smaller text, adjust line spacing and letter space (see mistake #3). Use proper justification to create good margins around your text (see #6). 

Just because you have 5 inches of space doesn’t mean you need to fill all 5 inches with text. 

MISTAKE #6: Everything you make is centered in the middle of the image.

This is one is the most common. Not everything should be centered, especially big blocks of text or lists. 

Seriously, lists with bullet points that are center aligned keep me up at night. 

It’s ok to center things like headings, quotes, a couple of short sentences, poems, or lists (as long as you don’t add bullet points). In general, short amounts of texts are ok to be centered. 

Long bodies of text, think blog posts or recipes, should always be aligned to the left. It’s easier on our eyes and easier on our brains when the first words of each line are aligned. 

Pro-tip: Whenever possible try not to leave one short-word on a line of text by itself. Those are called hangers, they also cause sleepless nights. 

You can also use a little bit of left or right aligned text to add interest, especially when it adds to the overall composition of your design. 

 Right aligned text adds interest!

Right aligned text adds interest!

MISTAKE #7: Not understanding hierarchy or which words to emphasize. 

Ugh, I see this all time. I wish I could show you bad examples, but I'm not heartless. 

Basically, it's when the wrong word is bigger or in a different font than the rest of text. 

"Doubt kills more dreams THAN failure ever will." 
Makes no sense, right? THAN is not important. 

Sometimes I see quotes where the word "is" is different text than the rest of the quote. It's weird. Or the date is bigger than the title of an event. 

When you are making a graphic, ask yourself what is the most important? That's what should stand out. I assure its not the word is or than. 

Next time you are making graphics try these design rules, and soon you'll start thinking like a pro.