Nayomi Chibana

Written by: Nayomi Chibana

December 21, 2015

19 of The Most Common Mistakes Made By Non-Designers

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It’s no news that the future of communication is visual. Nowadays, anyone who wants to draw attention to themselves in any field–whether it’s marketing or education or writing–must know how to craft a visual message like a pro.

The problem is that when everyone starts creating their own designs, the web becomes inundated with these poor visuals that not only annoy professional graphic designers, but also turn off viewers with enough design literacy to tell the difference between a good design and a bad one.

To aid you on your journey to creating your own captivating visual designs–ones that will actually grab your audience’s attention and keep it–we’ve compiled a list of some of the most common design mistakes committed by non-designers and amateur visual artists.

1 Using words instead of visuals

too wordy

One of the fastest ways to turn your audience off is to include too much text in a piece of communication that is supposed to be primarily visual. This is especially true in the case of infographic and presentation design.

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2 Poor readability

lines of text

Another common mistake is to attempt to fit too many words into one line of text. For readability purposes, 50 to 60 characters per line is the ideal length.

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3 Mismatching fonts

too many fonts

Non-designers also have a tendency to overdo it by combining too many fonts. This tends to give the design a disorganized and unprofessional look.

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4 Bad kerning

letter spacing

Most non-designers won’t give a second thought to the spacing between letters–called kerning–but it can make a big difference in how your project looks.

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5 Not choosing the right colors

color combos

One of the single most important design decisions you will make in the creation of your project is your choice of color combinations. Many times, a project with good communicative potential can go awry if the right colors are not chosen. For inspiration, you can consult this tool.

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6 Lack of negative space

white space

A sure sign of an amateur designer is the lack of white space (or negative space) in a visual design. But instead of looking at white space as empty space, consider it like any other important element of design. A good example is the Google website. You’re never roaming around, wondering where the search bar is.

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7 Placing elements arbitrarily

alignment

One way to create order and symmetry in your design is to properly align elements. A lack of alignment can lead to a product that looks messy and disorganized.

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8 Failing to create contrast

contrast

Another common problem is not using contrast effectively within a design. Not knowing how to use contrast effectively can mean the difference between an effective design and an ineffective one. The example below uses a light color, a dark color, and a bright color.

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9 Not scaling properly

scale

Non-designers are also at times reluctant to use large and small scale. But they shouldn’t be. When this is done, it is important to make sure that the elements are not stretched in ways that were not intended so that they do not become distorted.

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10 Ignoring visual hierarchy rules

hierarchy

An important principle of graphic design is visual hierarchy. It communicates to the viewer the importance of each element in relation to the rest.

For example, in the design below, the largest text is the most important message, followed by the subtitle and then the body text.

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11 Hard-to-read text

hard to read

The goal of good design is not just to be aesthetically pleasing, but to effectively communicate a message. In line with this, text should not only fulfill design goals, but also be easy to read. Placement of text as well as contrast between text and background is important

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12 Inappropriate font combinations

right fonts

Knowing how to pair fonts is another crucial skill a non-designer should strive to learn. Like all other design elements, correctly paired fonts communicate a message all on their own. For example, there are fonts that communicate elegance and formality, while others have more of an approachable and lighthearted look.

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13 Inadequate space between lines

leading

Leading is the spacing between lines of text. As seen in the examples below, having too much space between lines can cause your text to appear disjointed, while having too little space can make the blocks appear too tight and crowded.

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14 Using raster images

pixels

Non-designers often make the mistake of using raster images instead of vectors. While the former is made up of pixels and become blurry when enlarged, the latter is made up of geometric lines and curves, so they can be scaled to any size and still appear crisp. If you are worried about your design getting pixelated, a good rule of thumb is to make your design bigger than it needs to be. If you start at a high resolution and scale down, the images will still be crisp. You can always reduce resolution, but you can never increase it.

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15 Striving for complete symmetry

symmetry

Another common misstep is to try and make a design look too perfect and symmetric. The use of absolute symmetry can make a design appear boring, while trying something not so symmetrical can produce a more eye-catching design.

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16 Failing to communicate effectively

Print

Designers and non-designers are both guilty of this. Many times, we can get so caught up in creating a design that appeals to our own tastes and aesthetic preferences that we forget about the client’s needs and, worst of all, about the content and how it should serve its audience.

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17 Copying others’ work

creative

Although it is advisable to look for inspiration in others’ creations, it is definitely not okay to copy someone else’s work and pass it off as your own.

This will not only hurt your credibility in the end, it will also limit the reach and impact of your message.

Also, steer clear of cliches and overused design elements like the ones found here.

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18 Forgetting about the medium

Print

Another important factor which is often overlooked is the medium in which your design will appear. Whether it will it be published online, in a book or a magazine can make a big difference in the way you go about creating your design.

For example, if your artwork will appear in a bound book, you must account for the space between the two pages, which is called a gutter. Before you lay out your ideas, make sure to avoid placing any important design elements over this space since they will get lost in the binding process.

Also, if you need to print your design be sure to change to CMYK color mode, not RGB, which is the color mode for projects displayed on mobile devices and computer screens.

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19 Not being consistent

consistency

Another mistake you should steer clear of is the lack of consistency and repetition in your designs. For example, you should use some of the same visual elements (such as image filters or types of buttons) and layouts throughout your project.
But remember not to overdo it. You also don’t want each page to look too similar to the rest.

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Your Turn

Make-Information-Beautiful-video series for non-designers

Now that you’ve read about some of the most common mistakes made by non-designers, you can watch Payman Taei explain them in the video above.

And if you want to receive additional tips on becoming a better visual communicator, don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

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About the Author

Nayomi Chibana is a journalist and writer for Visme’s Visual Learning Center. Besides researching trends in visual communication and next-generation storytelling, she’s passionate about data-driven content.

31 responses to “19 of The Most Common Mistakes Made By Non-Designers”

  1. […] For a more detailed explanation of things to avoid, I would recommend this recent article from Visme: 19 of The Most Common Mistakes Made By Non-Designers. […]

  2. […] Jeg er ingen designer, og jeg har sikkert gjort de fleste designfeil i løpet av karrieren. Men her er i alle fall en grei oversikt til senere referanse: 19 of The Most Common Mistakes Made By Non-Designers. […]

  3. […] 19 of The Most Common Mistakes Made By Non-Designers […]

  4. This article is great! Thank you for examples with images. I surely use those advices in future.

  5. Ben William says:

    Hello There,
    Thanks for your great illustration regarding mistake while design.
    I have to agree with all of your metric. Beside, i strongly believe that in terms of website design, you have to concern following metric:
    web fronts and color, miss match fronts in different pages.
    I believe that each website should have own front color and front. You should not mixed front in different pages and you have to concern regarding front color and read ability.

    Best Regards
    Ben William

  6. […] Now that you’ve seen what constitutes good design, learn more about some of the most common mistakes made by non-designers here. […]

  7. Haris says:

    Tq for the guide line tho. Keep it up👍🏼 Good joob

  8. Martyn Bull says:

    The CMYK vs RGB thing is fading away. Most printers I send work to now only accept RGB.

    • Thanks for the comment, Martyn. Most office printers accept RGB, although many professional printers still advise changing to CMYK just prior to sending off to print. In any case, best advice is to consult with the printer before sending it off.

  9. Adam yaacob says:

    Thank…help me a lot as a amateur freelance designer

  10. […] Here are some more great tips on the most common mistakes made by non-designers. […]

  11. Jom Chan says:

    This is very helpful for me who’s just started learning graphic designing.

  12. Ross says:

    So relevant information thank You Nayomi!

  13. Ginger Marks says:

    AMEN!!! And, I might add: This is a struggle even with clients; trying to make them understand we don’t just design, we DESIGN with a purpose. Nothing we do is random, there’s always a reason to every element of design. Worse yet is to allow the client to micromanage the design contrary to effective design techniques. If they do that, it’s time to walk away. Even when we break the rules we do it with purpose!

    • Payman Taei Payman Taei says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Ginger! Totally agree this is a challenge with some clients. This is why we’re working to train non-designers’ eyes to see that there’s a method in the “madness.”

  14. Susie says:

    Use of ALL CAPS is a big no-no for accessible websites and electronic documents. One reason for this, is that we recognize words by shape, and “all caps” turn all words into little rectangles, making them more difficult for some people to read. Another reason is that screen readers look at TEXT IN ALL CAPS like this: T. E. X. T. I. N. A. L. L. C. A. P. S. Read aloud by a screen reader, the text is no longer readable and understandable.

    • Thanks for the comment, Susie. I agree — all caps has its own implied meaning, especially in emails and text messaging; the equivalent of raising one’s voice or yelling.

  15. Sarfo says:

    Thank you so much for this. I just started graphic design and the idea I have weren’t so strong that I hardly believed in the things that I thought would make my works communicable, but thanks to you, I know what I’m doing wrong and right. 😊

  16. Ljiljana says:

    Dear Nayomi,
    The list is very useful – compact yet comprehensive for us non-designers preparing presentations, lectures and reports.
    As a university lecturer / researcher, I have come to some of these rules intuitively, but your list is much better organised and teaches me some of the jargon, such as “visual hierarchy” and “negative space”. (So next time when I provide comments to my students’ presentations I can name the issues correctly. 😊)
    Funnily, once I deliberately broke your rules 8 (Failing to create contrast) and 11 (Hard-to-read text), with a little tongue in cheek. It was a photograph of kitchen and garden waste just rotting, where I put the text “Nutrients lost due to poor waste management practices” across the photo in a colour with very little contrast, so that it is hard to read. While my students were trying to discern what was there, I said that the nutrients were lost now, in the mess, just like the text was lost. Everyone got the message.
    (BTW, yes, I was observing rule 17 – it was my own photograph.)
    Very best regards

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