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The Most Commonly Made Graphic Design Mistakes Ep. 12

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

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When you start your own business your everything from CEO, web designer, book keeper, employee, and graphic designer

In this episode, we'll explore some of the most common mistakes that DIY designers make and how to fix them.

By the end of this episode, I hope you'll feel more confident in creating business materials that look professional, matches your personality and appeals to your target audience.

1. Ignoring the Basics of Design

One of the most significant mistakes you can make as a DIY designer is neglecting the fundamental principles of design. These are elements such as color theory, typography, composition, and visual hierarchy just to name a few.

If you can take the time to learn and understand the basics of design. Online courses, tutorials, and books are available to help you learn the fundamentals.

But for now let's go over some of the common design principles that can help you fix your designs right now.

Alignment and balance - Make sure that all the text in your design is perfectly aligned to the left, or to the right, or to the center however you want to design your graphic.

Something that makes a design look automatically messy and unprofessional is when things aren't aligned with one another.

If you are doing a checklist with checkboxes for example then you want all the checkboxes perfectly left aligned. This is something that I wouldn't do manually, I would use the align tool which can be found on many design programs such as Canva, Adobe Illustrator, and even website builders like Wix and Show It. I'm sure it's not uncommon for other design programs to have it as well.

And one more thing about alignment I want you to look around your design and have everything lined up by either the top-hand side, bottom side, or the left-hand side so let's say you have an image and then a body of paragraph it will look cleaner if you have the text lined up with the top of the image. Or if we have two images stacked on top of each other make sure that they are the same size if that's the look you're going for or that they are left aligned with each other.

For visual balance think of how heavy an element can be. Big photos, large text, large boxes of color those are all heavy elements that need to balanced by lighter elements like thin lines, small text, and small graphics.

For example, a poster design that features a large image on one side and smaller text on the other side is an example of asymmetrical balance. Even though the elements are different sizes the overall composition still feels balanced.

An example of bad visual balance in design is when a composition appears lopsided or unbalanced, where your eye is drawn to one particular area of the design, instead of bouncing around the whole design.

For example, imagine a poster that features a large image on the left side of the design, with very little visual elements on the right side. This creates a heavy left-sided composition, which can feel unbalanced and may cause the viewer's eye to spend more time on the left side of the design, ignoring the rest of the poster.

Bad visual balance can also be using too much of one color or texture, failing to distribute visual elements evenly, or not having enough white space, aka empty space.

A technique that I enjoy using in my designs is the Z-pattern reading behavior. People tend to scan content in a Z-shaped pattern, starting from the top left corner, moving to the right, and then diagonally down to the bottom left corner then to the bottom right corner.

So what I like to do is strategically place important information along this path.

A great example of this can be seen in the layout of a website homepage, where the logo is on the top left side, the navigation leads you to the top right corner, followed by the above the fold section that showcases the brand's value proposition, and most of the time a nice hero image then supporting information and buttons to the right. This way, the viewer is naturally led through the content in a logical and efficient manner.

2. Overcomplicating the Design

Its very common for DIY designers to try and cram in way too many design elements into a project. Too much text - this is the biggest mistake, too many images, graphics that don't add to a design like hand-drawn flowers or a little swiggly lines and do dads that don't match your branding but you added just to fill in that empty space.

This makes your designs cluttered and hard to understand.

I want you to keep your design simple and focused. If you look at the copy, which is the text, on your social media graphic, website, brochure and feel like there's way too much copy to read then you are probably right. Get clear with your message and break it down into bullet points.

People do not want to sit and read your design if it's too overwhelming for them and they feel like they are about to sit down and read a book. We're lazy we want things that are easily scannable and digestible.

An easy way to keep your design simple is to choose one focal image or graphic, add the text then only use your branded elements.

Let's say you're creating your lead magnet opt in page.

Choose one image as your visual.

Then add the title let's say it's, '5 ways to elevate your social media graphics' this should be the largest point size on the design, as an example, 25 pt. Then add 5 bullet points for what they can expect from downloading your freebie, lets say thats 12 pt.

Then add your branded elements. You can do this through how you style your button, pro tip: make sure all the buttons on your website look exactly the same.

The fonts you use, the colors you use and how you layout your design.

So if you have a really classic timeless look for your branding then just have a photo on the left hand side and all the text left aligned to the right of the image.

Or if you have a really edgy brand then maybe you can put the image in the middle, have the title right side aligned to the left edge of the photo and the 5 bullet points left aligned to the right of the photo.

There's so many different ways that you can spice up your design without adding random do dads in an empty space.

My branded elements are a marble texture, a blue color block, thin lines, branded images and that's about it. Have a look at my website or Instagram, Z Squared Studio, and you can see how I design my graphics so they aren't busy but are still filled with personality because it matches my brand style.

Perhaps your brand is more boho and features organic blobs, squiggly lines, arched photo frames, and stock images of plant silhouettes. Know that you can mix and match between elements to create simple but personality filled designs.

Sometimes I choose to use a white background instead of marble with a blue color block and lines, or maybe a marble background with lines and I color my text in my signature blue. There are many ways to brand your graphics, but it's important to keep them simple and consistent.

Choose a few key design elements and focus on making them work together cohesively.

3. Using Too Many Fonts

In past podcasts, I talked about the importance of limiting your fonts and I wanted to bring it up again for this episode because so many people think they need to use a ton of fonts to create a visually engaging design.

But the truth is, using too many fonts can actually do the opposite and make the design look cluttered and unprofessional. Keep it simple and stick to your branded fonts or if you dont have brand guidelines, yet, just choose 2 fonts that work together like a serif heading and a sans-serif serif body copy text.

Or you can even keep it really simple with just using one font for both the header and the body copy. Remember there are other ways to make text exciting like using bold or italics, that way you can get that nice contrast without bringing in different fonts.

Every time you encounter a new font, your brain needs to pause, process and adapt to the new style. Imagine running into a poster that has 7 different fonts, it would be challenging and frustrating to read. All that starting and stopping is bound to make people go crazy.

4. Not using enough White Space

If you've been listening to me for a while I've talked about white space before and here I am mentioning it again because it really is important. Allow your designs to breathe by giving enough space around your text and other elements.

If you're placing your text inside a shape, make sure that the text doesn't touch the edges. When adding text on top of a photo, be mindful not to cover the focal point of the image. Maybe this is a person, animal or object.

For social media graphics, aim to keep at least 1/8th of an inch distance between the text and the phone edges. Pull everything away from the edges and notice the difference in how professional it looks. This is particularly important for your mobile site, where you need to make sure that all the text is easily readable and doesn't overflow beyond the edges of the phone because if no one can read it what's the point?

White space is more than just empty or blank space; also keep in mind that it doesn't necessarily have to be white either. White space is just areas of a design that are free from any visual elements, such as images, text, or graphic elements. It can even be a textured or colored background.

White space is a visual breath for the viewer, it helps create visual balance and hierarchy and makes the design easier to read.

5. Not Paying Attention to Detail

Small details can make a significant difference in the overall quality of a design.

This can be things like alignment, spacing, and consistency.

It's important to make sure your text and images are aligned properly so they look neat and organized. If you want everything left-aligned, select all the elements and use the align tool I talked about this earlier today so I won't dive too deep into alignment again. But definitely just keep in mind that little details like not having your elements aligned will make your designs look more amateur.

If you're designing a website and want to repeat three boxes right next to each other, use the align tool to space them out evenly horizontally, and make sure each box is the same size to keep it consistent. Normally I would even take it as far as looking at the pixel size for each box and then making sure that each box is exactly the same size or just take one box and duplicate it three times and then you don't have to worry about the size. It might take a little while to do this, but it'll give your design that extra professional polish it needs.

Also take the take to make sure all the headers and paragraphs are the same font size across all the pages of your website. Don't eye ball it. An easy way to make sure that everything is the same size is to copy and paste the same header or paragraph and then change copy it's that simple.

When selecting colors, use the same hex code for each color on every page of your website. If you're not familiar hex codes are specific color codes associated with web colors, and using the same one ensures that the color is consistent.

For example, if you used a specific blue on a social media graphic and are advertising the same thing on your website make sure to use the exact same hex code rather than guessing and choosing a similar color. By doing this all your marketing materials look polished and put-together.

Just a quick side note on color codes: Hex codes are used for digital media that will be displayed on screen, think TV, Computer, Phone, iPad whereas CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) is commonly used for professional printing. It's important to note that there is a difference in colors between what is displayed on a screen and what is printed.

Paying attention to all those little details can make all the difference between a design that looks amateur and one that looks professional.

6. Copying Rather Than Creating

When coming up with design ideas instead of copying other designs draw inspiration from them instead.

Look at the design and think about the specific elements that catch your attention, is it the layering of the text, the great imagery, or the composition of the layout?

For example, let's say you come across a website with a layout that you love. Instead of copying it outright, analyze what specific aspects of the layout you find appealing. Is it the use of whitespace, the bold typography, or the placement of the call-to-action buttons?

Once you've identified why you are attracted to the design, you can incorporate them into your own design in a fresh and original way.

An easy way to make any design your own is to use your brand guidelines. You do this by bringing in your colors, fonts, and branded elements. If you still haven't downloaded my free Brand Style Guide Canva Template download it at so all your fonts, colors, and brand style can be found in one spot and you are able to create a consistent brand look.

So if the website design that you like has text over a bold organic boho blob and that shape isn't a part of your brand style then don't use them. How I would change the look to match my brand is by taking my marble texture and then putting the text on top of that that way you're using the idea but also keeping everything on brand.

Drawing inspiration from other designs is a common practice but the key is to use these influences to develop your own unique style and approach, rather than simply copying what has already been done, and you also just shouldn't copy other designs. What works for them doesn't mean it will work for you and it's just not a nice thing to do.

7. Using the wrong images or graphics

First things first avoid using low-quality images in your design this is a big no-no. Images that are blurry, pixelated, or have low resolution just look terrible.

Always, use high-quality images by investing in quality stock photos or hire a professional photographer to take custom photos for you which is my favorite method, and having your own photos really does help your brand stick out.

When choosing images for your design, it's important to think about the message you want to convey. Don't just pick an image because it looks cool, make sure it actually makes sense for what you're trying to get across.

Let's say you're creating a flyer for a yoga studio. You want to choose an image that resonates with the age group you're trying to attract.

If you want to appeal to young yoga enthusiasts who are into advanced yoga use an image that has younger people doing advanced yoga poses.

If you're targeting an older crowd interested in gentle yoga, use an image that has a senior citizen doing gentle yoga.

This way you'll be able to attract your desired audience and they can see themselves joining your class. This will also make your design more effective. So, don't overlook this little detail, it can make a huge difference in how your design is viewed.

If you're using multiple stock photos or graphics make sure they share the same style to maintain a cohesive look and feel.

For example, if you're designing a brochure for a travel company and you want to include images of different destinations, it's crucial to choose images that have the same overall feel. Is the lighting the same? You don't want to mix light and airy images with moody images, choose one or the other. Is the coloring similar? You don't want to use a super saturated photo with a lot of color along with a photo that is dull and not as rich.

Or let's say you're designing a website for a business that sells handmade products and you want to use icons or graphics to complement your web copy.

Let's say you have access to a wide range of different graphics in a library, but they vary in art style, there are different stroke weights, color palettes, and artistic styles. Some are black-only line art while others are detailed with a lot of color.

Choose graphics that have a similar art style and of course, match your brand style. You can choose graphics that are all hand-drawn with a sketchy, textured style or choose graphics that are all bold with thick strokes and wide shapes.

Pretty much you want to choose art that looks like it's been created by the same artist. Or at least artists that all have the same artistic style.

By using graphics with a consistent art style your designs will look cohesive which helps to keep your brand looking high-end.

To finish us off designing can be both exciting and challenging, and these are just some common mistakes that you will make along the way. Don't worry I have made all of these mistakes myself as well.

It's important to remember that the goal is to communicate a message clearly and effectively to your target audience. Use these tips to create designs that not only look good but also serve their intended purpose.

Designing is 100% a balancing act between creativity and practicality. To recap here are the most common mistakes again. 1. Ignoring the Basics of Design

2. Overcomplicating the Design

3. Using Too Many Fonts

4. Not using enough White Space

5. Not Paying Attention to Detail

6. Copying Rather Than Creating

7. Using the wrong images or graphics I hope this helps you create professional materials that you can be proud of. Until next time happy designing!


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