Whether you’re new to graphic design or an old pro, it should come as no surprise that there are a few mistakes that designers make. Not all of them are even specific to the design itself. So, what are some of the most common mistakes you might make (or maybe already have), and how do you fix them?
Don’t Overwhelm Your Whitespace!
You’ve probably heard the term “whitespace” at some point during your design journey, but what exactly is it? Whitespace, also called “negative space,” is the portion of a page or design left unmarked, blank, or empty. Visually, it allows attention to be drawn to the focus of whatever it’s behind, such as text, photographs, or functions. Google and Squarespace are good examples of how to use whitespace.
Does whitespace have to be white? Absolutely not. It can be, but it can be any color from your palette that makes sense for your site, as long as it’s not overbearing to the actual content and doesn’t draw the eye of your audience away from what’s important. This is true even for text-based websites; leave spaces between text and images, and the margins and menus!
Speaking of text, as you learn to use whitespace you’re going to learn you don’t have to over-complicate your fonts or color palettes while designing. Using a wide variety of fonts or a large color palette can make your design or website look chaotic and unorganized. A good user experience means leaving space for your readers to breathe between elements and letting their eyes relax. Try to limit your font and color usage to three font families and colors, and that will help remove all the excess fluff of overcrowding your designs and websites, and will help maintain a professional appearance.
Rasterized or Vectorized?
For a lot of designs, less ends up being more. This is especially true when talking about rasterized images versus vectorized. A raster graphic is an array of pixels of various colors that form an image when used together, think of a photograph. Raster graphics are more difficult to scale up to a proper image size because they can become blurry and incomprehensible. Vector graphics, on the other hand, are images made of paths or lines that are either straight or curved, and since they aren’t made of pixels, the images can be easily scaled to be larger or smaller without the worry of losing quality in the final product.
Vectors are better for logos and other like designs because, whether they’re on a business card or a billboard, they’ll retain the same quality and look the same with very little effort. Raster graphics are great for strictly web work, but for things that have to go to the printer, you’re better off sticking with vector graphics.
So How Do I Fix It?
To make your life easier, it’s best to stick to vector graphics for nearly everything. Vector images are typically saved as file types EPS, AI, and PDF, so keep that in mind and make sure you have the proper program to open and edit these types of files.
Not only do you need to be aware of what kind of file you’re saving and editing, you also need to know what kind of file to save your work as for your client’s needs! Designs strictly for web use will be saved, typically, with RGB colors in mind. But, if the design will ever go to print, you need to be sure that it’s CMYK compliant as well. If you’re ever unsure, it doesn’t hurt to whip up one of both!
It’s a good idea to save the fonts used, colors, and any other design elements along with the finished product, so you can have every element of the product on hand for the client. Be sure to pay attention to any potential bleed or trim of the design as well, so no extra work is needed when it’s time to print.
Communication is Key
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s actually a super common mistake a lot of graphic designers make: keep contact with your client! No, seriously. From the moment you’re contracted until the absolute final moment of delivering the design, you need to keep constant contact with your client and be sure that they’re kept aware of what you’re doing and where you are in the design process. Does that mean call or e-mail them every time you edit a color? No, don’t go over the edge like that. Just make sure they know what’s going on, any major changes, what the timeline looks like for delivery, et cetera.
Hand-in-hand with that, you always need to be sure you know exactly what your client wants. I don’t mean just colors and fonts and general “I kind of want this or that,” I mean get DETAILS. If you have to, have a questionnaire on hand! Get a good, detailed brief from the client, and if there’s anything you feel they didn’t cover, don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need until you’re both 100% sure of what they want. You don’t want to spend a week making up a design or website that you think looks amazing and perfect, and then have your client make that awkward “ehhh” face. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Taking Criticism Personally
So, here’s the thing – to get better, you have to know where you’re messing up. The only way to know, is to receive criticism. A lot of people don’t receive criticism well, they take it as a personal attack to themselves or what they’ve created. This very behavior and mindset is what hurts a lot of designers, and people in general. It prevents them from learning from their mistakes and improving on the quality of work they produce. Criticism can be anything from your client feeling you used the wrong colors, to feeling like their design isn’t “just right,” to something as simple as you failing to proofread (or better yet, having someone else proofread) your work. There’s not really a quick fix for learning how to accept criticism of your work, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind – it’s not personal, it’s just business.
Putting Off the Inevitable
Procrastinating is by far the most common mistake a graphic designer can make. This is another hard habit to break for some, admittedly even for me. Leaving a project until the last minute could lead your design to look rushed, unprofessional, and uninspired. When clients see it in your portfolio or on other websites, it can leave the wrong impression. You can avoid this outcome in a number of ways.
For starters, never work alone or put yourself on an impossible timeline. Have someone work alongside you, if not literally than as support – they can check your work as you go, you can bounce ideas off them, and even collaborate your work. If you know you’re a procrastinator and you tell a client you can have their design ready in two days, you’re going to have a bad time. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get together a baseline, a rough copy, and make any and all edits the client may want. Finishing early is better than finishing late!
Other than having back-up and making sure you’re not in a crunch from the get-go, be sure you set aside a distraction-free time and work space. Put your phone in another room, turn off email and Facebook notifications, turn off the TV, have someone watch the kids for a couple of hours… Do whatever you have to do to give yourself a bit of time every day to work on your projects uninterrupted. It’s harder to procrastinate when there’s nothing around to distract you.
Everyone Makes Mistakes
It’s important to remember that no matter what mistakes you’ve made so far, or what mistakes you might make in the future, there’s always room for improvement! You’re never alone or the first person to make a particular mistake, and hopefully you grow from it and can do better the next go-round. There are other mistakes you might realize you’ve made that weren’t mentioned here, but in getting in the right mindset, you can fix them with enough practice and a good eye!