This might be too subjective but I'm curious about other peoples' experiences. Mods, please close if this is too far into "not a real question" territory.

I see many questions on this site about "what are good resources?" and "where do I learn?", but what are common mistakes that designers make?

Ie., if you're on the train and you see a poster ad on the wall, how often do you think "wow, I can't believe they did that!"? Are there certain mistakes that are more commonplace than others?


8 Answers 8


This is a real question, and it's a good one. It's also one that has entire books devoted to it! (One that I highly recommend, even to design school grads, is Robin Williams' "The Non-Designer's Design Book." It beautifully defines and demonstrates the biggest and commonest design errors.) Let's narrow it to technique errors, because I think that's what you're really asking about. And to keep it simple, let's confine this mostly to print (since you mention posters).

Here are a few that I see far too often:

  1. Not reading and understanding the publishing specs for a printed piece: Magazines, billboard companies, printers' prepress departments all have exact specs for size, resolution, color space, bleed, etc. I don't know any publisher or printer who doesn't list this as their number one complaint about the artwork they receive. If the artwork comes in wrong, then it has to be corrected before it can be used (or, worse, they let it go through and it comes out too dark, too light, with bad color or worst of all distorted to fit). Corrections add time and expense; errors passed through result in unhappy clients who won't come back. Always read the spec carefully and talk to the prepress department before starting the design.

  2. Not allowing for folds: It's too easy to forget that paper has thickness. When a piece is folded multiple times, or a booklet is folded and stitched, things won't fit, or will be in the wrong place if the design didn't allow for that. Again, talk to the printer before you start.

  3. Lousy kerning: Headlines that are badly kerned have one tenth the impact of properly typeset headlines. Don't take your font's/software's defaults. It will be wrong 90% of the time in at least one or two letter pairs.

  4. Typos: Things like extra spaces, misspelled words (or worse, names), wrong dates/times. It's amazing how often these will slip by if you don't proofread carefully.

  5. Not lining things up: This one separates the amateurs from the real designers every time. Exact alignment looks "right" and has impact. A headline and subhead that almost align on the left edge look awful. The client might not identify this as a problem, but they will know something is subtly wrong.

  6. Typewriter habits: Things like using spaces, instead of tabs or your layout program's indent settings, to indent text, two spaces after punctuation instead of one, extra blank lines between paragraphs, all scream "amateur" and look bad.

  7. Not being consistent: In any publication longer than one page (and even then), designers who don't work with style sheets introduce little inconsistencies of spacing, leading, point size, color or shading. Every paragraph, heading, subhead, callout, sidebar or illustration of a particular type should be the same as every other one of that type in a publication. Style sheets (Paragraph, Character and Object styles) not only keep things consistent, they allow any style changes to be reflected throughout the document without error. It astonishes me how many designers don't use them.

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    This is a fantastic list. Commented May 15, 2011 at 14:23
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    I lol'd at "1/10 the Impact"
    – horatio
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 15:08
  • Alan, could you expand on what you mean in #4 by using "indent settings to indent?" I must be misunderstanding you, because this sounds really wrong to me.
    – Tim Mackey
    Commented Dec 11, 2011 at 6:35
  • You mean #6! (I was really puzzling for a bit.) It's awkward when you have the same word as a noun and then a verb in the same clause. I added a couple of words that should clarify. Commented Dec 11, 2011 at 7:48
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    No, I mean you should use explicit settings for indents. Many amateurs and even some (sloppy) designers try to indent text using spaces, which leads to uneven left margins and hard-to-edit text, rather than setting an indent value or using a tab. Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 4:46

There's lots of type details that, if forgotten, stick out to me:

  • not hanging punctuation
  • using hash marks instead of quotes
  • 'fake' italics/smallcaps/bold
  • unnecessary forced justification causing loose letter/word spacing

In web design, what bothers me is a lack of detail given to the medium:

  • not using semantic markup
  • not making the site accessible to different devices, input methods and people
  • using flash (or any particular proprietary plugin) for no real reason
  • style over substance
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    +1 for having a novice look up "hanging punctuation" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanging_punctuation Commented May 17, 2011 at 16:10
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    On the hanging punctuation: you won't believe the comments I sometimes get for using it. People are so used to software like word and WYSIWYG editors that they insist on styling it that way. ...problem lies in explaining typography to them, most clients just don't care about it. To my chagrin I must add. Commented May 18, 2011 at 7:58

I do mostly web work, although this can be related to magazine work too:

Things that irk me:

  • Proximity errors stand out a lot, elements that obviously should be related are completely disconnected visually.
  • Inconsistent or lack of grids. Unless you're making art, not using a grid is a bad idea. Though I find myself adhering to the grid too much sometimes.
  • White-space: give it some room to breathe. This is one of the worst ones for me. Don't cram everything together.

But... design is not (only) about rules. If it feels good for you, go with it. Remember: if you put 2 dots randomly on a page it can be considered design.


Using Photoshop for everything, while not fully understanding print resolution issues, resulting in pixelated text.


Looking at a print design, that is supposed to be held in hands (real hands, with fingers and such), on a screen and think there's enough margin! Just look at the blank artboard around the document in InDesign ... or the gray area in Adobe Reader — there's vast amount of white space!

I can't even count how many times I've been holding a book in my hands and thinking: how am I supposed to hold this design comfortably, while not blocking any text with my fingers (which are, after all, designer–fingers, not lumberjack–fingers)?


Different designers do different mistakes.

  • Misspelling is by far the common mistake made by designers
  • Using RGB instead of CMYK for press printed art is another one.
  • Taking a job which is beyond the scope of your expertise.

Well the rest has been pretty much beat down.


I would share a layman's perspective on this topic. Please note it is not completely in context to Graphics design but still has an impact on overall design. These are few common blunders that I had noticed:

  • Loud fonts and effects
  • Unwanted and distracting visual effects
  • Bad punctuation
  • Irregular spacing
  • Improper choice of shade of word, it really has a huge impact.

  • Bad color combination.Bad in sense when compared to the theme of the Ad.

For example,

Ads with children as focus can have loud colors, but for some scheme of bank you can't really use pink and magenta or any loud color,its got to be sober.

  • Lengthy and common catch lines which are usually not at all catchy
  • Grammatical errors: For your reference

Awesome Blog- Differentiates Ads which are deliberately ungrammatical from those with common grammatical blunders.

  • Using fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus
  • Not kerning properly
  • Using too many fonts

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