10 Graphic Design Mistakes You May Not Know You're Making (and how to avoid them!)

I see you over there… trying to get that social media graphic or pricing guide wrapped up so you can put it out in the world. FINALLY. After slaving away, trying to perfect the layout and make the design look as professional as possible. You’re not a designer, but you’re living by the “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality.

But, you’re looking at your design and you still feel like something’s not quite right. You can’t put your finger on it. Is it the color choices? Is it the spacing? You know that something is off but you’re at a loss.

And you’re ready to tear your hair out.

Designer to the rescue! I’m here to help.

Below, I’ve collected 10 common graphic design mistakes I frequently see…. plus, helpful and actionable tips on how to fix them and avoid them in the future.

Small changes to your designs and your process can make a world of a difference! And I want you to get started right. now.

So, let’s dig in…

 

 
 



1. Lack of hierarchy

Hierarchy is about visually ranking different elements in a design. In short, it determines what the viewer sees first.

When you don’t have good hierarchy, you are giving multiple elements in a design the same visual weight, resulting in the viewer not knowing where to look. And, worst of all, your message won’t be clear. This is a very, very common problem I see!

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How to avoid it:

When you begin a design, start by defining your goals and what the viewer needs to see FIRST. Whatever that might be, it should carry the most visual weight or emphasis within the design. Then, what do you want the viewer to read or notice next? That should have the next most visual weight in the design, and so on.

Good hierarchy will guide the viewer through the design and portray the information in a way that shows an order of importance. It gives the design a nice flow! Examples of how to create good hierarchy and visual weight in your designs (hint: you can just pick one or two to use in a given design!):

  • Size of text: headers and the most important, attention-grabbing text should be more prominent than paragraph text

  • Using color: use accent colors to help bring attention to the most important text and images

  • Proportion/Scale: simply make the most important elements bigger than others!

  • Shape and Line: add shapes or lines that visually bring the eye to the focal point first


2. blurry, pixelated, or low quality photos

We live in a visual world and we’re constantly being bombarded with visuals all day long. If you’re using low quality photos that appear fuzzy or pixelated, you will stand out… in a bad way. They will make your brand look unprofessional and, to be honest, like there was a lack of attention to detail. Or like you were too lazy to find a higher quality photo. #toughlove

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HOW TO AVOID IT:

Do a photography audit. Take a look at your social media feeds, website, and even your print materials, and ensure all photos are good quality and appear clear.

If you find yourself needing new photos, invest in some high quality stock photos like this one from Creative Market* or, better yet, hire a photographer to take some custom branding photos for your business. Trust me when I say that it’s worth. every. penny.

Pro-tip: Photos for screens and online can be saved at low resolution, but all photos used for print purposes need to be high resolution in order to print clearly. Using the correct resolution will help!

*affiliate link

3. SeparatED letters in script LETTERING

You guys, this one is SUCH a pet peeve of mine, I can’t even tell you.

I am all for increasing space between letters in a header, logo, etc. to give is a clean, airy, and modern look. In fact, I do it regularly when I design visual brands for my clients. It’s lovely when done with a serif, sans serif, or display typeface/font. But when I see this done with a script font, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.

DesignMistakesGraphics-02.png

HOW TO AVOID IT:

Don’t fiddle with or adjust the spacing between letters in a script font. Period. Use them exactly how they look when you type out the letters.

Script typefaces are designed to be like beautiful handwriting — it’s supposed to connect and flow from one letter to the next. Yes, you’ll see that some contemporary handwritten typefaces sometimes have separation between letters, which the typographer (who created the typeface) did intentionally. But don’t adjust them yourself.

4. WARPING / DISPROPORTIONATE SCALING

Sometimes when you place a photo or logo into your design program or into your website, the size of the element doesn’t work with the space, and the image ends up stretched in a weird way that ends up looking warped. Or sometimes warping happens because an image or text was scaled unevenly, which causes the ratios to be off, which is causing the stretch.

Of course, this looks unprofessional but it can also affect legibility too!

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HOW TO AVOID IT:

Firstly, when scaling elements bigger or smaller, hold the corner of the element, hold down the SHIFT button and then increase the size. This will ensure the element scales proportionately and avoids warping.

Before finalizing your design, review the entire design — all the text, graphics, and images — to make sure everything is appearing correctly. If you see an image looking too skinny or too wide, fix it! Place in that element again or do whatever you need to do, so it looks right. Don’t let it go!


5. Ineffective use of NEGATIVE space

Negative space, also called white space, is the “empty space” in a design that does not contain content. It doesn’t have to be white! Specifically, I’m talking the space between, around, above, or below design elements.

I see many designs that have a whole bunch of text and imagery squished into a small area with hardly any space between elements. It makes it look cluttered, congested, and overwhelming. And it’s hard for the viewer to process — let alone read — the information.

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How to avoid it:

Use white space intentionally. Make sure there are clear paths of empty space between all your text and design elements. Visually, allow people the space to pause and process what they’re seeing, and take in what you’re trying to communicate to them. Give the focus of your design a bit more negative space around it, to help drive your viewer’s eye to it, help support your hierarchy, and create nice balance and flow.


6. INCONSISTENT + TOO MANY typefaces (fonts)

Using too many typefaces (fonts) makes your designs look overwhelming, busy, unprofessional, and just… all over the place. It’s like taping a sign on your forehead that says, “I’m inconsistent and don’t have my brand styling together.” I don’t want that for you, my friend!

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How to avoid it:

Choose a specific typeface for headers, one for body copy, and perhaps one for special callouts — assign those special roles for each. And then… stay consistent! Make sure you’re using the same typefaces in the same way across all your marketing platforms.

Also, make sure any script, hand-drawn type, and other display typefaces are used minimally and for small amounts of text only. A simple, clean easy-to-read typeface should always be used for paragraphs or longer blocks of text.

When I design brand styling for my branding clients, I typically suggest a simple typeface for headers and a different but also simple typeface for body/paragraph copy. Then, if it fits with their brand, we sometimes bring in a script or display typeface as an accent — something that evokes more personality and is used for call outs and special text ONLY.


7. NOT ENOUGH CONTRAST (SPECIFICALLY WITH TEXT!)

Have you ever looked at a design and something about the combo of the text color and background color is making it hard to read? This means there’s a lack of contrast. When two colors are similar in value (think brightness or hue), the colors will kind of vibrate or cause a dizzying effect, called “vibrating boundaries.”

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How to avoid it:

We want to avoid this for legibility reasons, of course. But we should always be aware of color contrast throughout our designs. You can do this by choosing a combination of light and dark hues, to ensure there’s enough contrast when you overlap colors.

It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as a dark color and white all the time, but it does need to be readable. So, test things out before you finalize your design. If you’re having trouble reading it, other people will too.


8. POOR ALIGNMENT

Randomly placing objects on a page without any intention behind it results in a design that looks unorganized, sloppy, and haphazard. The viewer’s eye may not know where to look and the text may be hard to read.

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How to avoid it:

Alignment helps bring order to the chaos. Place text or other elements on your page so they align — text, images and other elements! Aligning to the left is most common, as that’s how we’re used to reading text. But you can also experiment with right and center alignment with shorter blocks of text.

Also, pay attention to your margins! Make sure you have even space around the outside of your design. Align text and images to them for a more balanced and refined look.



9. USING DROP SHADOWS

Drop shadows… oh, drop shadows. Yes, they create dimension. Yes, they’re a fun effect to add. But most of the time, they’re unnecessary (not to mention dated). When used on text, it can make it very difficult to read.

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How to avoid it:

Don’t use them. Just don’t. Clarity is king and adding shadows and drop shadows on text just makes a design busier and more complicated than it needs to be. It’s also tacky! ;)



10. LACK OF GROUPING/organization of text

Grouping is all about creating a relationship between elements and organizing information in a thoughtful way that makes sense for the viewer. Often, I see a lack of grouping in designs that incorporate a lot of text, like pricing guides, event posters, or even resumes. There is a lot of information that needs to communicated but the placement of everything feels… well, all over the place.

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How to avoid it:

When you group related elements together visually, it helps tell the viewer “these things go together” and/or “there’s a connection between these pieces of information.” It gives your design order, helps the viewer digest the information in an orderly way, and is pleasing to the eye.

To accomplish this, first think about what text or elements go together logically. What pieces of information should be processed by the viewer at the same time? Then, place related information and objects close to one another on the page, in relation to other objects.

Also, be sure to use what you learned about hierarchy and alignment to help create balance in your design!



Now it’s your turn!

What are the biggest design mistakes you often see?
Comment below!


 


2017 Year in Review: Highlights, wins, lessons + what's next

Breathe in.... aaaand exhale.

2017 was quite the year. A year of change. Connection. Relationship building. Adventuring. Putting-my-head-down-and-doing-the-work. And growth... oh, the growth.

In preparation for the new year that's upon us, I've been thinking a lot about where I was a year ago and the huge leaps and bounds I've taken in my business and personally. My business has gone through a transformation over the past 12 months, and crazy amazing things have happened in my personal life too. You know, just getting married, taking an incredible two-week honeymoon in Europe, and buying a house in December, among other things... no big deal (!).

That being said, after re-reading my small business lessons learned in 2016 post, I realized many of the same themes were present in my 2017 year. I needed to continue to remind myself that I don't need to do it all, to trust myself with my vision for AllieMarie Design, and to feel confident in defining what "success" looks like to me. I had the pleasure of continuing to work with amazing clients and making real, genuine connections with other entrepreneurs both in real life and online. 

So many similarities... yet everything feels different. 

And that's because it is.

I'm excited to share with you my 2017 year in review. My highlights and wins, some lessons and changes I have planned, a look back at the beautiful brands I crafted with my incredible clients, and the inspiring people I had the chance to collaborate with.

 
2017 Year in Review: Wins, highlights, lessons and what's next  |  AllieMarie Design, Brand Stylist and Graphic Designer
 

 

HIGHLIGHTS + WINS


15 BEAUTIFUL NEW VISUAL BRANDS DESIGNED + collaborations

I'm still pinching myself. In 2017, I collaborated with 15 entrepreneurs to design gorgeous visual brand styling for their small businesses.

These incredible people worked one-on-one with me to solidify their brand foundation, develop a clear visual direction that resonates with them -and- their target audience, and design a beautiful full custom visual brand for their business with intention, authenticity, and a whole lotta love behind it.

I feel so honored to be a part of their business journey. Watching them invest in their business in this big way, seeing their confidence grow, and helping them elevate their brand... the feeling it has given me is beyond words.
 


Without further ado, here they are!
Click on each image to see the full brand styling in my portfolio.

Oh, and if you're counting... there are 13 below... 2 more will be launching in early 2018! ;)

Oh my goodness, and my loyal and amazing clients Lyric Arts and Fair Anita, with whom I collaborate on print design throughout the year. We created some beautiful pieces this year and I'm so honored to design for them! A peek at just a few projects we worked on:


LYRIC ARTS SEASON BROCHURE + mailer postcards

See all the show imagery and learn more about Lyric Arts

Lyric Arts Season Brochure Layout and Design by AllieMarie Design
Lyric Arts Season Brochure Layout and Design by AllieMarie Design
Lyric Arts Season Brochure Layout and Design by AllieMarie Design
Lyric Arts Season Postcards Layout and Design by AllieMarie Design
Lyric Arts Season Brochure Layout and Design by AllieMarie Design
Lyric Arts Season Brochure Layout and Design by AllieMarie Design
Fair Anita Lookbook Layout and Design by AllieMarie Design
Fair Anita Lookbook Layout and Design by AllieMarie Design

 

A SUCCESSFUL brand REFRESH OF MY OWN

Early in the year, I did a brand refresh of my own -- a subtle update to my visual brand, new personal branding photos by the incredible Brett & Janelle Photography (who also took our wedding photos!), and new website copy by my dear friend Kayla Hollatz

This not only helped me elevate my marketing and boost my confidence in sharing my brand with the world... it also helped me increase my visibility and ability to be found online due to the dramatic increase in my SEO (thanks to you, Miss Kayla!). Now, over 50% of inquiries that come my way are from business owners searching for a graphic designer via the Google machine. I'm continuing to be booked out 3-6 months in advance and nearly everyone that books with me I'd consider to be an ideal client. Craziness!

Hands down, if I hadn't invested in my business in these ways, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to design 15 visual brands this year or even come close to the growth I experienced.

The lesson?

Hire professionals to help you make your brand come to life. Let people into your world and bring their talent to the table. It's worth it in every way... and gives you the opportunity to focus on what YOU do best. Yes, you've heard this before and it's so true.

AllieMarie Design Branding Photos by Brett and Janelle Photography
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AllieMarie Design Branding Photos by Brett & Janelle Photography
AllieMarie Design Branding Photos by Brett and Janelle Photography
AllieMarie Design Branding Photos by Brett and Janelle Photography
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AllieMarie Design Branding Photos by Brett & Janelle Photography
AllieMarie Design Branding Photos by Brett & Janelle Photography
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Photography by Brett & Janelle Photography

 

INSPIRING OTHERS + sharing my story with small business communities

One of my favorite things about being a small business owner is connecting with fellow entrepreneurs, helping and encouraging them in their marketing and branding, and sharing my story in hopes it will inspire others to build a business they love.

Gosh do I feel lucky to have done so much of this in 2017! Some highlights:

Twin Cities Collective Podcast Interview

Loved chatting with my friend Jenna Redfield about all things business, branding, and living in the beautiful Twin Cities area.

 

Under the Veil Podcast Interview

A non-business related, candid chat with my friend Josey of Sixpence Events all about my spring wedding that didn't exactly go as planned... but why it was still the best day ever. 

The Real Female Entrepreneur Podcast Interview

A really vulnerable conversation with the lovely Lauren Frontiera about creating and losing freedom in your business... all the feels!

 

3 Steps To Creating A Brand Identity

I was a guest contributor on the amazing Trena Little's YouTube Channel, giving tips on creating a better brand identity for your small business.

BLOG INTERVIEW WITH MICHELLE HICKEY DESIGN

An in-depth interview about my story of building a visual branding business. Michelle is the sweetest to feature me on her blog!

 

Your Own Way Conference panel

I am beyond honored to have been a panelist at Your Own Way charitable conference here in Minneapolis in November, hosted by the incredible Kayla Hollatz!

 

 

LESSONS + CHANGES COMING

With growth comes challenges and with challenges come change.

In 2017, I surpassed my goal of booking out 3 months in advance and working with 9 branding clients (again, pinch me!). This meant a full project schedule and more financial security than I've felt since I started my business. Being able to more accurately predict my income from month-to-month and pay myself a consistent salary has been a game changer!

But I also ended up in a state of constant hustle.

I worked A LOT of hours in 2017. Many of them were spent on projects for dreamy clients, which is why I had a hard time saying "no" when opportunities came my way. This led to too much work, not enough play. Too many nights in front of my laptop and not enough quality time with my new hubby. Too much energy spent on keeping up with the "shoulds" and chasing perfect, while not having enough energy left over to give to my loved ones and myself.

When my mastermind met in December to reflect on the year and think about what 2018 will bring, it came my turn to share and I tearfully started with, "I'm just so.... tired." (Melanie and Kayla -- y'all are the best for dealing with me!)

Not good. This way of living is certainly not aligned with my values. My actions weren't reflecting what's in my heart and it's not how I want to look back on this time of my life. I was out of alignment and not taking enough time to breathe and reflect on what I truly want my days and weeks to look and feel like. I didn't feel the FREEDOM that I wanted in running my own business.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I've been sharing pretty openly about this topic and I've been on a journey to making positive changes in my life.

So... what does 2018 look like for me?
 

SIMPLIFYING + REMAINING FOCUSED ON WHAT'S MOST IMPORTANT

In the fall, I was a part of Amanda Beilke's Wholehearted Living coaching program which helped me gain so much clarity surrounding where I'm heading, what success looks like to me, and the mindset blocks that are in my way. In addition to having an emotional and transformative experience during a visualization exercise when we "met" our future selves 20 years from now (ask me about it sometime!) and naming my inner critic to better identify when she's making an appearance (it's Regina George, by the way), I also developed a personal purpose statement that will remain at the forefront this year:

I want to live a heart-centered life that allows me to give my energy to what’s most important, give myself and others grace when we most need it, and infuse joy and connection into my relationships.

This is what it's all about, my friends.

I will continue to approach my client collaborations with intention, a bright energy, and a whole lotta heart, but I can't do that -AND- love on my husband, family, friends, and myself (!) the way I want to if I'm constantly working and full of anxiety.

So, I'll be simplifying and refining. For me, this means:

  • Working with less clients to better serve every one of them, and better serve myself and my creativity.
  • Booking branding projects by quarter (as opposed to making myself available to schedule projects 6+ months in advance). This gives me more flexibility and freedom with my schedule, so I'm not tied down with project after project, month after month. I'm getting off the hamster wheel!
  • Refining my processes to maximize my time and make it easier to bring people into the AllieMarie design world. Building a big team isn't in my future, but I've been taking steps to get the design production, bookkeeping and admin help I do desire!
  • Finding a morning routine that works for me and finding my flow (thanks to Tiffany Han's 31 Days to Flow class)!
     

SEEKING HARMONY OVER HUSTLE

That all being said, there will always be seasons of busy. I know I'll need to put in the extra hours to make things happen when need be (especially with the upcoming launch of my mini-courses... stay tuned!) and I'm more than happy to do that because I love what I do.

But I'm committed to "hustle" no longer being my norm. Instead, I'll be seeking HARMONY. Complimenting those long work days/weeks/months with seasons of rest. Putting up even better boundaries of when I work. And, perhaps most importantly...

Being EXTREMELY aware of my energy and where I'm spending it.


Cheers to a wonderful, heart-centered year ahead!
 


TELL ME, my friend...

what were your biggest wins, highlights + lessons from 2017?

I sincerely would love to know in the comments below!