5 Graphic Design Mistakes To Avoid

5 Mistakes To Avoid

In broad daylight

When I was younger I used to assume that if a sign was hanging up in a public space it must have passed a rigorous editing and testing phase before being let out the creative studio door. To my naive eye storefront signs, roadside billboards and corporate building logos were authoritative by virtue of someone having spent lots of money to have them professionally printed. I have since learned that my early thinking was quite misguided.

Nowadays I see graphic design in a different light. I recognize a clear distinction between sign material and sign content. A beautiful plank of expensive vintage timber can, sadly, play host to an unexceptional design.

Today I want to point out some common graphic design mistakes I frequently notice out in the public realm. By being aware of these errors you will be more apt to avoid them in your studio.

1. Kerning

In typography, kerning is the process of adjusting the space between letters to achieve a more balanced and visually pleasing result. When letters are spaced too far apart a gap is created in some words, taking away from a design’s cohesiveness. Reducing space between some letter pairs makes for better legibility and overall design.

Bad kerning examples

2. Avoid Tangents

In graphic design and illustration, tangents occur when the edges of two or more forms touch or are aligned very close together. If this happens the viewer may experience problems deciphering an illusion of depth that the designer intended. There may also be a strange visual tension between the objects that are almost touching, causing the viewer to focus attention on only this part of the sign while missing the overall composition. Sometimes this is beneficial, as with arrows, but oftentimes it should be avoided.


3. Negative Space

Creatives spend much of their time adding shapes and forms onto a blank canvas. We are naturally focussed on rendering subject matter. Negative space, or the space around and between objects, can sometimes be overlooked, which can lead to unintended effects on a final design.

Negative space examples

4. Appropriate Typefaces

In a previous article on this blog, Laura provided a guide in choosing a winning combination of typefaces for text-heavy projects. Although public signs typically have few words the same advice applies when choosing an appropriate letter style to display a client’s message.

The golden rule here is to choose one that is legible under a range of environmental factors. Will the sign be visible during intense midday sunlight? How about on a cloudy day or in a rain storm? Be especially aware if people in moving vehicles can read a sign’s words while traveling at high speeds.

Also, be aware of the nature of a client’s business before settling on a typeface choice.

Typeface to avoid

Graphic design blogger Douglas Bonneville shares 23 bad typeface examples to avoid.

5. Vibrating Colors

When some bright colors are displayed together or in close proximity to each other they can appear to vibrate. This effect makes an image difficult to look at and may cause some viewers to experience dizziness and make them quickly divert their gaze to something with a more neutral hue.

Color vibrations


Bonus: Be aware of your color settings while designing. Use CMYK for work that will be printed. RGB is used for work that will be displayed on computer, television and movie screens.

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  • Brian A

    Great information, I loved the examples for kerning! I don’t know if it fits here but I have seen the topic of “double space after period” alot lately. Something about your page reminded me of that.