04 Mar How not to design
The 10 biggest mistakes designers make:
1. Not understanding the brief
How can you expect to create what the client wants without a clear idea of what they are looking for? From the beginning, take time to read or listen to the brief carefully, make notes and brainstorm. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify specific points of detail, and don’t be scared to run your ideas past the client – finding out whether or not they like your concept before you spend valuable hours designing it up can save a lot of time and money.
2. Ignoring the target audience
When working on a design it is easy to get caught up in your thoughts and ideas and forget the true purpose of the design work. More often than not the aim is not to create a design masterpiece, but effective material that appeals to the target audience. As Edgar Degas once said, ‘art is not what you see, but what you make others see.’ Whether it’s a product, brochure, packaging or website you are designing, you have to think about what will appeal to the target audience (colours, fonts, design devices etc.) and also what will make them choose that product, service or organisation over others.
3. Failure to research
It is impossible to understand exactly what your target audience likes, and what will differentiate your designs from the competition without first doing some research. All too often designers jump headfirst in to a project, creating whatever ideas they have in their mind without first researching the market and competition. The best designs are based on thorough research and are clearly different from the competition’s – take inspiration from others (that doesn’t mean plagiarising).
Always read the copy once you have finished your design, looking out not just for typos, but also missing sentences, punctuation, wrong phone numbers, and words spelt incorrectly in that context. Check back to the source material to make sure nothing has been missed or switched around. It’s easy to lose punctuation and even sentences when focusing on the look of your design. Getting someone else to proofread your work can also be a valuable exercise.
5. Not saving files properly
Getting in to good habits when saving files has many benefits. Saving files and images and logos used logically not only makes it easier for others to find your files – an essential in an agency environment – but also makes life easier for the client. If they can save your file in their system with the same name you have attributed, a lot of time is saved trying to work out which version of the file is being referred to; this is especially important with work in progress, when numerous drafts exist, and when a series of work is created, e.g. varying advertisement sizes. You also need to make sure files are saved in the right format for their use, i.e. print work is generally set up as CMYK at 300dpi, whilst work for the web should be RGB and 72dpi. Artwork often needs bleed, trim and safety areas, which all need consideration; and a common mistake made by designers’ is not outlining fonts. Having a standardised format for file names and a checklist of considerations can save you and your clients a lot of time and hassle.
6. Using common images
Stock images are an incredibly useful design resource, especially when a professional photographer is out of budget. However, certain stock photographs seem to do the design circuit and can become overly familiar. The problem is, if you think a photograph is good then it’s likely others will too. There is no way to completely overcome this, but thinking outside the box and being creative in your choice and crop of images that will certainly help. Where possible you should try to avoid making an obvious stock image the centerpiece of your work. After all, nothing quite puts the dampers on a design like discovering someone else is using the same image, especially if they are high profile or a competitor.
7. Overcomplicating design
There is a renewed appreciation for simplicity in both the marketing and design worlds of late – and with good reason. People nowadays generally have increasingly little time to spare. Design needs to be something the audience can quickly and easily understand and relate to; the best way to achieve this is by keeping it simple. Simplicity is not always the easiest route, indeed there is always a temptation to add one more design element, one more font, or one more colour, but too many elements can complicate a design, making it not only messy but difficult to relate to.
8. Not managing time well
In the services industry, time is money. As with many professions, designers need to be able to multitask whilst still managing their time effectively. A carefully planned schedule, with work broken down in to a series of small tasks, each with its own deadline, is a necessity. Inevitably however some tasks take longer than you think, and not necessarily the ones you would expect. Experience helps with planning, but you can help overcome brain block by actively searching for inspiration – in addition to looking in your everyday life there are some great creative websites and publications that can give you ideas, and discussing the project with colleagues and clients, even friends and family can help.
9. Not staying aware of trends
Things evolve rapidly in the modern world; it’s fundamental you stay in touch with culture, technology and the latest design trends. Novel ideas and crazes are always developing, and there is always something new to learn. Don’t be afraid to try new things and push the boundaries, but to keep your designs relevant you need to stay aware.
10. Overlooking the power of typography
We all know the famous phrase ‘a picture paints a thousand words,’ but what if words literally form that picture? Creative use of typography is becoming increasingly commonplace and popular. Not only does it open a whole host of opportunities, it fits with the mantra of simplicity. When communicating a message, balance has to be achieved between the visual and the verbal aspects of design. Font type and size has a significant impact on the presentation of information; it can impact an audience’s reaction, and make or break a design. With more and more new fonts being designed all the time, there is increasing opportunity in typographic design. Overlook it at your peril.