You’re likely reading this article because you’ve started a new design job and you’re scared that you’ve botched up your first project. First off, let go of that breath that you’ve been holding for five minutes. Next, realize that projects can almost always (and will almost always) be revised. But in case you haven’t hit that send button yet, here are a few mistakes new designers make and how to avoid them.

1. Just too many fonts.

Typography class just blew your mind with all of the facts about typefaces that you never knew existed. You see fonts everywhere you look. Everything is instantly labelled in your mind: serif, sans-serif, slab-serif, monospace, etc, etc. You nod approvingly at that clever use of a handwritten display font that your favorite coffee shop uses. You stare thoughtfully at your hand soap dispenser’s flowy, flowery wording. And you die a little bit as your friend hands you a party invitation written in comic sans.

In fact, all of this font knowledge has you so excited that you just want to use them all… in one project. What’s the problem with that?

Featuring too many typefaces leads to a confusing and inharmonious design. It also usually breaks some brand consistency standards. If you’re designing for an established company, they generally have their own set of rules and standards that includes acceptable fonts. Venturing outside brand standards can sometimes lead to some pretty condescending feedback from the client. Not to mention, too many fonts is harder to read. Reading something with too many fonts is as if you are talking to someone whose pitch and tone changes drastically every couple of words. And isn’t that just annoying?

So, what should you do instead? Try to stick to two typefaces. The typefaces you that chose should provide enough contrast between each other so that even the typographically illiterate can tell that they are not the same. This website acts as a kind of cheat sheet for anyone new to this.

Need to emphasize a point or heading? Just put the font in a different weight or size.

Also, if the company that you are working for does have pre-set standards, just follow them. You can always try playing with different colors and size contrasts to make it more fun.

2. You recreated the rainbow.

I really have no room to talk on this one. There’s not a color that I don’t like and the wilder the combination, the more it beckons me to use it.

Unfortunately, too many colors often leads to eyesores. Too bright of colors butted up against each other tend to “vibrate” in our eyes. It causes nearby text to lose its readability. Also, now that the world largely stopped experimenting with the kinds of gradients and 3-D text that it can produce in Microsoft Word, most designers are favoring a more minimalist look.

That isn’t to say that your design needs to use the exact same colors as your competition. But usually when branding, a company uses about five colors and some of them stay within the same shade.

To keep your design visually interesting, try a full bleed photo with just a few colors for the other elements around/on it. Also, check out adobe’s resource for creating color schemes.

3. Stretching the text, the photo, or anything other than a basic vector shape.

Now, I shouldn’t have to be telling you this. Hopefully, your design school teachers drilled this into your head so permanently that you’re laughing to yourself thinking, “Oh, Carly, everyone knows that.”

But if you don’t:

Never, ever stretch a photo or text. I don’t care that it’s just a few pixels away from the perfect fit. Change the image crop, change the font weight, change your whole design. Just never stretch your graphics. Or else.

4. Not understanding what the printers want.

As someone who specialized in web design over print, I can tell you that setting up a document the right way takes some practice. Usually, it’s not a big deal. The printer sends you an email asking for a different specification and you change the way you saved something in Photoshop. Unless you’re working with a tight deadline.

So first and foremost, before you start on a print project, get those dimensions! If you have to ask the ad company/printer/client which is height and which is width, do so. It’s much better to be asking what may sound like an obvious question than to have to redesign your ad.

Secondly, take into consideration where this piece will be printed. Is it a standalone brochure or flyer? Then be sure to include a bleed (about 0.25 of an inch should work) and include all printer’s marks and bleeds when saving. Or are you making an ad for a booklet? Those usually do not need bleeds and printer’s marks, but check with the company you are printing with first. Be sure of the file format that they will need as well, but PDF is usually a safe bet.

Lastly, always save your work at the highest quality size. Yes, it’s going to be a big file and you may not be able to email it, but it will look best. Generally, you can share things for free via Google Drive.

5. Not proofreading.

“But I didn’t write the content,” or “The client should have done that,” you say.

“Doesn’t matter,” I say. Doesn’t matter even if the client has given final approval. You have to give your final approval as the designer.

Typos on the web could be a pretty quick fix, but a typo in print could render 1,000 brochures useless. You should even get a co-worker to look things over. Run the text through a spell checker if your design platform doesn’t have one built-in.

Afraid that you already sent something to final print with a typo? Send the printer the corrected version as soon as you can. Chances are they have been there before and are willing to help out. Remember, we were all new once, too.


Got any more tips for starting designers? Send them to us and we might feature it in the next article.