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9 Graphic Design Mistakes to Avoid, According to the Experts

February 14, 2020

Here’s the thing about design: it’s either good or it's meh.

Basically, it either captures your audience’s attention or it fails to hold it longer than a fleeting glimpse. As a marketer, however, you’ll come across several instances when you need to create designs. It’s here you need to be mindful of creating designs that are clear, clutter-free, and attractive.

To help you improve your 2020 graphic design strategy, we reached out to professional designers to put together a list of bad design mistakes you need to avoid this year.

Graphic design mistakes to steer clear of 

Ready to create visually stunning designs that wow your audience? Let's discuss the exact things you should be avoiding and how to remedy them! 

1. Poor kerning 

First on this list of design pitfalls to avoid is poor kerning. Patrick Soutar, Design Lead at Hoppier notes: “Simply put, kerning is the spacing between the letters in your writing." 

Look at the image below. Can you see the difference in the design with and without kerning? 

before and after kerning


The text looks visually more appealing after kerning, doesn’t it?

Patrick elaborates:

“Even though it may sound simple, poor kerning can ruin the overall impression that you want to make with your design. Your written words may look completely unreadable or confusing or in some cases, it can even be comical. Pay close attention to kerning if you want your design to be visually balanced.”

How can you avoid this design mistake?

  • Make sure you add equally perceived space between letters
  • Squint or cross your eyes so you can see the space between the letters without getting distracted by the characters
  • Pay equal attention to spacing between words, not just spacing between letters 

2. Thinking "desktop-first"

Rebecca Bowen, Digital Designer  at Trident emphasizes, “Thinking desktop-first is a huge mistake. [Instead,] think mobile-first for all content you are designing; it's how people are consuming things.”

A Comscore report highlights mobile devices take up 70% of the time spent on digital media. Considering this stat, doesn’t it make sense to design with mobile users in mind?

Bowen suggests, “keep things simple, imagine someone viewing on a small screen and ensure that how you design works for that size. Pull out the important content and make sure that's what your audience takes action on.”

How can you avoid this design mistake?

  • Design multiple graphics to test how they look on different sized portable devices
  • Stick with small file sizes so graphics load faster on mobile devices
  • Create both landscape and portrait layouts for your graphics so your design fits any screen orientation users view your designs on

3. Having a lack of whitespace 

Lack of whitespace is another design flaw to avoid in 2020, according to Daniela Verduga, Designer at Visme. Verduga shares, “overloading your design or trying to fill every space is a common mistake for non-designers or clients.”

However, adding white space can save designs, making them understandable, visually appealing, and clutter-free. Essentially, whitespace, also known as negative space, is the clear space in design. It doesn’t mean empty space with a white background. Instead, white space is all the unmarked space of any color, background image, pattern, and texture.

Not only does it make your design elegant, but it also puts emphasis on certain design elements such as your call-to-action, which makes your message stand out. Research also confirms white space can increase comprehension by up to 20%.

For instance, note how the use of whitespace is making the text in the second paragraph far more readable than the text in the first paragraph below:

whitespace examples


Daniela suggests:

“Consider the white space as an element of design just as important as fonts or colors. Don't be afraid to use it! You can see how the design takes a whole new level – the impact is stronger and the message is more clear!”

How can you avoid this design mistake?

  • Leave large areas in your design empty
  • Add padding or margins to each element in your design
  • Create white space by removing unnecessary design elements like borders

4. Designing without taking trends into account

Although it isn’t wise to jump onto every trend bandwagon, it is crucial to pay attention to what’s prevailing so you can “avoid the mundane,” as Mio’s graphic designer, Harriet Ruscoe recommends.

Ruscoe opines:

“It’s particularly important to take note of new trends in graphic design for 2020 as the world of social media content and web design is more competitive than ever amongst brands. Being innovative and diverse with colour, typography style and illustration concepts is key.”

How can you avoid this design mistake?

For 2020, you should use: 

  • Vibrant color schemes, a stark contrast to the pastels that prevailed last year 
  • Thin geometry that gives a futurist feel 
  • The minimalism trend

5. Giving inadequate thought to typography

Typography is a major element responsible for making your design readable, accessible, and usable. So, let’s not forget typography or the text component of your design.

Mistakes here are common. Christopher Moyer, Managing Director at Hard Luck, states: “A lot of design – even otherwise strong design – comes paired with poorly executed typography.”

Moyer recommends playing with new typefaces:

“It’s easy to fall into routines and use the same go-to fonts again and again, when there may be more suitable options for the task at hand. In 2020, we’ve also got unprecedented access to drop dead gorgeous and affordable – or free – typefaces.”

At the same time, he suggests refraining from trying every new font without first giving it some thought: "Deploying loud, expressive typefaces thoughtlessly, transforms impact into tackiness.”

How can you avoid this mistake?

  • Try new typefaces, but not without first thinking through their suitability to your design and branding
  • Make sure your typography is readable, clear, and easy to understand
  • Pick your typeface according to your audience’s tastes. Dig into font psychology to make better, audience-preferred choices

6. Using excessive flat vector images

Flat vector images (such as the one shown below) have witnessed significant growth in the past few years.

The SVP of Marketing at SEMrush, Maxim Roslyakov, notes the same: 

“A while ago, flat vector images started to gain huge popularity and stock services started to sell such pictures very extensively. Still, the number of such images in picture stocks is impressive.”

flat vector images


Despite their numbers though, Maxim notes that “their main disadvantage is that they are very similar to one another. Stylistically they are all the same, drawn in one style and with the same colors. They have neither beauty nor uniqueness and it is assumed to be unprofessional to use such images in the canvas.”

This means using flat vector icons in abundance is not only unprofessional, but it also sips any uniqueness from your design.

How can you avoid this design mistake?

  • Limit your use of flat vector images and use only ones you haven’t seen used widely
  • Hire a professional designer and get some templates ready for your campaigns
  • Transform flat vector images with different techniques (e.g. adding the grain effect)

7. Designing without taking real-world importance in account

Another design mistake to avoid is “a mismatch between the visual emphasis (salience) given to a piece of information and its real-world importance,” according to Carolynn R. Johnson, Lead UX Designer at Daedalus.

Johnson sees excessive clutter in design. This clutter could take the form of too much text or various design elements, like shapes. Whatever the reason, the end result fails to deliver its key message.

In Johnson’s words:

“Your most important piece of information should be what attracts the viewer's attention; but often designs are cluttered with less important data that are given the same visual priority, which pulls the user’s attention away from what you want them focused on.”

How can you avoid this design mistake?

  • Use whitespace to guide your audience’s attention
  • Make your design less wordy and more minimalist
  • Don’t use unnecessary design elements

8. Failing to design for your audience

On the surface, designing for your audience may sound simple. But as Sam Orchard, Creative Director at Edge of the Web notes: “This happens a lot with people new to the industry. Instead of thinking about the target audience and their preferences, they rely on their own tastes or current trends.”

When this happens, Orchard states:

“You end up seeing promotional material for the local bookstore that looks like a flyer for a night club. Whilst everyone wants their work to be right on trend, if that style doesn’t resonate with your target audience, you’re not doing your client any favours.”

So you know what you have to do, right? Design for your audience.

How can you avoid this design mistake?

  • Identify your target audience so you can make your design decisions accordingly
  • Choose fonts and colors according to your audience’s preferences
  • Keep personal preferences at bay

9. Failing to adapt new innovations in efficiency

Another very important graphic design mistake to avoid is failing to welcome new AI in design.

The CEO of Visuals by Impulse, Caleb Leigh observes:

“We're seeing breakthroughs in machine learning that are allowing artists to automate stages of the creative process like never before. There are huge innovations in design software on the near horizon, which will save artists tons of time and headache.”

For instance, Netflix uses augmented intelligence to localize its show banners in different languages and Nutella used AI algorithm to generate millions of packaging designs (example below).

AI packaging design


Owing to this growth of AI in design, Caleb thinks, “those who invest time into learning these new tools will gain a competitive edge and see their productivity skyrocket. Those who cling to old ways and procedures will be left behind. Very soon, designers will be faced with a critical choice: adapt & evolve, or stagnate.”

How can you avoid this design mistake?

  • Keep abreast of all the prevailing developments in design-related AI
  • Keep tabs on examples you can learn from such as Nutella and Netflix
  • Embrace new changes by exploring how you can possibly use them to improve your designs

Create beautiful designs

On the surface, designing may seem simple, but there’s a lot of thought that goes into the process. Make sure you keep your target audience in mind as you design and avoid these mistakes to create wonderful designs that not only attract your viewers but hold their attention too. 

Continue discovering the right way to approach graphic design by checking out G2's hub with over 50 graphic design resources sure to bring you an abundance of knowledge!

Get 50 graphic design resources, FREE.    Get my resources →

9 Graphic Design Mistakes to Avoid, According to the Experts Learn what graphic design mistakes you keep making, and how to avoid them like a pro in 2020 and beyond.
Masooma Memon Masooma Memon is a pizza-loving freelance writer by day and a novel nerd by night. She crafts research-backed, actionable blog posts for SaaS and marketing brands that aim to employ quality content to educate and engage with their audience. You can read her freelance work on her website, Ink & Copy.

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