Overcoming 5 Graphic Design Mistakes for the Non-Designer

Nov 15, 2018, Written by Shelby Thomas


When I first started my career out of college, I was a full-time graphic designer for a chemical corporation. I was often handed presentations or documents that were thrown together at the last minute and asked to make them “look nice”.

My bosses that gave me the assignments did not come from a design background, but usually something far from it. So, how did they determine when the deliverable “looked nice”?

In such a subjective field, well-designed pieces are actually created using established rules regarding geometry, color, and typography. For non-designers, these rules can easily be broken unknowingly.

Without going into too much detail, I want to give you a few key areas to focus on next time completing or reviewing a design.

1. Legibility

Non-designers and designers often have difficulty balancing the aesthetic of a design with its functionality and purpose. The latter is always more important.

In order for a piece to be functional and serve its purpose, it needs to be legible and highlight the most important content. Have you been overwhelmed with a crowded design and thought, “What am I supposed to look at here…”?

The most important message in a design needs to be emphasized so the audience understands clearly what action they are supposed to take.

2. Contrast

Even if you have done a good job of making the most important information stand out, your design can still get overlooked or forgotten without enough contrast.

We were recently putting together a performance management template for one of our clients. Information tends to blend together in text heavy documents, so we had to think about how to make the sections stand out in order to be followed easily.

The company’s logo is mostly one dark shade of blue, but has a really nice secondary color, sky blue. By using the sky blue color in headings and borders, the information in the document began to develop visual hierarchy and organization.

3. Space

To a non-designer, blank space or “white space” in a design may look like a bad thing – something that needs to be filled in. In fact, it’s a common urge for many designers to want to fill the entire canvas or shape with content.

However, this need to fill in space ultimately makes it harder for the reader to process information, and usually creates a cluttered design.

When you are putting together a document or design, make sure important elements have room to breathe. Think minimal design, clean lines, and organization.

4. Typography

One of the most common graphic design mistakes I see is the use of too many fonts.

It can be fun to experiment with different fonts in a document, especially in a flyer or invitation where you are trying to grab someone’s attention, but it is usually best to stick to 1-2 different font faces in a document.

For an idea on how fonts go together, check out this neat article which pairs different Google fonts (which are all free!): https://inkbotdesign.com/google-font-combinations-mixing-typefaces/

5. Color

When I was a kid, I was not necessarily the face of fashion. I would put on a pair of blue shorts with a t-shirt that was the exact same color blue. My sister would say, “That doesn’t match!”, to which I said, “Of course it does, they are both blue!”.

The point being, if you are not familiar with color theory (as my 10-year-old self was clearly not), you may be picking color combinations that either do not look great together or do not have enough contrast.

Or, you may be choosing colors that do look great, but they may not help convey the feeling your design needs to present. E.g., red and green when it is not Christmas, soft blues when it should be something more exciting and eye-catching, harsh colors for children’s design, etc.

To get an idea of what different colors mean, check out this article on the basics of color theory: https://www.blackbeardesign.com/blog/graphic-designers/understanding-color-the-meaning-of-color/

I’ll even share one of my most used tools in the trade – a free color scheme generator! This is an amazing tool that takes a lot of time out of experimenting with color: https://coolors.co/9dd9d2-79bcb8-5ec2b7-2ca6a4-3aa7a3. You can even input certain colors and lock them in place (like a brand’s colors for instance), and the generator will find colors that go with it.

So, hopefully you now have a few references to review next time you are designing a document or reviewing someone else’s. Having a few basic guidelines helps take away the mystery of what makes something “look pretty”.

Good luck, and as always, we are more than happy to help you review your current designs or create new ones. We can help you answer important questions for your business, such as:

  • Does this design represent my brand and message?
  • Do these colors look good together?
  • Should I use a different font?
  • Does this design have too much information?

You can email me anytime at [email protected]. Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shelby Thomas

As a Marketing Project Manager, Shelby's goal is to provide value for clients with results-driven solutions in website development, digital advertising, and traditional marketing collateral.

Related Posts

passive aggressive communication

Navigating the Nuances of Passive-Aggressive Communication

By Sue Miley | February 15, 2024

I recently took an assessment, one of those personality/communication type things, and the term passive-aggressive kept surfacing for my type when under extreme stress. At […]

Read More
How To Manage Stress At Work

How To Manage Stress At Work? Where Does Your Anxiety Come From and How To Reduce It

By Jim Miley | October 26, 2023

Building a business is hard work. Whether you start from nothing or take over a large team, there are headwinds, rough seas, and obstacles you […]

Read More
marketing partner

Tips for Finding the Right Marketing Partners for Your Small Business

By Sue Miley | October 4, 2023

It is hard for small business owners to part with their hard-earned dollars, and it is challenging when you need to know if your investment […]

Read More