Even the most seasoned designers are prone to the occasional rookie mistake. While we can’t show everything to look out for here (it’d be more of a book than a blog post!), take a look at this “greatest hits” list of mistakes as a reminder that you’re not the only one who’s made some regrettable design choices.
Jumping Into Design Without a Plan
When designers don’t map out their actions, it’s like trying to build Ikea furniture without instructions: sometimes you luck out, and sometimes your desk turns into a bed frame. Just like you, clients don’t appreciate it when their desks turn into bed frames, and designers who neglect the planning stage spend more time on design and will ultimately produce sub-par work.
It’s easy to spot layouts that weren’t sketched out or wireframed ahead of time. They’re the ones that get more and more cluttered toward the bottom. They’re the ones that jump from a 4-column grid to 7, then to 3.
Your sketch doesn’t have to be perfect. Boxes for illustration placeholders and lines for text will work. You can identify space for all content and the scale of illustrations upfront. When it comes to icons, characters, or data visualization, sketching will really help keep symmetry in mind and encourage meaningful solutions rather than rushed decisions.
Plan First for Better Results, Like This:
To view the full design for Alaska Beyond, click here.
Illegible Fonts or Font Sizes
New designers may make this mistake, but choosing a font that’s difficult to read — or reducing it to an illegible size — is really detrimental to your design. For example, in infographic design the main means of distribution is the web, so use typefaces that lend themselves to digital displays and size them large enough that they’re easy to read. Even in infographics, where visuals drive the message, the supplemental text can be critical.
Lack of Cohesion
Sometimes designers will scale elements just to fit in specific areas, but it’s a much better practice to pick consistent sizes for each component of your layout. Headlines should be the same point size throughout the piece; same goes for subheads and body copy. Similar rules apply for bar charts and pie charts, too: keep size and scale consistent.
Consistency is also critical for illustration and icon styles — pick a style that complements your colors, fonts, and data visualization styles, and use it throughout that design. A set of gradient icons interrupted by a mismatched chalkboard-style icon creates a jarring impression.
Not Visualizing Data on an Infographic
Some posters are labeled as infographics, yet are covered in big blocky numerals with no visualization. If you want to develop an infographic and the content for your design contains data, try to illustrate your points as much as possible through charts, graphs, and other forms of data visualization. Visual storytelling is key and may improve recall of information after viewing — in fact, in a 1979 study of 9-year-olds looking at information with and without accompanying pictures, delayed recall improved 73% for good readers and 98% for poor readers. Information that includes comparative data is a great opportunity to support with visuals:
Just ask yourself if the visualization you’re proposing could help viewers understand the text more easily and more quickly — if not, typography may be your answer.
Incorrect Data Visualization
Let’s use a high school math problem as an example for this. Farmer Brown had 60 goats last year. This year Farmer Brown added 50% more goats to his farm. How many goats does Farmer Brown have now — and more importantly for the designer, how do we visualize that?
When many people hear a percentage, they’ll immediately think of a pie chart — but that’s not the right choice here. That’s because what we want to show is how many goats Brown gained — not how many he has out of a larger whole. Using a pie chart to show 50% would incorrectly inform the audience that Farmer Brown has 50% of the goats in the story, not 50% more goats than he previously had. Instead, we need to visualize the 2 years separately.
Another common mistake is when repeated icons are used, but the scales change. Remember that each icon used can only represent 1 scale: a stack of cash can’t represent $50 in 1 section and $5B in another. This mistake both confuses the reader and inaccurately displays the data.
Not Putting the Project Goals First
Always begin and end any graphic design project with the client’s goals in mind. Sometimes the design’s purpose can be muddled with the designer’s personal preferences. It’s easy to get caught up with a new style or a trendy font, but that can quickly turn into putting the project’s goals in the backseat while the trend of the week rides shotgun. As designers we’re trusted with a lot of decisions, and it’s our responsibility to respect the balance of those decisions. Here are some basic goals to consider:
- Who is the target audience?
- What information should be emphasized?
- Does the client have any concerns with colors or styles that were suggested to reflect her brand?
At Killer Infographics, we are blessed to have a team with some very gifted people — gifted people that notice spelling errors or accidental shortcut keystrokes lingering in a text box. Always check your own work first, but if you have someone else to double-check afterward, we highly encourage it. One common mistake to look for: make sure your letter spacing is consistent (the design term for this spacing is “kerning”).
Remember that when it comes to issues like kerning and text alignment, sometimes you can’t win. There are impossible situations where a widow (a lone word on its own line) will be chosen over a terrible rag (an unusually jagged margin on a text block). The key comes in knowing when to make those choices, and always asking for a second opinion.
While this is far from covering all the bases, we hope this small guide will help you avoid some of the biggest blunders you might encounter on the way to creating a successful graphic design.
All designs by Jessica Eith