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What makes a design good or bad? True, it’s subjective to some degree — but ultimately, good graphic design will inspire responses and clearly communicate visual information. Bad design, on the other hand, will impede and muddle that communication. Here are 8 common pitfalls of design and how to easily avoid them:
1. Perfect symmetry
Balance is one of the fundamental principles of design. It refers to the way elements are distributed throughout a layout, and it provides a sense of order and stability. However, balance doesn’t have to mean using perfect symmetry all the time. While symmetry isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s a boring and easy way to convey information. By using asymmetry, you’ll create visual interest and spontaneity, and also capture people’s attention effectively.
2. Not enough white space
Proximity is another major design principle. Related elements should be visually grouped together — this helps people connect information and determine relationships between items. A common mistake is strewing content all over the entire page, which looks cluttered and doesn’t help communicate information effectively. Embrace white space and give each element room to breathe. White space creates contrast, guides people’s eyes in a particular direction, and establishes a clear visual hierarchy.
3. Too little repetition
Repetition lends a sense of unity and consistency, and it also improves readability. If you don’t repeat a few visual elements throughout your projects — for instance, certain colors, layouts, or spatial relationships — your design could lack continuity and your reader can’t “tie it all together.” But don’t overdo the repetition either. Otherwise, it will become overwhelming or bothersome.
4. Center-aligning text
A common newbie design mistake is to center-align chunks of text. Too much centered text looks clumsy and sloppy, and it’s actually harder to read because it gives the text ragged left and right edges. This forces your readers to work harder to find where each line starts, since there’s no consistent starting place.
It’s best to use left- or right-alignment. Save the centered text for headlines and short lines of text only.
5. Too much text in one line
Reading multiple long lines of text can cause eye fatigue. Content is much easier to read if you keep the measure, or the length of a line of type, short. Research shows that optimal readability is between 45-75 characters per measure, including spaces.
6. Poor kerning
Kerning simply refers to the individual spacing between two letters. It sounds minor, but it can make a huge difference. If two letters are too close together, it can make words look messy, unclear, and difficult to read. If kerning is done right, it creates a neat, visually organized piece of text.
7. Font and color overkill
Contrast is an important, powerful design rule. We’re wired to notice differences, and contrast adds focal points and prevents things from looking boring. You can use different colors, typefaces, textures, size, and shapes, especially if you want to emphasize an idea, but don’t overdo it.
For example, the last thing you want on a landing page or brochure is a chaotic mélange of excessive fonts. Not only does it look disruptive and distracting, but our eyes have a hard time scanning multiple typefaces. You can experiment with contrasting fonts, but limit it to 2-3 at the most, and make sure they match the tone of your project.
The same idea goes for colors: too many colors can make your design look garish, overwhelming, and cluttered. Stick to 2-4 colors, and be conscious of how your text looks on top of those colors.
If you’re looking for good fonts, check out our “Fun Fonts” lightbox. And for inspirational color combinations, try our Palette tool, where you can search for images by color palette.
8. Using rasters
Raster images are made up of pixels, and these are your typical jpg/jpegs, tiffs, gifs, bmps, and pngs. They’re resolution dependent, so when you enlarge them, they become pixelated and blurry because you’re stretching the pixels. Vectors, on the other hand, can be scaled up or down without losing any quality, because they’re made up of geometric shapes like points, lines, and curves. Shutterstock has the largest vector collection in the industry, so if you’re looking for inspiration, check out some of the vectors in our popular Geometric and Linear collection lightboxes.
Without good design, even the best, most powerful idea gets lost in the mix. By learning how to avoid common design mistakes, you’ll be able to create content that looks clean and professional, while also conveying your message effectively.