Things that make you scream "fire the designer!"
October 15, 2010 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about basic graphic design errors/faux pas that irritate the hell out of designers.

I'm looking for things that most graphic designers consider ugly, annoying, cliché, or just wrong, but frequently show up anyway. The "AARGH, any intern would know that!" stuff. I know of a few typography peeves - things like using novelty fonts for large amounts of text, crappy kerning, Comic Sans - but can't think of much beyond that.

The more common and elementary, the better. Even better if they're easily spotted by someone with little to no design experience (like me) as long as they know what to look for.

If you can find examples, I'd appreciate it, but it's not necessary. Thanks!
posted by Metroid Baby to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite


posted by activitystory at 12:56 PM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Grocer's apostrophes
posted by Thorzdad at 12:56 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Capitalizing random Words to make them look More Important.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:02 PM on October 15, 2010

"Unnecessary" Quotes
posted by reductiondesign at 1:07 PM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Creating literal logos. Yes, the client may have a mobile phone company but your logo doesn't have to be A PHONE. Jesus.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:11 PM on October 15, 2010

Are you interested in things that professional designers do that other professional designers find objectionable, or things that lay people do that professional designers find objectionable? I think you would get very different answers for the two types.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:13 PM on October 15, 2010

Some personal pet peeves of mine, though I don't know if I'd call them rules.

I personally hate seeing Widows and Orphans. Some simple thesaurus work can keep you from having words that dangle at the end and look

Anytime I see words butting right up against the edge of whatever design element they're in. A tiny but of padding is necessary for things to look good.

Most of the time, if I see that the designer has taken into account the importance of whitespace, it always looks like it was designed better to my eyes.
posted by ejfox at 1:13 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Heavy, default value drop shadows make me crazy.
posted by Kicky at 1:41 PM on October 15, 2010

Response by poster: Are you interested in things that professional designers do that other professional designers find objectionable, or things that lay people do that professional designers find objectionable?

Both, actually, but I'm more interested in the former.

And if there are dead giveaways that someone has no design training, I'm interested in those too.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:48 PM on October 15, 2010

This is a bit chatfiltery because the ways you can bugger up a design is an open-ended set.

Misuse of script fonts. Using multiple sans-serifs or serif fonts – especially ones with only minor differences – in the same layout.

Things that are not quite lined up. It's key with graphic design that either things match and are lined up, or they really do not. Evidence of drift is always shoddy. You must look like you've done things on purpose.

Leaving double spaces between sentences. Some old-school typists still do that, and in typography it's still wrong. I always run a document-wide search for two spaces and collapse them to one, when I've received text from someone else.

Kicky's point is well taken, about the drop shadows. I worked with two soi-disant designers who thought they were being creative because they could not do a headline that wasn't horizontally scaled about 85% and drop-shadowed. Do not horizontally scale type. There are properly designed condensed fonts when you need them: to a real designer's eye, mechanically compressed (or, even worse, stretched) typography is always making a sort of visual whimper.
posted by zadcat at 1:52 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Okay, going to give you one of the *inverse* issues: when graphic designers do not listen to the client. Case in point: we hired a design guy to make a logo icon for our product (Windows-based) and he could flat-out not understand that there needed to be changes because of the Mac vs Windows resolution differences (basically, we needed good 32x32 and 48x48 icons, not a big fat 256x256 one that was basically a poor png render of an Illustrator file) makes any smaller icons look like crap unless you hand-do them.

The Oatmeal had a 'toon up a few months ago about clients vs design.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 1:54 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Used to be we'd see a lot of amateur work done in CorelDraw. There was an ineffable CorelDraw quality to the designs. In retrospect, I think it was because the program came with clipart and fonts, and a lot of churches, lodges, and whatnot used it for their publications. We'd get a client file that needed to be "fixed up." You know, the hall president or church secretary had their kid design the bulletin or annual report. Lots of colors (as opposed to a color scheme that a pro would devise in advance and stick to), graduated fills (blue to white was a big one, but CorelDraw would do a rainbow fill that wouldn't color separate for love or money), display type for paragraphical copy. That kind of thing.

Those days are mostly over. Now the design errors I see the most often involve an improper use of white space (meaning hardly white space at all - they fill every available space with copy) and a lack of respect for contrast. I'm big on contrast in publication design, and a lot of noobs overlook it. You'll see all one typeface on a page, all one size of rules, stuff like that.

Also, punctuation. One mark of inexperience in design is a failure to work with proofreaders. You'll find a lot of people who get out of design school who think their work doesn't need any correction because how could my work be anything other than perfect (she's sitting behind me right now with her MFA and her grant proposals full to bursting with misspelled words)?

Also what zadcat said. Big time.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 2:11 PM on October 15, 2010

Not using em dashes where appropriate, like in your question.
  • Regular dash: -
  • Dummy em dash: --
  • The real deal em dash: —
For mac users its option shift - . In HTML it's — .

Also a peeve: sloppy justified text. The relevant lingo here is a "river"— where whitespace runs vertically up a block of text. Not only does it look bad, it's distracting to the eye.

You really only need 1 space after a period. Trust me. It is not proper formatting, nor does it make text easier to read. In fact it makes it harder to read, as you read in sentences not word by word.

Oh, and using double prime instead of quotation marks. This site explains it well.
"This is a double prime."
“This is a left and right quotation mark.”
posted by fontophilic at 2:13 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Em dash (—) on Windows ALT+0151 (en dash (–) is ALT+0150). You have to type the numbers on the keypad, not the number row.

Another thing: Bad photoshopping. Like leaving in extra arms and hands.
posted by jeffamaphone at 2:21 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Five spaces (tab) instead of two at the beginning of a paragraph, too many fonts, EVERYTHING IS BIG or little (no contrast), two fonts that are too similar, everything center aligned, too many colors, like elements not grouped closely together, not enough contrast between font and background, spreading things out as not to leave empty space...
posted by starman at 2:27 PM on October 15, 2010

One thing which distinguishes the professional from the amateur is full bleed artwork. Amateurs nearly always keep their design elements fully inside the margins of the page, because that's the only kind of printing they know, domestic or office printers.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:29 PM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Underling for emphasis, when you should really be using bold or italics.

Non hanging punctuation in block quotes.

All caps for long blocks of text.

Possibly amateurish, depends on use:

Small white text on 4 color black

Red type on blue background and vice versa

Using Photoshop as page layout app
posted by nomadicink at 2:31 PM on October 15, 2010

The number one thing is not aligning elements to an underlying grid layout. This makes the design look ridiculously random.

- Seconding spacing treatment
- Lack of styles applied to headers versus subheaders, text, etc.
- Writing with jargon of any kind
- Clown pants design (too many colors and elements)
- Widgets like tabs not working as they should
- Overly long menus that have not been grouped into smaller categories
- Dialogs that use different terms for Ok, Cancel when these will do
- The eensy weensy text size with overly large graphics some graphic designers are drawn toward
- Links that do not communicate they are links in any way.
- Graphic artifacts making the graphic appear fuzzy or slightly distorted.
posted by walla at 2:36 PM on October 15, 2010

You mentioned Comic Sans - but anybody who's worth their salt probably doesn't use Arial either.
posted by kpmcguire at 3:25 PM on October 15, 2010

my personal peeves, herewith:

1) anything that looks like you opened photoshop or illustrator and applied a pre-set
2) especially pre-set colors from the swatches menu or premade graphic styles
3) anything typeset in myriad; it looks liek you couldn't find the type menu to pick something
4) anything following apple's style guide (any version of it) blindly
5) enlarging images to the point of fuzziness
6) frigging zapfino; every half-wit uses it when they need something "classy"
7) ditto trajan
8) literal logos (there is a restaurant here in town called the fountainhead; its logo is a head with an initial f towering over it, pouring something into the head -- i refuse to set foot in the place)
9) arial
10) helvetica

and, for bonus points,

11)akzidenz grotesk

posted by patricking at 5:01 PM on October 15, 2010

What's so amateurish about akzidenz grotesk? It's not even a standard typeface on most machines.

I'd say that, lately, Helvetica is getting to be a marker of amateurishness. Or maybe top-seeded amateur not quite ready to go pro-ish-ness?
posted by Sara C. at 7:04 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most of my pet peeves have been mentioned already, but let me add: trying to use a script typeface in all caps; not having multiple columns align to the baseline grid; not changing the default leading in their desktop publishing programs.
posted by lgandme0717 at 8:33 PM on October 15, 2010

Argh. So many things here, but one that can bother me from 100 paces: a line of text with a color box behind it. This happens because some overpaid zagnut was hovering behind the production person, jabbing greasy fingerprints onto their screen and breathing coffee on them, when the production person highlighted something and the zagnut said HEY! I like that! That thing you just did! Make it look like that!

I mostly notice orphans, bad hyphenation, bad line breaks, and improper punctuation. The wrong dash, inch marks for quotes, stuff like that.

It used to be that damned page curl, but that seems to have finally died out.
posted by bink at 8:50 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bad kerning. Sometimes it's subtle, but jeez, how hard is it to properly kern "W" and "o"?

And all of the other stuff mentioned above.
posted by Gusaroo at 9:35 PM on October 15, 2010

One of the things that gets me is when a company spends millions for a new logo and it's bad. Case in point: the GAP logo debacle. The new/discontinued logo looks like it was designed by committee so it may not have been the designer's complete fault (design by committee is the second thing that gets me).

Designing is a taut line between listening to the client and steering them to a good solution.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 6:26 AM on October 16, 2010

posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 11:29 AM on October 16, 2010 [13 favorites]

Stretching or squishing type is an immediate sign of amateurish work.

And I happen to love Akzidenz Grotesk, fwiw.
posted by Sreiny at 12:41 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Unsubtle or overuse of drop shadows. Default Photoshop filters. In some cases, gradients but not always. Swoosh logos!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 9:46 PM on October 16, 2010


Words aren't supposed to be read one letter on top of the other. (Eastern languages, obviously, excluded.)
posted by jabberjaw at 2:56 PM on October 18, 2010

Resist the urge to fill the page or screen. White space is sacred.
posted by jmevius at 9:39 AM on October 19, 2010

Fascinating! I knew about comic sans, but never knew arial and helvetica were so irritating. If arial and helvetica are so bad, what similar font should one use, primarily for professional emails?
posted by n'muakolo at 9:26 AM on October 20, 2010

One should send emails as plain text and let the recipient decide what font to display it in based on their preferences. Forcing your choice on me = evil. HTML email = double evil.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:37 PM on October 20, 2010

I believe people are using Univers or Futura instead of Helvetica. (Gotham is sort of similar, and you may recognize it.) Sure enough, these will eventually become similarly disfavored.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:11 AM on October 21, 2010

As a fan of Futura from way back, I am concerned about its recent popularity. Futura is MINE, guys! Stay away!
posted by Sara C. at 9:34 AM on October 21, 2010

I haven't seen Papyrus mentioned anywhere. I actually start to twitch when I see that one.
posted by couchtater at 12:31 AM on May 22, 2011

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