Hamza Sharif

15 Signs You're A Bad Graphic Designer

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Yes, this is a controversial topic, however I hope to raise awareness of some mistakes you may be making in your graphic design pieces that are making you look like an amateur, but please keep in mind that none of these are hard and fast rules, this is only a general guide of things you should be aware of.

Please forgive me for the graphic and bad grammar / spelling in the picture above as I’m sure you can see it is a joke 🙂 (rainbow gradients, comic sans, bevel emboss, 13 not 15, bad grammar, off centered type – yuk)

Anyway, I have compiled 15 tell tale signs that you may still be considered a (don’t quote me) bad graphic designer. Some of these have been taken from Robin Williams great book “The Non-Designers Type Book”.

1. Helvetica

Do you use Helvetica in everything?

Ok, yes I know, it is the most popular font of all time – but that is the downfall of Helvetica. Just because it is there, it doesn’t mean you have to use it. Try something else next time and try break out of your habit. Just for some suggestions, maybe Trade Gothic, Formata, Futura, Antique Olive, Eurostile?

2. Straight Quotes & Wrong Quotes

Do you use straight quotes still?

Straight quotes were for typewriters, times have changed! Look at the difference between the quotes above.

  1. The quotations are not hanging over the edge.
  2. Straight quotes have been used instead of true quotation marks.
  3. Quotation marks have been used instead of prime marks after the 7 and 3.
  4. An apostrophe has been left out in between it’s.

3. Quotations Not Hung

Do you NOT hang your quotation marks?

See in the picture in number 2, how the quote marks are hanging off the side of the quote, compared to the other one. Hang your quotation marks. Read your software manual (check their help files) to read how to do this or you can do it manually.

4. Double Returns.

Do you hit the ‘return’ or the ‘enter’ key twice between paragraphs or after headlines?

Using two spaces makes it possible to end up with a blank line at the top of a column plus it leaves way too much space between each paragraph – it looks disconnected.

5. Two Spaces After Punctuation

Do you add two spaces after each sentence?

This is a very bad practice and is not correct – Using only one space is the correct way.

6. Using Boxes Behind Text

Do you use plain boxes of colour behind your text?

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to. Try something else, use a dramatic headline, use your white space, use a different font, reverse your type, use pull quotes, etc. Can you see in the above picture how the surrounding white space makes the text stand out on its own? You can use these in the correct places however be careful not to over use it.

7. Centred Layouts

Do you use a centred layout in your graphic design pieces?

Using centred layouts is usually bad practice as it creates a deadly dull look. See how much more effective the two green verses are, they are more dynamic (one is centred & one is left aligned). Using flush left or right gives strength to your entire page and usually is a better option unless of course there are reasons to use centred text. eg. creating a formal wedding invitation.

8. Borders

Do you use borders around everything?

This often indicates a beginner who feels unsafe with type that is uncontained. Use your white space. You can let it be there. Seriously.

9. Indents

Do you use half inch indents?

This is bad practice and is the old way (back in typewriter days). The standard is one em space which is a space as wide as the point size of the type. (what?) This is approximately two spaces, not five.

10. Hyphens For Bullets

Do you use bullets for hyphens?

This is a typewriter habit and is unprofessional. Try using dots or dingbats.

11. Embossing & Drop Shadowed Type

Do you use the nifty little drop shadow or emboss tools that comes with your software?

PLEASE STOP. This is the biggest dead give away of an amateur. This goes along with forbidden; rainbow gradients, reflections, comic sans. Just don’t use them, plain simple.

12. 12 Point Type

Do use the default 12-point type with auto-leading?

For most typefaces, 12 points is a tiny bit too large for body copy. Compare a 10, 11, and 12-point passage of text and tell me which one looks more professional. Try adding an extra 1 or 1.5 line spacing or leading as well. Notice the difference in the two examples above. The red is the default 12 auto leading and the green is size 11 with 2 points of leading.

13. Underline

Do you underline?

Never use the underline feature, it is a law. Only for hyperlinks on the web is this allowed. Underlining was a way for typewriters back in the day to Italicize text because they couldn’t set italics. Underlining and italicizing text at the same time is the most redundant thing you can do in life but rules can be broken 😉



All caps is more difficult to read and this is because we recognize a word not by its letters, but by the shape of the whole word. When text is in all caps, every word has the same shape so we have to read every letter by itself. All caps is fine sometimes but when you are conscious of using it and why. Try using bold, using a different typeface, or using reverse text.

15. Bad Grammar & Speling

Not spell-checking your work and not using the right grammar. One of the hardest aspects designers seems to face.

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Hamza Sharif


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