7 Deadly Sins of Graphic Design

Janine Dueck


Janine Dueck


December 7, 2020

7 Deadly Sins of Graphic Design

It is in our very nature to give attention to that which is beautiful and to reject what is confusing, cluttered, or is not visually appealing. That is why when it comes to graphic design, you can almost always know if it’s quality design depending on your reaction.

  • You do a double-take
  • You stop scrolling
  • You look at it and think “wow!”
  • You make it your phone background
  • You send it to a friend

Good design has an effect on you that is almost a knee jerk reaction; you just have to engage with it! 

However, bad design is just as easy to notice too. Bad design is not just reserved for those images plastered with competing colors, excess information, and yikes Comic Sans font! Bad design goes much farther than the things that may automatically come to mind. 

There are many mistakes we can make as designers that make our graphics blend in with the endless scroll, hinder our impact, and distract from our brand/organization rather than enhance it. While there are undoubtedly many more of them, here are the 7 deadly sins of graphic design.

1. Designing without your target audience in mind

The very first deadly sin of graphic design is one that must be addressed before we even think about the logistics of our design. The first thing a designer must keep in mind as they sit down and open up Photoshop, InDesign, or Illustrator is first and foremost their audience. 

What is a target audience? The audience is the specific group of people that you are trying to reach. Sounds pretty simple, right? However, reaching your target audience is not something that just occurs naturally, it is something that must be built based on a variety of factors. These can include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Geographic location
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Profession
  • Marital status
  • And more

Why is the audience so important? The audience is important because these are the people you want to reach! They are the people you want to buy your product, subscribe to your service, and have a major impact on. The audience matters because the people you want to reach matter!

Not defining your audience aksi makes it more difficult to reach anyone at all because you are focusing on too many people at once instead of defining who you really want to reach. A fisherman wouldn’t anchor his boat in the middle of a lake and expect to sit there and catch all of the fish. He goes to the right location, with the proper equipment, with a specific type of fish in mind. 

You can have all of the bells and whistles in your design. It could be gorgeous with all of the best fonts out there, spectacular color combinations, and uniqueness that could not be contested. But all of these things don’t mean anything if it isn’t made specifically for the target audience’s eyes.

While most people do indeed know how to recognize good design, their propensity to positively react to design depends on their age, cultural background, and mindset. This is why it is so vital for designers to understand the people you are designing for.

This may require a lot of research on the designer’s part, which involves analyzing the audience demographics, understanding what content they tend to engage with the most, and even working with the client they are designing for to get an inside look at their audience. 

Our team at Pro MediaFire works tirelessly to ensure that the graphics, videos, and websites we create are all with your audience in mind! We know the power of not just understanding but also genuinely caring for your target audience. We will work with you to make sure we are best serving the people you currently reach and desire to reach.

2. Designing without the medium in mind

This cardinal sin of design is one that can often be overlooked but is very important given all of the different types of design medium there are out there. There are countless ways you can utilize design that usually fall under the categories of print and digital. 

You can print design for magazines, promotional items, merchandise, pamphlets, booklets, and more. You can also do digital design for the web, various social media platforms, videography, presentations, and more.

One does not simply create a design and expect it to work universally everywhere you use it. Especially between print and digital, we must be aware of the color types we are using and how they will change as we use them for print or digital means. 

For example, if you are creating a banner mobile ad, you probably shouldn’t be packing a bunch of text in it. If you are creating a full-page editorial print ad, you may want to avoid vibrant neon colors. If you are designing a highway billboard, you wouldn’t use a small font, too much text, or pastel colors.

When creating a design, you need to always be sure you understand where and how it will be perceived. This consciousness of how the design will be utilized is something that takes quite a bit of critical thinking and planning. We must look not just to the design as it is now, but how and where it will be used in the future. 

This means a bit more awareness and a lot more work to ensure the designs can be used in a versatile manner. This is where the aid of a branding guide can be extremely useful. It can help in determining the general aesthetic of the design project so that when it is mastered for multiple mediums (social media, billboards, print outs, etc.) things will remain consistent. 

3. Overlooking color theory and visual hierarchy

There are a lot of theories, science, and psychology that explain why we perceive design the way we do. That is why most graphic designers have extensively studied color theory and visual hierarchy. This part of the designer's education is vital before they can even get into the crux of actually designing graphics.

Color Theory includes the application of the color wheel, color harmony, and how colors are used. These concepts cover the different types of color wheels, color schemes, and how colors behave with each other. 

There is also an entire study of the psychology of color and how different colors affect us emotionally. This study is especially important when designing for marketing purposes. There are books upon books that speak to color theory, and the understanding of color is truly something that can be overlooked. 

Along these same educational lines, designers must have a good understanding of the importance of visual hierarchy. In simple terms, is the principle of presenting graphic elements to indicate their order of importance. Visual hierarchy is a very strategic aspect of design that works to help views understand the information easily. 

Visual hierarchy can negatively or positively affect the delivery of the experience. For example, when the hierarchy is clear on a website, people will know exactly where to look to find a specific webpage. If it is bad on a website, it may lead to the viewer searching for information that should be easy to find. 

Many elements play into influencing visual hierarchy, such as font choice, element size and location, and the use of images. To avoid the deadly sins of avoiding visual hierarchy and color theory alike, it is important to have a full understanding of both concepts.

4. Overcrowding and lack of white space

You know it when you see it. A newspaper advertisement riddled with lines and lines of copy. A social media graphic post with way too many elements and fonts splatted over it. Another deadly sin of graphic design is to make things way too overcrowded and overcomplicated. 

It seems as, in the cases of print advertisements, less is certainly not more. Many ads are saturated with information because when it comes down to it, the client is paying for the space of the ad so they want to include all the information they can. 

The newspaper industry is kept afloat mostly in part to print advertisements from local businesses, organizations, and political campaigns. These ads are often situated right next to or within large bodies of text. Do you think a potential client or customer would pay attention to your ad if it too is just a bunch of lines of text?

When it comes to digital advertisements, however, there needs to be a shift. As mentioned before, designers need to know the medium through which their design will be viewed. If a graphic is overcrowded, it will be difficult to read and will become entirely less effective. People avoid ads as is, so we shouldn’t be pushing them further to ignore our content.

White space is your friend! White space, also called negative space, in layman's terms is the portion of a design left unmarked by elements and text. White space has a plethora of benefits due to its sheer simplicity, something that our busy, crowded world is desiring. 

Our eyes are immediately drawn to what is different and what stands out from the crowd. White space provides an ability for our eyes to look away from the text and elements but also tends to emphasize the elements. It improves the readability of a design, gives the design a simple, sophisticated look, and prevents overcrowding. 

White space is especially important for designs heavy in text, but avoiding overcrowding is important for all types of designs both digitally and in print.

5. Designing against the grain of trends

We live in a “trending” culture. Millennials and Gen Z alike are fueled by trends and what is popular in culture. These generations are constantly engaging in the things that matter most to them. Whether it seems trivial or not to us, what they consume matters because if it isn’t us, it might be because our designs aren’t on trend. This is why TikTok videos and social media memes aren’t going away anytime soon: they are on-trend.

When it comes to engagement, ignoring design trends can be fatal for companies and organizations. Not only does disregarding trends hurt your reach with your target audience, but it also hurts your website and social media traffic, SEO, and engagement. Staying on trend begins first at the design,

It is the job of the designer not only to recognize trends in media, but to design in such a way that adds to the trending conversation. They must take time to recognize the styles and aesthetics that are currently trending in graphic design. They can ask these questions:

  • What design styles and aesthetics are appealing? 
  • What concepts and ideologies are being talked about right now?
  • What type of images are being shared often on social media?
  • What fonts are being used? 
  • What color combinations are popular? 

The pressure is not to directly copy what is happening in culture, but to regard it highly and allow our designs to be influenced by it.

Trends change every single day, so it is important to be educated on current trends. It is wise for designers to follow popular designers to learn from the best. There is no shame in learning from those who are excellent at what they do (we will talk more about this in #7).

6. Not double & triple checking spelling, grammar, and copy format

This is one of the most overlooked parts of graphic design but can undo even the most beautiful design. People often look to design for information and even inspiration. 

Design is often used to convey a message, which is why the use of copy within it is extremely important. One of the follies of many design programs is there is no spelling or grammar check, so it is up to the designer to make sure all of the textual information is formatted grammatically, correctly spelled, and has a clear message.

This is an easy design sin to commit, but if the designer has a background in grammar and spelling, it will come much easier. Regardless, it is very beneficial for the designer to pass their design through a few sets of eyes before it goes to print or publication. We often look over tiny mistakes when we are staring at a design project for a long time; getting others to review it can help to avoid tiny overlooked mistakes.

7. Never learning or growing in your design skills

The last deadly sin on our list is the mistake many designers make throughout their time of designing. It can be very easy to think when we’ve been doing something for so long that we have “arrived,” but there is always something more we can learn. 

There are countless resources out there that exist to educate designers on many of the concepts we have discussed so far. There is always room for improvement, modifications, and education. Designers benefit when they take time to learn new design software, design techniques, and especially from other designers. Growing in your design skills is one of the best ways to ensure you do not become stale in your techniques and stuck in the same old thing. 

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” –Alvin Toffler


There are many other deadly sins that can be committed in graphic design that affect the impact of your design. Our team at Pro MediaFire is fully committed to creating high-quality, high-impact design pieces that will improve engagement and extend your reach. Talk to us today so we can help you bring fire to your designs and help you reach more of your audience!

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