Designer Crimes of the 21st Century

Please take this advice, even if it is Comic Sans :P

It has definitely been a fun year, growing our design community and creating a lot of new articles to share around design principles and design thinking. I know that sometimes these written pieces can get long, but this one won’t be too bad.

It’s actually mainly images (which you can download from my dropbox if you want).

I did intentionally design these this way as an example of what not to do. Which could get annoying. Let’s see. 😂

As we continue to improve our design skills, we train our eye to notice really good design. One side effect however, we tend to not look for the things where we might be creating bad designs.

Some of these things I mention below I have been or sometimes still am guilty of. Even now.

It just happens that eventually you learn to avoid these mistakes with time, practice, and dedication to getting better (which includes seeking feedback on your work).

However, not everyone is as fine tuned as they should be, especially when it comes to their B.S. Meter for over glorified design. So in case you haven’t seen them, here’s some design crimes that should be avoided at all costs.

Stealing someone else’s design or aesthetic

There are many ways that we borrow styles from others. It’s okay to start designing within a new style. This is fine, and sometimes refreshing… However…

A lot of the time what we call “Getting Design Inspiration ” or “Research” is actually going to Dribbble and copying something that looks like what you want your work to look like.

You shouldn’t try to pass off someone’s own work or aesthetic as your own. Don’t ride off the coattails of someone else’s success.

The only thing that can save you here is by documenting process. Have something that shows how you got from idea to execution and you might just be in the clear. ;)

Splitting articles between pages

I know that some websites use this to increase the number of advertisements some people are exposed to, but don’t do this because there’s no reason a block of text can’t be rendered on a webpage or screen.

It hampers the experience someone has when going to your site.

In order to make sure someone reads all the way through, consider different methods of breaking up an article to keep people engaged, rather than frustrating them with a barrage of ads and load times.

Not having enough contrast

You need to make sure you have enough contrast between colors. contrastchecker.com/ is a good resource for that.

Without a stark change in contrast between colors, you’re causing unnecessary stress on someone’s brain trying to pull the two elements apart in their head.

Make sure that something passes the “Squint” test where you squint your eyes. If you can still see it, it’s good.

Using clip art past 2007

There are so many other options you can use besides clip art. Even a stick figure drawing would be better.

Some of the new art within mobile apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, iOS, etc. These are actually sometimes well designed.

I’m talking about going into Microsoft word, or online to get “Free graphics.” for a design you’re working on. What is usually free lacks quality.

Not keeping user experience consistent across devices

Don’t cut out features of your site just because there are smaller screen sizes. A lazy designer will skip trying to make something work correctly on the other screen/devices.

Someone using something on their desktop browser would probably expect the same level of experience on the mobile app or website.

Creating too much eye

If your design becomes too busy, the person looking at it will have to strain their eyes, brains, and focus, trying to figure out what the heck is going on in your design.

Simple is better.

No white space

It is okay to have some white-space in your design.

Good design is not filling the space with everything you can, it’s showing restraint by making the design with just as much as it needs to have.

Making mobile tap targets too tiny

You’ve probably tried to use a mobile app by clicking on something, only to have to tap it multiple times until you actually get it. Same goes for using your mouse… These action targets need to be easy to hit, and not bigger than they need to be.

Using too much of the same photo

When I see a stock photo on one page, I better not click to another page and see that same damn photo on that page too unless it’s relevant.

Sometimes the photo isn’t even appropriate for the content it is there to compliment. Just make sure that each element has a purpose and that it is relevant to what you are communicating.

Overusing one style in your portfolio

I see this all the time. If you use only one style in your portfolio, a potential employer will get a good idea of what you’ll produce for them, but they won’t ever get to know what else you can do. Sometimes being able to branch out will surprise you with what work you attract.

Also, I just used this same style above this crime.

Slapping a golden spiral/ratio on something to make it feel designed

If you don’t understand the method, spend some time learning as much as you can. Don’t just do it because it’s trendy.

Using pure white or pure black

Not everything is so #000000 and #FFFFFF

Pure black and pure white are very jarring to the eyes. You can soften even a little bit by choosing even 1% brighter/darker in their respective directions.

Any crime involving mishandled typography

Do not stretch type horizontally, do not kern the letters if you don’t understand how to make it better, don’t use fonts that are different than the tone you are going for, don’t stretch type vertically.

Typography is something that takes a while to learn, but even a basic knowledge should help you avoid doing any of those.

Sacrificing the usability of a design to make it pretty

If what you’re doing aesthetically makes the design hard to use, consider why you’re even doing that design in the first place.

Start with the goal of the project, not the aesthetics.

Using too many visual tricks

Remember that KISS Principle? Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS). The more things you try to do with the design, the less satisfied you’ll be with it. Practice restraint and you might have a cool design the first time.

No clear logic to the hierarchy or grid system

Practice layout and composition often. Pay attention to patterns you see.

When doing a layout yourself, even a simple grid or hierarchy structure will keep your design in good shape.

Not doing enough research on the intended audience

Instead of researching what someone had already designed for your target audience, come up with research strategies that actually help you understand the target demographic. Search the internet with research strategies for (whatever) Design, and how to research your target market. You’ll find plenty of resources.

Not using high enough resolution photography

Take note of the common sizes that someone is going to use your design. (Print, Web Design, Mobile App Design, Video Game Design, Advertising, etc)

Taking that bit of time will help you find the right resolution for your photography and keep your pictures from getting too pixelated or compressed.

Forgetting about the empty states, edge cases, or any use case for that matter

Have you considered what your design will look like if someone doesn’t fill in the field?

One of my biggest projects I’ve worked on had way too many fields to fill in and not one person used all of them in their profile.

Being too hot headed, thinking you’ve learned it all (all before actually

mastering your craft), trying to be seen as something you are not…

You only know as much as you’ve been exposed to. The world of design can’t be learned in a year, or two, or ten.

But, you have to be open to the fact that things change, new conventions, methods, tools are created.

Take the mindset of a perpetual student.

There’s always something to learn.


If you ever want to get some serious design practice under your belt…

Come join other like-minded designers who are working at becoming masters of their craft.

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We’re currently accepting new members for the group and have big plans (and free stuff) for 2018 coming real soon!

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Darian Rosebrook

Brand Identity Designer for @itssomagnetic, running a design community at @compassofdesign. I write to help others grow their skills as designers.

Compass of Design

Some of the best design articles written by members of the Compass of Design Community to help you strengthen your skills in design, business/freelance, and marketing yourself.

Well, actually™

I am working for 10 years in Japan. One thing I have learned is that this assumption while broadly correct, has some cultural sensitivity to it.

I won’t speak for other CJK cultures, but it is certainly true at the very least Japanese EC customers love high information density.

I agree with you, I do know most of different cultures are bound by certain conventions like that. Thank you for the reminder. I’ll see if I can amend my statement. (:

It still can’t hurt having a bit of breathing room for most other designs.

Thanks for the insight, Philipp!

Thank you,

and I am still trying to add more white space.

Fun fact though: in my last and my current company I have been working on enterprise facing apps and here the situation is very different.

I agree, but this may change with the advent of OLED screens becoming the norm. I find it awful in magazines designs too, but since OLED screens have better colour reproduction (at the right viewing angle), many designers will want to try those out.

Not looking forward to that.

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