Top 5 Unforgivable Graphic Design Sins – Useful Tips to Avoid Them

Whenever we have some time to spare and need a good laugh, we do a little internet search for the top horrors in terms of graphic design. We have a big laugh then we move on. But one day, we had this zapping idea: what if one day we find our design in this list? How does it feel, as a designer, to browse the internet and find your work in a hall of shame, with hundreds of comments deriding it?

Hopefully, it never happens and you never get to experience this. And to help you stay away from the biggest design no-nos, we have compiled this list of five unforgivable design sins:

  1. Thou shalt not torture users’ eyes with bad contrast

Gray or light blue text on a white background – because it looks hi-tech and classy. It also looks…wait, it doesn’t really look, because you can barely see it. Oh, then let’s make the background black and the graphic and text magenta. Ouch, the poor users’ eyes! Now they will be colorblind for days.

Whenever you are unsure if your contrast works, let the experts give you their opinion. Run your web page through this neat application: AccessKeys

But as a designer, you should have a knack for pairings of colors which give a great contrast and do not create eye fatigue.

  1. Thou shalt not emboss text

Is this a logo or a redneck wedding invitation? We’re not too sure. But that embossed text looks tacky and cheap. This type of text editing was acceptable somewhere back in the ’90s when we were all experimenting with WordArt.

If you want something special to give personality to a logo or headline, use a custom font which is properly researched and adapted to your design needs. But keep it simple. Audrey Hepburn could wow the audience in a simple black dress and a single string of pearls. While Jayne Mansfield is mostly remembered for her untimely passing, not her fashion choices.

  1. Thou shalt not rasterize text

Really, what’s the point of going through all the trouble? In the end, it will look aliased (jagged at the edges), it will add unnecessary extra MB to your design and it is also hard to edit once you spotted a spelling mistake. It does not look artistic at all, so it’s like shooting yourself in the foot when you do it.

  1. Thou shalt not apply drop shadow

Wooowwww, look at that! The text has an awkward shadow! It looks like it’s having an oil leak or something worse…No, your headline does not need drop shadow to pop out. If this is what you believe, then you got the concept of popping out totally wrong. A cool font, great choice of color, and most important, carefully chosen words will indeed make a headline or a mission statement unforgettable. But not drop shadow…

  1. Thou shalt not apply color gradient on text

Your text looks as if a leprechaun sneezed a rainbow all over it. It is cheap, amateurish, it does not even convey support for the LGBT community, because it is plain ugly. Again, we revert to the good ole’ days when we played with WordArt – that is the first and last moment in design history when it was acceptable.

To conclude today’s instruction, here is what your graphic design should absolutely not look like:


Were you scared looking at that? Well, so were we. And we are open to hear your confessions on all the other graphic design sins you have committed. Unburden your conscience in our comments section below.

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  • jmcgraphics

    While I believe you have struck a nerve, I disagree in …part. Never to use any of the above? Judicious use of one or some of the above is, to me, OK. I said JUDICIOUS! …and it depends on it’s application for a purpose, or maybe even a client’s insistence on bad taste. Gradients are OK… sometimes, but you have given the most hideous examples. If you’re rasterizing text (headlines only), keep an original copy on a separate layer. Now if you’re defining “text” as body copy or subheads, totally agree. I wouldn’t use these effects on anything but a headline, and only JUDICIOUSLY (BTW, I have a lot of redneck clients. I live in FL)

Ionut B
Digital Art Director with an innovative creative thinking able to translate ideas and concepts into useful and memorable interactive marketing campaigns.

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