The 14 Deadly Sins of Graphic Design

(Snippits from our oh so popular Digital Glue Podcast!)

The 7 deadly sins … Sounds kind spooky, doesn’t it?! Like an old school horror movie on Hallows Eve … The kind with the Jason axe theme music.

However, all joking aside, this is a real thing. What you read in the title is true! What I’m about to share with you is true. There are rules to graphic design. And we’ve been fought on this idea before …

I honestly hold high praise to those who love to learn and be a do-it-yourself entrepreneur. Especially if funds are tight for adding these design services to ones business. If you love learning and have a true knack for being creative, I full on say “Go for it!”. However, I’m going to repeat myself … Yes, what you are hearing right now is the full on gosh darn true. To accomplish consumer effective designs, there are certain rules that need to be followed.

So, that’s why I’m here today with this out of the box topic … blog post … podcast episode …

If you are interested in learning and wanting to do things on your own, first of all CONGRATULATIONS on entering the land of design! Or if you’re a noob graphic designer, this is for you!

First and foremost, because this is one of the most common mistakes post design …


Not naming your digital files properly can cause confusion, reduce the chances of mistakes, makes communication with clients or team members easier, improves SEO and file readability, and possibly even prevents loss of files later on down the road. We designers do have naming conventions, so read up and keep yourself organized.


Next up …


This is the printing of a file that goes beyond the edge of where the sheet will be trimmed. In other words, the “bleed” is the area that will be trimmed off. So please, mind your edges (and page centers too!) so you don’t lose a chunk of your design.


Do not in any circumstance use a Photoshop filter to disguise a low-quality image. We know Photoshop is beyond the gods and has quite a few tricks up its sleeve to help but please do yourself a favour and just find or request an image with a higher resolution. Even if it costs a couple bucks. A good high-quality image goes a long way.


Make sure you create a design — especially a logo or favicon — that works for both print and web. This should be created as a vector image. Which for those unfamiliar is the creation of a digital image through a sequence of commands and mathematical statements, usually within Adobe Illustrator or InDesign. This way there are no ifs ands or buts when it comes to resolution. You’ll be able to enlarge as big as a billboard and to as small as your business cards — or even a pen.

Next up, which just so happens to be a commonality everywhere …


No matter what anyone tells you, try not to rely on your spell checker too much. Your computer can do a lot to help you out, but if you use the tools at your disposal without thinking or double even triple checking your work on your own, you could find yourself in big trouble with an error you may not be able to go back and fix. So please, proofread, proofread, proofread. Then read it again, and again.


The ever so annoying …


Do not in any circumstance EVER flatten your Photoshop file. Which in layman’s terms means to bring all levels of a multi-layered image down to one plane. You may never know when you need to go back in and make some changes. This is irreversible.


Now onto the good ‘ol design aspects …


Make sure to never center align large chunks of text. Your readers will have to work harder to read text aligned this way which in most cases makes the reader move on to something else and avoids your content all together. It’s best to always left align. Right is also suitable in some very limited instances.


Kerning is the space between letters and if this is not consistent, your text can be completely misread. There are enough mishaps already online to prove exactly how important this truly is.


When you are going for originality, stock images are an absolute hugest no-no in design-land. Especially when you can run into some copyright issues later down the road. Or perhaps you decide “I’m not going to listen to her” and pay for the image and all the copyrights, you’ll more than likely run into at least 20 or more businesses or events with the exact same design. So, please oh please … Just stay far away from this one. If you need help making your visual dream a reality, there is always someone in the virtual world, somewhere who can help.

Okay, a huge one coming up here, which is something we like to call …


This automatically looks amateur and tacky. This is not a trend, and it never will be. Please, I beg you, stay far, far away from this design trend.

For instance, if your logo doesn’t pop or play nice on the design you’re working on in full colour, try a black or white version. If that didn’t help and you’re still having issues making it stand out, then your logo isn’t the problem, your layout or background imagery is. So, it’s time to adapt and adjust there, and not add gawdy stylizations to your brand. Doing so will only make things look amateur and break the standards of your brand.
(Which should be high and highly adhered to by the way!)

Next up which is something less common nowadays …


If you’re going to use one, for whatever reason, make sure your QR code has not been broken in the design process, or even flipped so it’s backwards or upside down. This can render them useless by blurring excessively or reducing the size or contrast too much. Also, whatever you do, this element needs to stand alone (just like the cheese!) so do not place words or pictures around the code. The margin cannot be secured by doing so and makes it impossible or difficult to read by any smart device. Therefore pointless.


Icons are best when they are simple and unique. They are meant to convey a single message, not ten. They must first and foremost communicate a specific meaning.

Icons are by definition, a visual representation of an object, action or even idea. If the icon is not immediately clear to your audience, they are sadly reduced to mere eye candy — confusing and frustrating eye candy might I add. And in the end, adds up to unnecessary visual noise that hinders people from your main message.


Your RGB (red, green, blue) coloured design may look perfect to you on your screen because RGB colour codes are meant for online viewing only.
However, majority of printing companies — and your average at-home printer — use a CMYK process (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). So, if you don’t have your file prepped and ready to print with these colour codes, you’ll soon be disappointed to see the distinct colour differences between what you viewed on your screen, and what came out of the printer.


And finally …


There are a few things in this world that make a good design look highly unprofessional and a poorly cropped n’ clipped image is one of them. One of the hugest culprits being improper use of the “live trace” tool in Illustrator. This is just plain laziness!

So please, for the love of your brand and the face of your company, spend some extra time and be patient with your cropping and clipping tools. And get it right. If you feel stuck or like you are not getting the results, you’re hoping to achieve there are many virtual resources and videos to guide you through these design process.

This list could literally go on … and on … and on! So, for today, we’ll stop right here with what I just shared being the most common in the land of DIY-design.

In the end, when it comes to graphic design, there are a million and one dos and don’ts that people like to spread word as personal preference, so take them with a pinch of salt. Design projects may have pitfalls. And these pitfalls can impede progress or even possibly derail the entire project. But everything I just shared with you list is worse than your average pitfall because these common mistakes can ultimately “kill” your design if you are not careful.

Making progress in any design project is much easier for you and your viewers when you are cognizant of the deadly sins. Awareness being the #1 key, and #2 … personal preference is usually only an excuse for bad design. If a design professional gives you a logical reason as to why you should NOT do something you’re doing, there’s probably a good reason for it. So, if I were you, I’d listen. But of course, don’t be afraid to ask for the rationale behind it. This way you can learn and make your designs even better!

Think of things this way …

If you can’t read it, see it, understand it … or it just plainly feels “off” … Don’t just go with it because you’re out of time, ideas, or know-how, or feeling frustrated with your creation of creative abilities. Most likely if you’re experiencing these feelings and frustrations, your viewers will too.

So, when in doubt, do your research because there is definitely no shortage of how to’s and videos online, ask a professional for their feedback and opinion, hire someone to do the design or train you on how to make them better, or even feel free to contact me here at VU for #AllTheThings. If you want to play in design-land, I’m always available to lend a virtual nerd hand, share an opinion, or review a file or two to absolutely anyone who loves to learn this creative knack! Just shoot me an email, I’d be happy to help!

Alright, now that you’ve been fair warned and know #AllTheThings, it’s time to end today off short n’ sweet with something to keep forever top of mind …

There are three responses to a piece of design — yes, no, and WOW!

Wow is the one to aim for.


Let the digital “untangling” BEGIN … Just pop in your earbuds and hop onto one of your favourite channels by clicking any of the links below!


You can also find The Digital Glue Podcast HERE on our website, or by subscribing to our YouTube Channel.

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Picture of Crystal Kordalchuk

Crystal Kordalchuk

Crystal is an artist, a writer, an organizer, a dreamer, a doer, and down-right proud of it NERD!.

Struck with a love for #AllThings creative at a very young age, Crystal dreamed of a life fueled by her passion for creating and bringing the stories and images in her mind into reality.

As she worked toward her dreams, she earned a diploma as a Computer Applications Specialist then another in Graphic Design and from there began to develop her extensive background in multimedia and the arts. She began her worked in the magazine industry as a layout designer and had a succession of design jobs thereafter. It was her role as a graphic/web designer that gave her the first real glimpse of her future. Soon she began a side job as a freelance designer while keeping one foot in the corporate world. A spark was lit! She turned her freelance gig into a full-time business combining design work with her other passion: creating organization from virtual chaos.

Crystal is one of the most organized individuals on the planet. She is by all means a Zen master of her crafts. She excels at helping others become “untangled” and provides her clients with tools to run their businesses smoothly while she takes care of the details behind the scenes. Thus Virtually Untangled was born. A successful business where her work as a top notch creative in graphic and web — with a twist of virtual assistant — married into one amazing place where clients can come with their virtual messes and become magically untangled. Crystal can always make sense of even the most unorganized chaos and offers a virtual detox of order and peace, so her clients can get busy doing the work that they love the most.

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