Ten mistakes designers make

Design Bridge creative director Asa Cook presents the top ten mistakes designers make. (And by designers, he means himself…)


Source: doobybrain

In an industry so cruelly at the unforgiving whim of subjectivity, it’s common for us designers to become tortured, cynical souls self-conscious about our failings and constantly musing on the inherent cruelty of the creative process. So here’s for some light relief. If we’re going to be self-deprecating, let’s do it with a bit of candour. Here’s my top ten of the most common mistakes made by creatives (and by creatives, I mean me).

1. Flogging a dead horse

Sometimes when a client rejects an idea we go back one too many times trying to persuade them otherwise. Learning to tear up your own ideas and come back again with a better one is a right of passage for any great designer. And trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way.

2. Killing a great idea too early

Of course, it works the other way too. If it’s a good thought, let others know and don’t be afraid to fight your corner. Sometimes tweaking, rather than binning, works wonders. We’d have lost so many design classics to the wastepaper basket had it not been for the bravery and tenacity of good designers with a bee in their bonnet.

3. Underestimating yourself

Designers are an insecure breed. This can lead to a lack of confidence when starting a new brief, presenting work or even when selling yourself to a potential employer. But the trick is to learn to love the fear – after all, if it wasn’t so scary, would it be so rewarding? It’s worth embracing your anxieties and the adrenaline rush that creativity provides. Turn nerves into pure nerve and you’ll be surprised at the effect.

4. Bad spelling

A letterform is a beautiful thing to a creative. We don’t write letters, we draw them. So often we’re so focused on the way they look that we neglect to make sure that they’re in the right order, at the despair of every copywriter we work with (not to mention the eagle-eyed client). Just don’t forget that good design can be completely demolished by poor spelling. Get friendly with your dictionary, or failing that find a decent proof-reader.

5. Using a favourite typeface too often

Isn’t it better when a typeface is used because it’s right for a particular brief, not just because we like it?

6. Being precious about awards

Ah, the glory of standing up there, award in hand, eyes ablaze at the prospect of an evening spent drunkenly dancing whilst grinning from ear to ear. But for every victor, there’s a grumpy designer at the back of the auditorium lamenting his loss to anyone who’ll listen. Design awards aren’t the be-all and end-all. There will always be an element of subjectivity in judging design work. The fact is, if a project is the best that you could have made it then you should feel proud to have it in your portfolio – silverware or no. And you’d only leave the award in the taxi on the way home anyway.

7. Missing talent

I’ve interviewed graduates in the past and offered them a placement only to see them get snapped up by another consultancy in a permanent role. When you wholeheartedly believe in someone, you will never regret employing them. (And always, always hire people better than yourself).

8. Getting overly emotionally involved in a pitch

When we win, it’s sheer joy. When we lose – deepest despair. If only we could pitch without exposing ourselves to potential agony. But then would that take the fun out of pitching?

9. Shelf-stacking

OK – so this is one for the packaging designers. We often find ourselves standing in supermarkets, rearranging shelves or displays, making our designs look neat and tidy – drawing confused glances from our fellow shoppers. Some would call this a mistake, I call it good marketing practice.

10. Trying to ‘Apple-Z’ real life

This keyboard shortcut is now so ingrained in our brains that when we accidentally knock over a glass of water we try to ‘undo’ real life. Note to self: keep the keyboard shortcuts to the keyboard, and always have some kitchen-paper handy.

11. Designing inappropriate leaving/birthday cards

When a brief isn’t real, it’s all too tempting to cross the line. Rumour has it that designers have lost their jobs over such things. Leading to more leaving cards, and yet more opportunities for offence. Be careful, and get yourself to the nearest Paperchase if needs be.

12. Poor numeracy skills

Hmm, yes, you’ll have noticed the deliberate mistake here. Ten design mistakes? Well, I’ve never been able to restrain myself from throwing more ideas into the mix. Which leads me onto number 13… no, sorry, I’ll stop there. But in all seriousness, mistakes are what make us human, perhaps even what makes us creative. So maybe we should be less self-deprecating, and a little more accepting of our foibles – after all, don’t we creatives take enough of a beating?  So my advice is this; go forth, make mistakes, fail, come back the next day, learn. But whatever you do, do use spell-check along the way.

Asa Cook is creative director at Design Bridge.

Hide Comments (15)Show Comments (15)
  • Kevin November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Bravo! great piece of honest answering. I’m a freelance graphic designer and can feel that horror when I miss spell the brand name on the cover of a brocher or website, I’ve been staring at it for weeks!! I’m off to spell check now horay!!

  • David O'Mara November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    it’s spelt brochure Kev

  • Mike Barlow November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Ahh old School!
    Apple Z – now changed to CMD Z or ?Z
    Nice article.
    IMHO you missed one out: – Never put designs in that you know you don’t really like but you left in to make up the numbers – for as sure as day follows night, the client will pick that one.

  • Valo November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Great article !

  • Sean O'Mara November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s ‘the spelling of brochure’ Dave 🙂

  • Mark Magidson November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Great way of circumventing (used a spell check on this one) the 10. Apple Z test – hold onto you hats…work on a PC – there I publicly admitted it.

  • Bayley November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Nicely done Mr Cook – one small thing from me, typo’s should be higher, nothing worse than losing the visual battle to a wordsmith client over a spelling mistake…

    And Mike, I love being old school but hate being shown up by the young’uns when they say ‘what’s Apple-Z?’. It’s at that point I crack out the old school keyboard…

  • Glenda Shawley November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I’m not a designer but number 4 really resonates with me. I can’t take a designer seriously when they design stationary. So many think that’s what they do when it’s stationery they are designing. If you’re a designer check the spelling on your website and promos now, it could be losing you sales.

  • Mike Barlow November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    If only Apple-Z really worked on life…. Or just worked like the Magic Boomerang did!

  • Matt - November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    ‘The unforgiving whim of subjectivity’ Love It!


    And you even got ‘foibles’ in there too!

  • Matt - November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Btw Glenda…

    Check the spelling on your comment now, it could leave you “stationary!”

  • Kai November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s RITE of passage, not right.

  • Glenda Dacumos November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Well…I’m a graphic designer, these are true. The good part is, being a great designer is learning through mistakes.

  • Lucia Rusinakova November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Great article!

  • David Mellonie November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Dear Mr Cook (and other readers). I’m afraid you have brilliantly illustrated why employing a good copywriter is infinitely better than thinking you can make do with a cheap spellchecker. In point one, ‘Flogging a dead horse’, your sentence: ‘Learning to tear up your own ideas and come back again with a better one is a right of passage for any great designer.’ contains a fundamental error. The word ‘right’ should be ‘rite’. And for those other contributors who think that ‘miss spell’, ‘brocher’ and ‘typo’s’ are spelt like that, you also need to employ someone who can read and write correctly too.. Dear dear.

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