Robert Bowen September 28th, 2010

What is the worst mistake you see other designers make all the time?

We recently published a post was aimed at learning from the mistakes of others, and we turned to our friends and followers online and asked them to come clean about the biggest mistake they had made so far in their careers. You might have seen it, What is the Worst Design or Programming Mistake You’ve Ever Made?, was received quite well, and not only did we get some great responses initially from which to build the post, but we have got some more revealing replies from our readers. Now we are at it once again, trying to help out the community, one bad experience at a time, with a little more help from our friends, of course. [fblike] Just as before, it can be beneficial to learn from mistakes made by someone else who is kind enough to share their experiences with us, only their experience in this case, is more from a critiquing eye, than from their own path. This time out, we asked our social media masses to look outward for the post, rather than looking within, to find a mistake that they see others in the design world making time and again. This way, we can help each other correct these errors, and without the critique being focused on any one individual. Rather a general observation that only we can know if it applies to us or not. If we are guilty of committing the design sin, now we know to look for it and fix it.

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So once again, we thank all of those who participated and inspired this post, as we all can benefit from a second set of eyes from time to time to help us improve our work. This can also assist us in compiling a checklist of most noticeable errors that have been picked up on, this way we can more effectively be on our toes as we work through our design processes. So without further ado, on we go, through this educational experience.

Losing Sight of the Mission

One of the first responses that our social media endeavor illicited from the crowd was one about the misguided who take on designing for others in the community in mind, rather than the end users. Granted, however anyone wants to fix their focus and refine their work, is completely their call and decision to make. It is not necessarily anyone else’s place to determine where our design project’s path will take them. Though there are always considerations beyond our peers to take into the game with us, just as there are always egos that can inflate and work against the effectiveness of the site when we lose sight of who really matters in this design equation. The end user. Remember that you must always remain focused and never lose sight of your goal.  It is always a powerfully intoxicating moment when our design work impresses our peers and garners their attention and praise. We all like to feel as though we are innovators, and so some of us set out to push the envelope to new places. Forgetting all the while that we have no proverbial trail of breadcrumbs to lead any lay person along so they can find their way as well. UI and UX should never be sacrificed for style or presentation. Yes, we want to strive for originality, but we still need to find ways for our design to remain accessible to all those journeying through the design world. It is not just for the experienced and the worldly wizened that we are creating our design for, it is for everyone. Something that we should never allow ourselves to lose sight of.
  • Designing for other designers instead of designing for lay users
  • I see many designers focus on making websites look great, without focusing the UX on their primary conversion goal.
  • not planning an interface to follow the user's "train of thought".
  • Forgetting to consider the users.

Not Making Choices

There is a rule of thumb that a lot of writers take on as truth when seeking out a lasting story that will resonate among the masses, and to some extent, designers have this same rule of thumb even if they do not know it. That rule, is that in order for your work to remain effective, we have to make creative choices. These are not necessarily going to be easy to do, in fact, some choices that you face making during the creative process are going to be down right onerous. But regardless of how difficult they may seem as we approach this crossroads of imagination, these decisions have to be made in order to keep your design as fresh and communicative as it can be. Our imagination is what is supposed to separate us, and make us stand out from the rest of the designers in our field, but only if we employ it. Now we know that some design choices ultimately end up out of our hands when we are working with a client, no matter how vehemently we object, we may have to make some compromises for the sake of the project. And we sacrifice innovation for mass appeal to reach a more general audience. So it would seem, some have let their imaginations take a vacation from their designs, and they just essentially end up copying either their own or someone else’s work to play it safe. Also bare in mind there will be feedback and suggestions that are sound, but that would begin to lessen the impactfulness of your piece overall if they were implemented. Stealing focus and effectiveness away from the desired intent the design was shaped towards. So you have to not only make choices, but you have to make the right ones.
  • Implementing everyones feedback and creating a Frankenstein design.
  • lack of assertiveness.
  • boxing in everything on a website because the wireframe says so
  • lack of creativity
  • lack of innovation, boring designs.
  • you can be a good tracer but a bad creative!

The Written Words Written Off

Another mistake that seemed to land in our virtual inbox upon polling the online masses, that so many of us fall victim to time and again are ones that stem from the written words in our designs. It seems that so many of us are focused on the style and overall look of the design, that the words which populate it tend to fall in the slight afterthought category. Not that they are not planned for. Most designers are aware that their work is going to have to use some sort of wordplay within it, some painfully so. But so often, due to what appears as a lack of consideration for the written elements in our design, we do not double check them and let them slip by with errors in them. Designers tend to dive right in, and forget to check their spelling and grammar before it becomes set in stone. From the occasional grammatical goof-up to some truly spectacular spelling catastrophes, we designers have run the gamut on this field of mistakes. No matter what medium designers are working through, or what level of professionalism we claim to inhabit, elementary mistakes in grammar and spelling are happening nearly everyday. The design world is full of horror stories about these very things, so much so, that it would be considered by many to rank as high as a pet peeve for many whom we share this space with. Though they may not be as flashy as the rest of the design project, the written words it contains, are every bit as important as the other elements that you have brought together to communicate your idea, so treat them as such.
  • Designers often forget to check spelling and grammar
  • Worst mistake you see designers do all the time? NOT READ THE COPY.
  • what drives me nuts is spelling and grammar mistakes! Especially on educational websites!!!
  • Top of the list... spelling mistakes.
  • Not check their spelling!
  • Grammatical errors in their mock ups.
  • spell stationery as stationary.
  • spelling errors
  • Not proof read

Don’t Go There!

Sometimes the mistakes that we see from others in the design community are ones that could be chalked up to either ego, underestimation, or desperation. Regardless of the reasoning that gets them to this place, there are those among us who decide that they shall boldly go where only experienced and knowledgeable people have gone before. When they themselves are knowingly not as skilled or adept in said areas as those who have previously gone there. As stated, for some it is a matter of believing that nothing is out of their reach. For others, it is not valuing the task and underselling its difficulty. And yet for a few, it is a question of necessity in the face of a lack of workable solutions. And rather than admit they cannot or should not proceed, they go. From designers reaching beyond their selected medium of presentation (going from print to web, or from web to print) with only background in one form, to those who have decided on a whim that they are going to inject some clever coding into their work, this designer breach is out there. Not saying that there is anything wrong with trying to grow and expand one’s base of knowledge and expertise. But until we have taken the time to grow into those new fields, then it is best to leave those forays to the professionals who have studied them. Especially when it comes to a design job for a client. Do not commit yourself to a job that you cannot effectively and professionally complete all aspects that you are being asked to take on. Knowing our limits is a sign of strength. Trying to work beyond them, is a weakness.
  • Try to develop? :-)
  • print designers thinking they can design for web when they have no idea how the site will be built or used
  • claim to be 'web designers' when they're developers!
  • claim that they are developers even if they only do XHTML and CSS!

Going Overboard

One mistake that got called out a few times by our followers when we asked, was when designers go overboard. Essentially what we mean here, is that they have such a range of skills and design ninja abilities that they feel it is appropriate to display every bit of their knowledge in every one of their projects. Filling each project unnecessarily with virtually every element and piece of flash they can pull from their arsenal of know-how just because they can, and because they really, really want you to know that they can. So their designs come complete with everything including the proverbial kitchen sink. There are times when we go overboard on our design, and we need the proverbial life preserver to restrain and reel us back in. Somehow they are forgetting that being a designer is not just about flexing your so-called design muscles, it is about finding that design balance that will most appropriately serve the work itself. After all, that is what separates a designer from an armchair enthusiast. The ability to know when the design is completely balanced, and at an effectively harmonious place. Just because we can do something, does not mean we should. Never lose sight of the ‘why’, as it was stated by one of our responders. Each element should serve a purpose and should serve the design. Before we add anything, we should know why we are doing it. If that answer is not about furthering the usefulness or effectiveness of the work, then let it go.
  • Adding more than what is necessary.
  • Filling the page with way too many typefaces
  • over-optimizing images, find solutions to problems that never existed and cursing IE6 for every mistake they commit
  • missing question "why?"
  • 'overdoing' the design.
  • using unnecessary elements
  • Over decorate pages

Tripping Up On Typography

When it comes to designers we have talked about the way that many can often times essentially write off the written elements included in the design and not give them as much consideration as others they have added. This next set of issues possibly stems from this same place. They are concerning the typographical choices that are made and the lack of attention that is paid to them, both before and after the point of implementation according to the responses that we received. Handfuls of people called out the slovenly approach that many designers seem to opt for when it comes to the typed elements they work into the design. Whether it just be a poor choice of typeface or a matter of the font size, there are many readability related issues that arise, proving cumbersome and aggravating to those in the online community. Not to mention those issues that stem from a lack of attention given to the spacing involved with the typography that is implemented in the design. Once again when this happens, it makes the typed elements feel like a total afterthought. Detracting from the overall effectiveness of the design they are supposed to be feeding. Never let any added element have that feel. Take the same care and precision in with choosing and implementing your typography as you do with every other element that you put into your work. It deserves nothing less.
  • Not kerning text. At all.
  • inappropriate typography
  • Using too-small font sizes
  • Not giving enough attention to typography
  • squashing or stretching type. Meh.
  • Type crimes
  • Also using automatic spacing for line space, kerning etc
  • thinking that typographical choices don't matter so much in jobs not strictly typographic
  • Comic Sans

Color Miscalculation

Color usage is one of the basics of design theory, and apparently one that some of the design community could use a bit of a refresher course on. Well at least according to a couple of the responses our poll received on perceived mistakes made within the ranks of the design community. Color miscalculations are among some of the gravest of errors that a designer can make given the communicative power of the this ever important design element. And though there are numerous contributions from the online design community to help cover your back on this area of design, still so many commit these sins of the shades. If we are not careful with our colors, then our message could be washed away. Lost in the sea of cyberspace. Revisiting the communicative properties of the colors that we use once more, designers need to never let this important design element be considered with a less than thoughtful approach. Colors convey so much more about the design than some apparently give them credit for, and that is a mistake that is certainly better to learn from via someone else. Not only could you be sending a message contrary to what you are intending because you are using inappropriate colors, but you might also be losing users due to what is perceived as uncomfortable color combinations. Either way, the colors that we use are important for many reasons, so be sure that you handle this issue with the care it requires.
  • Using inappropriate colors for the design
  • terrible colour combo's that make my eyes bleed
  • Using wrong colors

Belittling the Brief

Now there is always going to be an element of excitement in the air whenever we begin a new design project, or at least we would hope that there is, but we to control that excitement and not get ahead of ourselves. Or more importantly our clients. There is a reason that designers put a lot of thought and effort into building a thorough and comprehensive design brief, and that is because we expect the same weight to be given to the brief by the client as we put in it. But still there are those in the design community who leap ahead immediately upon first contact with the client, never fully considering or even using the brief at all. This belittling of the brief is also a reflection on the lack of respect that we as designers have for our clients. Or at least it can be perceived as such, rather than an indicator of enthusiasm. We need the client’s input to be able to craft a design that satisfies all of the desired criteria, and the only way to do that is to allow the client the proper amount of time to fill out the design brief, and for us to actually defer and refer to it. If you dare to take on the project without a comprehensive enough brief prepared and handed in, then you can expect quite a few drawing board revisitations before you can call the project complete.
  • they start designing without a full creative brief
  • misreading the brief

The IE Equation

Now there are fewer subjects in the design community that have remained as highly divisive as the Internet Exploration Equation. Now by equation, we are meaning that in the world of internet browsers there are those who feel that Internet Explorer should be completely removed from the equation and should not figure into our design processes at all, while there are also those on the flip side who disagree with this somewhat commonly made assertion. Whichever side of the fence you are one, there are mistakes to call out from the throngs of web design offerings that are available today according to our feedback. Love it or hate, you have to admit that the IE equation is not as simple as everyone would like it to be.  There are those on the pro IE side who believe that there are a lot of designers who have forgotten what roads this one time groundbreaking browser paved. Just as there are those who believe that it does not matter necessarily what great things it has done in the past, because it has far outlived its usefulness and compatibility. There are also those who believe that one of the worst errors designers can make is to start building their design for IE, while there are those who feel that is the soundest place to begin. No matter where you come down on the issue, given that there are still so many users without the option of another browser, perhaps it would kind to always bare this browser in mind.
  • When they forget that IE could do things like gradient or rotate images long before Firefox even existed
  • starting with IE design
  • Worst mistake? Ignoring IE6, especially in India where IE6 is still 35% of all browsers. All the fluff never works!
  • Big mistake to code for IE first and then try to patch it up for FF or Safari. Start with a proper browser (FF)

Falling off the Grid

Speaking of design theory, another strong theoretical design basis and passionately held belief is in the use of the grid system. There are those who are of the mind that working in the grid is an outdated way to design, one that they will not be constrained by. Which there are times when it is appropriate to break the grid, but that generally implies that you started with the grid initially, and then broke away from it to go in another direction all your own. Opting more for the path of chaos, over order. But alas, the grid is the standard for a reason, and what is more often than not seen as great design, adheres to it. Breaking from the grid for innovative reasons, once again, is not a bad thing, but to consistently work outside of the grid system, or to not have any sense of the grid to begin with, is somewhat problematic. Given that the purpose of design tends to be the conveyance of a message, you need the design to be visually appealing to make the viewers as receptive to said message as possible. The grid offers a pleasing visual alignment that will help the message transfer with as little interference from the design as possible.
  • using no grid at all in their designs
  • Not use a grid

A Few More For the Road

Below are a handful of other responses that we received to our social media query, that were just too good to let forever fall into the editing aether. So we included them in the final hodgepodge of mistakes that others have made from which we can all take a note and a lesson or two. We hope that you enjoyed the post and found it helpful, or at least entertaining. And once again, we wanted to extend a gracious hand to thank all of those who helped participate and bring this post to life.
  • That they don't make proper use of groups and rasterize text in their PSD's
  • Use very compressed JPGs - ugh! And aplha GIFs on color background
  • crazy twitter icons that are usually inconsistent w/ design. Just b/c it is cute and free does not good design make
  • hate seeing people trying to 'eyeball' things rather than using align/transform tools.
  • Lack of appropriate padding! Makes me gag
  • wallowing in self importance
  • No browser compatibility and no W3C validation.
  • messy Photoshop files and not paying enough attention to the little things. Do it right the first time!
  • Following the word of Apple
  • failing to place cursor focus into the first text field. Simple, yet seems to get overlooked often.
  • to simply place cursor focus into the first text field. Annoys users.
  • Showing the client unfinished work!
  • Listening to the client.
  • Ignoring context, comic sans is a fun and easy to read font, good on sites for children

Robert Bowen

Robert Bowen is an emerging author, celebrated podcaster and poet, and most recently the co-founder and imaginative co-contributor of the creative design and blogging duo at the Arbenting and Dead Wings Designs.


  1. Typographic mistakes are the most common and glaring mistakes I see even on high-end designs. I see movie and television print ads and posters with horrible kerning and often with straight quotes instead of curly. These are so basic I am appalled! Likewise, I see forced justification in print design used with reckless abandon; don’t people actually proof how one line of few words can spread out, while in another they’re line they are jammed together like sardines. Again, I find these very simple visual errors a sign of either no training or a laziness before sending out final products. Designers do not need to be proof readers or copy editors, but these really are design issues that should not slip through the cracks.

  2. I am loving these posts! If only they were available when I started off! A very good guide to what we Designers should look out for

  3. No need to publish this comment… but since you hate spelling errors so much, thought you’d want to know that the word “illicited” in the following paragraph really should be “elicited”

    One of the first responses that our social media endeavor illicited from the crowd was one about the misguided who take on designing for others in the community in mind, rather than the end users. Granted, however anyone wants to fix their focus and refine their work, is completely their call and decision to make.

  4. Wait… was someone just ENCOURAGING the use of comic sans? That abomination should be purged from humanity’s collective memory post haste.

    Other than that, nice post.

  5. The mistake I have made (more than once) is to design some type of print piece without asking my client what their print budget is to start. Too many clients have no idea what it costs to print something and when they find out they often change their mind about the project.

  6. Am I the only writer here? No matter the wealth of good information, the writing is so poor in this article that I struggled to find the insight.

    Please, your design may be brilliant, but without attention to grammatical, mechanical and spelling details…you will lose your audience in a ‘flash’.

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