The Seven Deadly Sins of Bad Graphic Design: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt Your Business!

An advertisement for food that takes away your appetite. A commercial that leaves you wondering what the product actually is, and how you can avoid it. Whether it’s a billboard, a television commercial or a magazine advertisement, we’ve all seen bad ads and wondered, ‘What was that company thinking?!’ Yep, a graphic design disaster strikes again!

It’s true; nothing leads to bad advertising or wastes your marketing dollars faster than a graphic design disaster. From big corporations to small businesses, everyone has made a graphic design mistake. Big corporations, however, have big bucks to spend on advertising, so the huge chunk of change that a large company just blew on an ineffective Super Bowl ad doesn’t hurt their bottom line the way an advertising mistake can hurt a small business.

If you’ve never worked with a graphic design team before, or had a bad experience in the past (I’ve heard horror stories of small businesses being ignored or mistreated by large design firms), the world of graphic design may seem mysterious, complex and even a bit confusing. A professional sign or graphic shop is experienced in turning your ideas into reality, and understand every step in the graphic design process. I’m here to debunk the mysteries, answer some common questions, and ensure your small business gets the biggest bang for your advertising buck! Read on for the ‘seven deadly sins’ of graphic design, and learn how to avoid these common pitfalls.

Sin #1: Graphic design doesn’t matter.

I beg to differ. The goal of every marketing initiative is to clearly communicate your message. Good design is at the root of this communication. A good design visually implements your marketing strategy; poor design does not. Good design establishes your brand’s legitimacy; bad design undermines it. Even the most creative and innovative marketing idea will fall short if you fail to properly execute the design. Whether it’s driving sales, promoting a product or defining a brand, graphic design has a clear business purpose and a specific goal to accomplish.

Fundamentally, good graphic design should: (1) improve your image and strengthen your brand, (2) make your business stand out from your competitors’ and (3) convincingly sell your messages to customers with a strong emotional appeal. The best designs stimulate an emotional, subconscious reaction in the viewer. And this all adds up to one thing: a better small business.

Sin #2: Cheap designers are just as good as expensive designers.

You get what you pay for. This old adage is especially true in graphic design. Think of graphic design not as an expense, but as an investment in your company’s future. Would you hire your next-door neighbor to do your business taxes? Unless he’s a certified accountant, the answer is probably no. The same goes for graphic design.

If you aren’t a graphic designer, don’t try to create your own logo – and don’t hire a friend without design experience to do it either. Leave the logo and marketing materials to a professional design team. There is a fine line between getting the biggest bang for you buck and looking cheap. When you choose to advertise your small business, whether it’s with vehicle wraps or window perforations, your goal is to cut costs, not quality. From color disasters to font fiascos, don’t gamble your business’s brand away on sub-par design. Whatever your graphic needs, avoid a branding catastrophe and go with the professionals.

Sin #3: Learning the lingo is a waste of time.

In reality, learning some basic design lingo can go a long way to helping you understand the process and getting you the biggest bang for your buck. From vector images to pre-flight approval, graphic design terminology is unique, and I know it can be a bit confusing to someone not familiar with it. When we first started in the design business, we didn’t know all the right terms either! Below I’ve listed some common terms that will help you better understand the design process – and ensure you get the best end product.

Vector images – A vector image is one made from basic geometric shapes, such as rectangles, lines, circles, ellipses and polygons. Since a vector image is created from shapes, it does not use pixels, thus when the image is enlarged, the same high quality resolution is maintained. Vector images are important because they allow for easy manipulation during the design process. If you have a logo or an image, be sure to give us the file in vector format. We can also convert some graphic files to vector format, although this is a chargeable service.

Color matching – If you have already printed a logo or other advertising collateral, you will likely want to match the color of your existing material to your vehicle wrap or window lettering. In order to ensure an accurate color match, bring us a sample in person. Because color can vary from computer to computer based on a monitor, the only way to ensure an accurate color match is to view a sample in person. Understand how important color matching is for your brand, and make sure to get it right the first time.

Pre-flight – When a design is in its final stages prior to printing, it is in ‘pre-flight.’ That means a production team does a final check to confirm colors and dimensions are correct before printing. Once an image goes to pre-flight check, no major design edits can be made (otherwise, you’ll need to start over from the drafting process).

Sin #4: I never plan ahead.

The key to a successful design job is planning. If you have a great idea, tell it! A good design company will help you take your idea from concept to completion. The best way to do this is to go to the shop, view samples, and talk to them in person. If you want a custom vehicle wrap job, be sure to bring in your car. This way they can get accurate measurements and get a feel for what you want. We use computer templates as a starting point for every vehicle wrap, but specific measurements allow us to customize the templates and ensure the design will fit just right.

Sin #5: I need my rush job ASAP.

Custom work takes time. Every design team will do their best to accommodate your schedule, especially in the event of a last minute rush job. Deadlines change and ‘I need it next week’ suddenly becomes ‘I needed it yesterday.’ Keep in mind that a design shop can (unfortunately) only do so much. Your rush job still needs to be squeezed in to the regular production schedule. Quality work takes time, and rushed jobs tend to look like they were rushed.

Sin #6: I proof my work when I feel like it – whether that’s today or next week.

Prompt proofing speeds up the design process. A good design company will work with you on edits and revisions as many times as you need, but keep in mind that proofing and changes take time. I always tell customers to allow 2-5 days for proofing and review. This may seem like a long time, but I’ve learned from experience that the change process can move slowly.

So what can be done to speed this up? The design proofing process will go much faster if the customer gets back in a timely fashion. I know you’re busy, but when you get a proof, take a few minutes to review it right away. Try not to wait a day or two – by the time you send changes and the design shop gets back to you, a few days will have already passed.

Sin #7: There’s no need to pay for quality materials.

Cut costs, not quality. Vehicle advertising and window graphics are two cost-effective marketing techniques that generate thousands of impressions and are a great return on your investment. However, poorly designed, printed and applied graphics look cheap – and reflect poorly on your brand. Use professional lamination for outdoor signage to protect and seal your graphics from sun, dirt and the elements. This will keep your colors fresh and preserve the ink, ensuring your graphics remain vibrant. Finally, make sure the lamination is done by a machine that presses a clear layer of vinyl on top of the graphic. The alternative process, using liquid lamination that is painted on by hand, may cost less, but it is an inferior process that looks cheap and easily fades and peels. A reputable shop will have a lamination press. Ask to be shown the machine so that you know you’re dealing with a reputable shop!

And when you’re ready to take off the graphics or change out your look, don’t remove them yourself. Improper removal can damage your car. Bring your vehicle into a shop to take care of everything. They have the right tools to make removal easy and safe.

20 Ways to Prepare For a Career in Graphic Design

Many design students have a hard time transitioning from student to employees simply because of a lack of preparation. With the graphic design industry being so competitive, it’s important to make yourself stand out from your competitors. Graphic design is a fast-growing industry that requires a lot of skills from employees. Many students struggle with a real graphic design job because they don’t know what to expect and become overwhelmed. No matter what stage you are at in your career progression, we have complied a list to better help you prepare for your career.

1. Go to School

There are very few young graphic designers that have such a good combination of skills and awareness to be successful right out of the gate. Having a graphic design degree is a great accomplishment and many employers will weigh more heavily on the fact that you have a certificate compared to someone else. You still need a strong portfolio, but having a graphic design degree under your belt will be impressive.

2. Work Hard

Getting your first job out of graphic design school will be hard work. There is plenty of work out there, but you have to be proactive about your future and search for it. If you do the proper research and connect with the right people in the industry, it will be easier for you to chase down people who will be in the position to offer you a graphic design job.

3. Figure Out Your Specialization

There are many faucets to graphic design – logo design, business card design, brochure design, identity and branding, magazine and book design and advertising. Find out which channel you enjoy the most and work best in. Having a specialization will help you stand out when you’re preparing for your career as a graphic designer.

4. Plan Out Your Courses

Plan out your courses for what will best fit your schedule and lifestyle. If you want to start working sooner, work with school counsellors to fast track your graphic design program so you can start working sooner. If you wish to get more classes to expand your design knowledge (which never hurts anyone), you can also work this into your program.

5. Be Nice

Being nice will get you far in the industry. As you prepare for your career as a graphic designer, remember that many employers are extremely busy. When calling, e-mailing and interviewing with possible employers, remember to be courteous because they are taking the time out of their day to talk with you. Treat people with respect and you’re more likely to get the same in return.

6. Network

Networking is one of the most important things you can do as a graphic design student and the sooner you start, the better. #5 and #6 are connected – if you’re nice to people they are more likely to refer you to someone for a job. Keep in touch with your network of contacts and genuinely be friendly.

7. Master Your Software

Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are tools you should be familiar and comfortable with. Most employers will expect you to know these tools once you graduate.

8. Take Advantage of Resources

Many of these types of services are not taken advantage of at college. The services are there for a reason – to help you. If you are looking for a job, help with a resume, interview skills, etc. they will more than happy to help you.

9. Do Side Projects or Freelance

The best way to get experience when you are young is to create your own personal projects or freelance on the side. This is also a great way for students to make some extra cash while attending graphic design school. Side projects are a good way to add work to your portfolio that is completely yours. Freelancing is a great way to work on real-world design projects with real clients. Use these experiences as a way to refine and sharpen your skills.

10. Look for Criticism

Nobody’s designs are perfect. That’s why seeking out other people to search for your mistakes is a good way to develop your skills. It may be tough receiving feedback at first because it can feel like your work is being personally attacked. Remember to differentiate yourself from your work and to use it to improve.

11. Find Graphic Design Internships/Placements

Experience is one of the best ways to make yourself stand out. Experience is what will put you on top of the resume pile at graphic design agencies. E-mail or call graphic design agencies you’d like to get the best experience from. Many agencies will take interns without advertising for them (and they may even pay you).

12. Read

Reading is one of the best skills you can inherit when preparing for your career as a graphic designing. Many elements of the design industry change so fast that you’re going to need to be able to keep up with the latest standards. Professionally speaking, reading books and internet articles will make you a smarter designer.

13. Learn Business

Being knowledgable in general business terms will prove to be valuable later in your career. If you ever want to go full-time freelance, you’re going to have to know how to run a business. Taking classes such as economics, marketing, advertising and business communication will be beneficial for you.

14. Be Original

You need to have a personal style. Without you, you can get lots within the hundreds of graphic design students that might be applying for the same jobs you are! A good way to differentiate yourself is to brand yourself. Brand your portfolio, your e-mails, your resume and cover letter and your social media presence. Be consistent across all of them.

15. Have a Portfolio

Not having a portfolio won’t get you very far in the graphic design industry. Portfolios are a way to brand yourself and promote your services. If you don’t have many portfolio pieces, create side projects for yourself, work for friends and family or freelance with real clients.

16. Have a Resume & Cover Letter

Even through some say the resume is now dead in the design industry, it’s still good to have one. If a graphic design job exceeds a number of applications, they won’t have time to look at your design portfolio. Rather, they will just look at your resume to see if you have the minimum requirements for the position. In your cover letter remember to include who you are, why you’re contacting so-and-so and why you want to work at that graphic design
agency.

17. Follow People That Inspire You

Following people you admire is important because it can be a constant source of inspiration. Twitter is a great community for graphic designers because you can easily follow all the “leaders” in the graphic designer industry.

18. Make a List of Places/People You Want to Work For

If one of your goals is to work for a specific agency, do your research before you even graduate. Are they looking for designers? How big is their company? How many employees do they have? What type of work do they normally produce and is it your style? Is the company environment somewhere you can see yourself fitting in?

19. Attend Events

Being active online is great, but meeting others and attending events offline is a great way to connect with the community. Although many of these conferences are rather expensive for graphic design students, if you can attend one, take advantage of it.

20. Do Research on Job Requirements

Job requirements for graphic designers will change slightly from one company to the next. This is a good way to prepare for your career because it lets you know what you should expect on the job. If you don’t know what your employers will be demanding of you, it can be a nerve-racking experience transitioning from student to employee.

Graphic Designer Jobs – A Great Career

Graphic designer jobs are done by artists who uses art and media to communicate messages for companies and other organizations. Graphic designers use print, the internet, other digital mediums, film and photographs to get their message across. They understand the subtle things in art that make a design project successful.

The typical functions of graphic designer jobs is developing logos, brochures, websites, business cards, magazine advertisements, newspaper advertisements and the general look and feel of an organizations overall design plan.

Graphic designers find out what their client or organization is trying to say and who their target audience is and they are able to effectively communicate that through graphic arts.

Graphic designer jobs require the designer to know how to discern a company’s product or service and their target audience. This is why these jobs require a certain level of professionalism to be able to interact with clients.

In addition, graphic designers need to know how to ask the right questions to get a sense of what the company does and who their target audience is. Additionally, they will typically do their own research into the target audience, target market and the offerings of the company or organization they are doing design work for.

Graphic Design Jobs Require Both Sides of the Brain

Graphic design jobs require a high level of artistic and creative ability, that can go unsaid. However, what most people looking for graphic design jobs may overlook is the need for them to be professional businesspeople. Graphic design jobs are no longer being filled by just artists. Increasingly, designers also need to be experts in the field of advertising, marketing and communications.

In addition, they will also need to be able to communicate technical information in their work. Graphic designers don’t just do art projects. They also have to create layouts for annual reports, financial reports, market reports, business development reports and the like. They need to know how to understand the data, tables and charts they are trying to graphically put on publications so they know how to effectively convert it into a graphic that communicates to people.

Often times, especially financial and other technical data needs to be simplified so that it shows up as a clear graphic. In order to get this accomplished, a graphic designer will need to know how to interact with technical personnel like the finance department or research and development department to convey the message effectively.

Graphic Design Software

Graphic designer jobs require the artist to know how to use the latest graphic design software packages out there. This would most likely include the Adobe suite of products like Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Flash, and Adobe Dreamweaver depending on what type of publication they are working on. Graphic designer jobs will often require technical expertise in at least one or more of these graphic design software packages. Classes and degree programs in graphic design of in the use of these graphic design software packages if often offered at local community colleges for a very low cost.

Graphic Design Jobs – Lay of the Land

Graphic design jobs can be found in a variety of different business environments. Some are employed in graphic design departments in large corporations. Some graphic designers work for print companies, publication companies or advertising agencies. Other graphic designers work for small to large design firms that outsource their design services to other companies and organizations.

About 25% of graphic designers are self-employed and have a home based business. Those who are employed very often do side freelance projects they get on their own. Graphic designers who are fully self-employed are business people who have to operate all parts of their business. They have to do their own sales and marketing, their own billing and collections and maintain client relationships. Self-employed graphic designer jobs can be more stressful because of the pressure to produce revenue for themselves and many tend to work longer hours than those who are employed by a larger design firm or by a company.

Those looking for graphic design jobs should have a portfolio of their work, either online or in print, to show when they are applying for these jobs. The application process for these jobs may even require you to audition by doing a small sample project. The great thing about those in graphic design jobs is that they can still do freelance design work on the side in their time off. Sometimes, design firms will require their graphic designers to process all their clients through the firm, but some do not.

Cross Over Careers

Some graphic designers cross over into doing marketing and advertising as a career managing a creative arts team or just get out of design all together. Some become management consultants who specialize in design, marketing and advertising. If you’re especially talented and have good interpersonal skills, they can even start their own consulting firm in design and marketing.