Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Five Design Practices that 
Make Me Cringe

I spend a lot of time reviewing designs for marketing communications. A good deal of that is spent polishing layouts to bring clarity to messages. Following are some things that come up over and over -- things done by both novices and experienced designers -- that can ruin a piece faster than you can say "my nephew can do it, he got PhotoShop for Christmas!" 

1. Make the words pop: Drop shadows on type

It sounds good in theory. The words aren't "popping" enough, so adding drop shadow will add to the contrast. The trouble is, this never works. It only adds busyness to something that for legibility should be crystal clear. If you think you need a drop shadow behind words, you've gotta bigger issue that hasn't been addressed properly (hint: it's the layout). The same is true for logos -- which you should never add anything to. Aside from the likely violation of graphic identity standards, it looks amateurish. 

2. Clutter it up a little: Running words over images

Few things clutter a layout quicker than running words over a busy photo or background. This is even worse when done with text type. As described in above, if you feel the need to do this, you have a layout problem that hasn't been thought through (like changing or relocating the photo). 

3. Color it up more: Color type on color backgrounds

Type should be black on white, white on black, or as close to that in contrast as you can get. The trouble comes when you start decreasing the contrast by making the background or the type a more neutral tone. It is even worse when you do it with both the type and the background. If you're temped to do this -— for any reason, don't. 

4. The 10k Race T shirt syndrome: More logos, more logos 

Ever notice how every 10k run or race feels compelled to print a T shirt with 100 logos on the back? And how they all compete with each other? And how none stand out? And how unattractive it is?  Don't do this with an ad. or brochure, or website, or anything. It might solve a political problem, but it will be at the expense of mucking up your message.

5. Homage to the committee: The dreaded montage 

"We can't focus on ONE thing when we have so many -- let's do a collage of images."  Ever see a collage on a book cover, or a magazine cover, or a poster -- that you remember? Did it have any impact? One good image is better than a dozen outstanding ones. 

It's about less 

These things all create confusion. When the goal is to bring clarity to your message, go toward simplicity. That's what gets people to read. It's not about adding more. 

Whether you're a designer or someone approving a designer's work, avoiding these practices is is guaranteed to make your work better. And if you're a corporate communications manager charged with producing a style manual, feel free to copy and paste this within.

Copyright 2013, Bremmer & Goris Communications, Inc.

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