The Curse of the Designer

Being a designer means being tuned into the aesthetics of the world around us. Signs, logos, posters, and more are all around us, demanding our attention. Before I began my formal training in graphic design, I never consciously paid attention to certain heinous design crimes but I definitely recall noticing them.

The first one: typefaces. I know I am not the only one to roll their eyes when Comic Sans is used, or when you see Papyrus on restaurant signage or food packaging. However, as my designer’s eye becomes more trained, I start noticing other things such as tone and typographic colour. Sometimes you see a typeface that just communicates the wrong sort of message, or if it dominates the image in a way that it obviously is not supposed to.

Another big one is kerning. When I was in first year and the instructors circled words on my work with a note saying “kern,” I was always perplexed. Now that I am exiting my second year in college for design, I physically shudder when I see poorly kerned posts on Facebook or, heaven forbid, on printed work. I remember listening to Erik Spiekermann at DesignThinkers in 2014 and he said he never had time for kerning. I applauded loudly with everyone else (especially my fellow first years) and felt vindicated. While I respect Spiekermann’s opinion, I can now truly appreciate the importance of kerning (and tracking) as much as I appreciate good leading and other type handling.

Another shudder-inducing crime is overpopulating the piece with a plethora of typefaces. What’s even worse is when the typefaces don’t even match, and therefore compete instead of compliment. I’m pretty sure I remember my instructors saying that ideally you would pick anywhere from two to five typefaces (one at least having a large font family) but personally I like to keep it conservative with two or three different typefaces, depending on the project.

Something that has always irked me in books and other text-heavy publications are the presence of widows, orphans, and rivers. To someone not familiar with the jargon, that list makes me seem like a very rude person who dislikes people who have had spouses pass away, parents pass away, or large streams of water. Quick lesson for those unfamiliar with these terms:

  • an orphan is a single word (or a few small words) that have dropped down onto a new line of text in a paragraph
  • a widow is a single line of text that has been separated from the rest of the paragraph
  • a river is when, in justified type, the spaces and words themselves create lines that separate the body of text into weird shapes

These things can be easily avoided by several type controlling methods such as tracking, hyphenation settings, justification settings, or even altering the body of text if you are lucky enough to have permission to do so.

There are longer, more extensive lists out there that outline more thoroughly (and probably more eloquently) the do’s and especially the don’ts of graphic design but here are some glaring ones that I think everyone notices, even if they may not be aware of it.

Do you have any design sins that particularly irk you or stand out to you? Leave me a comment!



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