Design Do’s and Don’t


Design parameters on all projects:

Any of these mistakes will drop your grade on a project to a C or worse

  • Misspelled words
  • A photo or image that has been distorted by stretching to fit an area of your design. A resized image must maintain the aspect ratio of the original
  • Body Copy may not be set in a decorative typeface. Use simple legible type for body copy, i.e. Times Roman, Arial, Cambria, etc.
  • Design elements that exceed the limits of the printable area, but are not specified as bleeds.

Organize your design around the four C’s:  COMMUNICATE your intentions/message by making a design that is CLEAR, COHERENT AND CREATIVE

  • CLEAR/Clarity is supported by a structure that shows the viewer what is most important and guides them to explore the design. A strong structure is essential to hold a design together and to enable communication to occur. Use the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Silly) all the time. Less is more.
  • COHERENCE: Start with a design concept or metaphor that attracts your audience and then choose design elements that “fit” the metaphor and fit together. Once you have established a graphic container for your projest, keep the elements consistent.
    • Coherence is achieved using many design principles we have discussed. The page/artboard can be organized into asymmetrical design. Balance can be achieved by adjusting color, size and density. Pencil sketches help at this stage. You can see how to fit the elements together very quickly and make changes easily. 
    • Use the Alignment tools and guides to line up similar elements and to create a grid structure whenever possible. Align text within boxes or to itself using the justification tools.
    • Color is organized into a coherent structure by using a Color Scheme, such as ‘Monochromatic’, ‘Complimentary’ or ‘Analogous’.
    • Repeat and re-use your graphic choices whenever possible. (This is the principle of using ‘styles and style sheets’ that is developed in InDesign and CSS) Use as few typefaces as possible (no more than 2) in any one design. Use styles from one font family instead i.e. bold, underscore, italic and variation in sizes.  Repeat and re-use design elements when possible.
    • Creativity helps to capture and hold the viewer’s attention by presenting something different, catchy, funny, beautiful or bold. It does not fix a design that is muddles or poorly constructed. While reaching for new ways to achieve your goals, make sure that you are fulfilling the assignment/design brief.


Many beginning designers make the same mistakes. Here is a list of things to watch for in your work and also in your review groups.

  1. Type must be legible and appropriate to the design concept that you are creating. Do not use more than two typefaces in a project. Typically you could use a decorative (or just stylish) typeface for Titles and Subtitles (or subheads) but set your body copy in a plain and legible typeface such as Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman or Cambria.
  2. Proximity: Graphic elements should be placed in a purposeful manner.
    • Two elements may touch, join or overlap because the designer is trying to make a statement
    • If the elements are not touching, then make sure that they have some “air” around the perimeter
    • When elements are too close they create visual “pinch” points that are awkward in a design
    • Use the ‘align and distribute’ tools to make the space between similar objects uniform.
    • Never let type touch the perimeter of a text box or document. Type must be within the printable area of a document.
  3. Low resolution images are only for web or video design. When designing for print, make sure that you work with images that are 260-300 dpi.  That means that original image must have enough pixels to fill your needs. Adjust contrast and color to clarify images.
  4. If you intend to print a blend, make sure that the bleed is added to the artboard.
  5. Textures and fills can add interest and ‘weight’ an area of a project. If you set type over an area with a texture of fill, make sure that your type is very legible. You may need to adjust the ‘tint’ of the fill or make the type bolder.



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