Episode 1: Graphic Design Rules for Non-Designers

This is the first of many videos to come in which Visme founder Payman Taei taps into his 15 years of design experience to show beginner and intermediate designers how to make their content beautiful.

This video looks at the most important graphic design rules all non-designers should know about and also provides a list of the most common errors committed, such as mismatching fonts or cluttered designs. It is based on one of the Visual Learning Center’s most popular design posts with over 6500 shares to date!

Length: 10:01 Level: Beginner

Video Transcript

Want to learn 4 other mistakes? Here’s 19 Design Mistakes Made by Non-Designers

Today I want to talk to you about the most common design mistakes made by non-designers. I’m gonna tell 15 of them.

1.  Avoiding using words instead of visuals.

One, avoid using words instead of visuals. One of the most common mistakes is that amateurs and non-designers use too many words, too much text in their design. This might be their slide, it might be their infographic presentation and so on.

So what you instead want to do is to stick with visual cues and just the essential elements. So reduce some amount of content and supplement that with visual cues. That way the user can focus on what you try to communicate with them.

2. Poor readability.

Number 2 is poor readability. Now with poor readability, one of the other mistakes is too much text. Too many lines of text and also the user is basically filling out their page.

If you look here at the bottom example, 50 to 60 characters per line is what you want to shoot for, think of it as approximately 2 or 3 tweets put together. And keep your phonograph very short.

3. Mismatching fonts.

Number 3 is mismatching fonts. Now I’m gonna be talking a lot about fonts, font pairing. I’m actually gonna be doing specific videos on those but one of the problems is that, there’s too many fonts used and in this case there is three different fonts that are applied and they really don’t coordinate with each other. Actually makes the design look busier and doesn’t look very professional.

What you do instead, one is to stick with 2 or 3 fonts maximum, instead if you need to do a variation, do a variation of the font. Maybe in Italic or Bold and that allows you to… Using different weights allows you to actually achieve balance and yet variation of your design.

4. Not choosing the right colors.

Number 4 is not choosing the right colors. Colors is a very big deal in design, be it through the color selection, the combination. In this case, if you look at the example, somebody gave, you know, a child 3 or 4 different color crayons and just basically had at it and that’s what it looks like. And that’s the problem with designers and amateurs is that they have a lot of fonts, they have a lot of colors and the disposals and they feel like they can just mix and match everything.

There’s actually a few basic principles to follow in terms of colors, what you really want to do is to you know, use colors that actually aid and improve the readability of the content and to grab the users’ eye and don’t actually inundate you with it. And also you want to have the right amount of contrast through the colors that you use.

So the example below you have 3 different colors and also if you look at it, there’s the orange, the gray with the white to actually have a nice balance together.

5. Lack of negative space.

5 is a lack of negative space. So in terms of negative space, I want you to think about your… Let’s see your living room. You have your TV and then you have your couch, you might have a coffee table. You have this empty space.

You don’t have every object filling everything. And so the same you know, principle should be applied in your designs. And in the example above, what the individual has done is to just completely occupy that area with something. Free space, negative space is actually a great thing in the design. So in the example below what you see is free space, negative space and the concentrations in the middle.

One of the great examples is Google’s home page, you know. It’s about the search and so the component that’s there is the search and so you don’t have to look around for it.

6. Place elements arbitrarily.

Number 6 is to place elements arbitrarily. Now not aligning elements is a big deal as well in design. So if you look at the two examples, on the one above, there’s really no purpose and direction.

Things are just space apart. In the example below, you have kind of the content that is left justify and so there’s a certain order and a balance. That’s what you want to shoot for.

7. Failing to create contrast.

Failing to create contrast. So that’s another element that you want to concentrate on. It’s a mistake made often by non-designers. You have a light text, your foreground over your background. And if you look at the example below, what’s happening is you have a dark text or a white background. And so you have actually achieved a good balance of contrast.

So you want to basically use colors that are contrasting shades and levels of saturation. So in this case, if you look at it, you have a light gray, you have a navy blue and actually goes along with a brighter orange.

8. Not scaling properly.

Number 8 is not scaling elements properly. And in this case, one of the mistakes that I see often non-designers and amateurs make is that they keep everything the same size. They actually don’t take advantage of this tools or the disposal to scale things. And when you scale things, you want to actually emphasize.

Larger elements are the emphasis or the focal points. So if you look at the work dramatic and the work effect, primarily the word dramatic is the first thing that you see. Through scaling, you can actually gear and also achieve a certain focal point with your audience.

9. Hard-to-read text.

Number 9 is hard to read text. So this actually kind of goes with the example that I mentioned before, another mistake is the contrast. Again, you have text, that’s kinda blue, the image behind it, very hard to read the text. And so that’s definitely no-no as actually one more common mistakes that I see often being made.

But if you look at the two examples and compare them together, on the one below, we actually have a nice contrast. We have light text, white over a darker image and so it’s very easy to actually read and focus on the text that’s been shown to you.

10. Inappropriate font combinations.

Just a few more to go. Number 10 is inappropriate font combinations. So if you look at the examples here, you have a rustic image and the fore front you have a font and the colors look at it should be on the box of a barbie doll. And it doesn’t really correlate with the image behind it. Now, look at this one. In the example here you have, the image is actually driving the usage of the font. So the fonts and the image behind it, they’re in perfect harmony.

That’s is where you want to always shoot for. Think about when you’re selecting fonts, think about the environment and what you’re trying to achieve. Message and also the surrounding area that there’s gonna be on.

11. Inadequate space between lines.

Number 11 is inadequate space between lines. So this one again you know, the Problem With Leading, you have words “problem with” are stuck together and then you have the “leading”. Which you want to instead do is to you know, it’s okay to have line breaks but the line breaks should have a purpose. In case you have a short paragraph and you have a header. So there’s a little bit of separation between them and that’s an okay thing to do.

12. Using raster images.

Using raster images is number 12 and again this is a common one. So images in general you know, they’re big maps. And what that means is that there’s pixelation in them. If you take images and if you scale them up, it will become pixelated such as the example here. And it’s okay to scale them down but never scale them up. That’s a big tip I can provide you to the non-designers.

And also you want to stick with using vector shapes and text. So one of the good thing is, these days visual tools such as PowerPoint, Prezi, even our tool Visme, all the text, the shapes are actually vectorized. So you can stretch them and size them as big as you want and as small as you want and you will never lose the resolution. So you want to use it as much as possible and then when you do actually bring in images you know, try to avoid sizing them up.

13. Striving for complete symmetry.

Now number 13 is striving for complete symmetry, okay. Here’s the thing, when you’re creating content for digital and for print for someone, you don’t have to always have perfect symmetry. And you know, you’re not creating a car that needs to be aerodynamic or a plane, this is digital content and/or design. And it that case, you know, you wanted to be after the harmony. You want to create balance. If you can achieve balance without making things symmetrical, is perfectly okay.

14. Failing to communicate effectively.

Number 14 is failing to communicate effectively. So here’s the thing, you’re creating content for your audience, as to whole purpose of it. So you want to always make sure that the content you’re creating, you don’t overdue it and also you get the message across. And the example here, and this is actually a mistake that I believe designers and non-designers make. I’m guilty of it myself. What we do is we put too many objects and shapes, and you’re basically trying to over emphasize things.

However what you really want to do is to minimize, use the minimal principle. In this case you have, text and you have a supporting, supplementing icon. And so together they have a nice balance, there’s a white space and everything just kind of fits and it is in harmony.

15. Not being consistent.

Last but not least is not being consistent. So consistency is key. This is about contrast, use of colors and it all goes down as well in to fonts. And the example here, you’re looking at fonts, text. So you got good color and the use of the font. The text on the left is smeared, on the right side it is actually you know, the color doesn’t balance with the rest.

What you instead want to do is you know, pick a font, pick a color palette and stay consistent and you know to create a sense of unity and cohesiveness with your design. So in the example below, you can see that the colors, the orientation, the use of the fonts – everything is balanced. And so it’s actually taking advantage of the number of the mistakes that I mentioned and it’s reversing those and so you achieve this nice clean design below it.

So those are the 15 design mistakes I want to talk to you about. There actually is more of them. We have a nice blog post that talks about 19, so there’s 4 more that I did not over here.

I’m gonna put the link below. Go ahead and take a look at it. And again I promise you, if you put the few of these into works, and it doesn’t matter what type of content you want to create. Perhaps it’s a presentation, it might be a word document, maybe it’s for print or maybe it’s for web regardless, if you put these principles into works, they’re very easy to follow.

I promise you the quality of your design will be improved and again at the end of the day, you want to practice. Thank you. See you guys next time.

Here’s the slide deck used in the video lesson





  • I can recognize myself in some of these mistakes. Thanks for posting these tips!

  • Bala Murugan

    I have downloaded the slide deck and I will definitely follow these principles in my website design. Thanks

    • Great to hear Bala. I hope the tips will be helpful for you.

  • Beth Brady

    Thank you for another great tutorial. I’d like to see the other 4 common mistakes, but I’m not finding the link to the 19 that was to be “posted below” in the video, slide deck, transcript, or webpage. Not below my desk, either, far as I can see.

  • Azhar Arshad

    Hi Payman Taei! You said that to use minimal principal, right contrast etc. I don’t know basics of designing. As these videos are for non-designers, than also include basics, defination, termes etc in videos. If you don’t have time to do so. Then please suggest me good books, sites etc to learn basics.

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