Thursday, April 13, 2006

Seven signs of amateur design

[Tags: ]. There are certain techniques that scream 'amateur' and should be avoided at all costs. These are the strange inspirations that take a mysterious hold of people when they first sit in front of Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop to create a poster or a logo.

And so, continuing my theme of sevens, here I present my guide to the seven things that I hope I will never see again, anywhere, but know full well I'll see again, everywhere.

1. Comic Sans

When Microsoft invented the Comic Sans font and put it on every machine, they created a monster. For some reason, people saw this and thought that a font that looked as if it was written by a 10-year-old would really convey the professionalism of their business. Such is the hatred for Comic Sans you will find countless sites and messageboards devoted to just how badly used it is.

2. Gradients

Hey, look! It starts blue, then changes to purple! Wow.
Yes, that's very nice. But why are you using it? Are you designing for a hippy commune? Are you living in the '60s? No. Does it make the design more readable? Does it give it more impact? No. One of the basics of good design is contrast. Gradients have no contrast: they slowly change from one colour to another. So get it out of your system, then get it out of your design. Gradients suck.

3. Putting boxes around everything

This is a particular weakness in amateur publication design: "Here's an article; I'd better put a box around it so that people know it's separate from any other articles. Here's a headline: better put a box around it..." Have you ever looked at a professional newspaper? Do they put big clumsy boxes around everything? Of course not. They rely on more subtle ways to distinguish one article from another, like white space, a grid format, or at the most a hairline, or a faintly coloured background. Look at other publications and learn what works.

4. 12pt Times New Roman

I understand. For years you've been conditioned to submit essays and reports in 12pt Times New Roman. You've not thought about using anything but the default font and size in Word, and frankly, such is the conformism in schools that you'd probably be expelled for differing for the norm. But in the professional world you need to stand out, and 12pt Times New Roman screams "boring", "ordinary", and "lazy". Simply using a different font (not Arial - it's almost as overused) will make your work stand out as having had at least a modicum of thought paid to it.

5. Word templates and other templates

Again, another technique that screams "boring", "ordinary", and "lazy". The problem with templates is: everyone uses them. As a result: no one stands out. If you're applying for a job, or wanting a design that will stand out from the rest, don't use a template. As an employer, I saw CV after CV with that dour grey globe in the top corner and the same text formatting: the applicants had all used the same Word template. It's not the best first impression to make.

6. Underlining as a method of emphasis

Underlining was never intended to be used to emphasise text - it was a printer's mark that said "make this bold". Yes, it does emphasise text - slightly - but there are much, much better ways of doing so. Instead, if you want to emphasise text, make it bold, and if it's a heading, make it bigger. You should also try making it a different font to body text - or even a different colour.

7. Word Art

Good typography apparently isn't enough for some people. Oh no. Let's make that word 3D. And have it shrinking as you get to the end of it. And put a little metallic effect on it too. Yes, that'll make it look better. No. It looks rubbish.

bad word art

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