How to prevent a design horror show | Reflect Digital Contact

How to prevent a design horror show

Starting off in the world of graphic design can be an exciting but scary time. If like me, you didn’t go down the university route and instead opted for an apprenticeship, you are literally learning on the job. I found this a great way to learn, but as you’re taking in so much so fast, it’s important you remember the fundamentals to save yourself ending up on a Reddit feed of design fails (well worth checking out by the way).

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  • 30/10/2018
  • by Steve

Here is a small selection of my design tips for all beginner apprentices and/or junior designers. By no means is this ALL you need to know, but these are some great tips I would’ve loved to have known on my first day. 

Know the difference between RGB and CMYK.

RGB and CMYK refer to colour modes and are used every single day in design. In short, RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue and you would use RGB for anything digital or for television. RGB is an additive colour mode meaning that this colour mode is based on adding and mixing light – when you add red, green, and blue light together you get pure white. 

Colours used in a pixel are made up of the colours red, green and blue. For example, the orange used in my illustration at the top is made of red: 225, green: 136, and blue: 0.

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key. Key is basically black but I won’t confuse you too much in explaining why we don’t call it CMYB. You would use CMYK for any print material, so leaflets, brochures, business cards etc. CMYK is the opposite of RGB as it is a subtractive colour so instead of adding light to achieve colour, ink is used to subtract brightness from white.

This is going into a little more detail then you need to know, but it’s good to know WHY you use a different colour mode for different projects. Whenever you create a new Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign file you’ll find an option for what colour model you want to use there. So, REMEMBER... RGB for digital or TV. CMYK for anything that will be printed. 

Use the right programme for the right project

Once you’ve got the hang of your favourite design software, it’s very tempting to stick to that for all of the design projects you’re given. The most common applications you will use in the early stages of your design career are Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. Each programme is created to master and handle particular projects better than others.

Adobe Photoshop was originally used for photo manipulation and editing, and still very much is, but it is now what most designers use for website designing *awaits comments from XD users*. Photoshop is a raster graphics editor meaning your viewing most elements in pixels. This means if you’re expanding a photo bigger than its original size it will start to appear blurry as you’re ‘stretching’ the pixels. Taking this into consideration, you wouldn’t create a logo or anything text-heavy in Photoshop as you’re much more restricted compared to other programmes.

Adobe Illustrator would be your go-to programme for designing logos and illustrations. This is because it is a vector-based graphics programme, and you have much more flexibility with vectors.

To put it simply, vector images are made up of mathematically-defined geometric shapes: lines, filled areas, curves, etc. So, if you set two points: point A and point B using the pen tool and stretched this to the size of a billboard, the distance between those two points will be recalculated to be proportionally the same, and you will not lose quality in your graphic unlike the Photoshop example above.

InDesign is your new best friend when it comes to creating print and publishing materials. There are so many features and functions in this one powerful programme that will make your life so much easier when putting together a hefty 120-page brochure. This is because you can set character and paragraph styles, so when you place in thousands of words into your InDesign document you can set header, sub-headers and body styles to them and BANG! In a few short minutes, your text is formatted. Which leads me to my next tip...

Understand typography and hierarchy 

Typography is something a lot of new designers don’t think about. When you’re designing a wedding invitation, business card or social media post you’re so focused on the design and how the graphics look. You could have a really clean and eye-catching piece of artwork but if the typography isn’t right, it lets the whole thing down.

When you’re designing something even with a minimal amount of text, think about what you want to stand out, AKA the hierarchy. What are the most important bits of information that need to stand out to the user/reader? Let’s take my business card for example. Here is what it looks like with all the text that is needed just copied and pasted in there with our brand font used. Most new designers will think “Great, I’ve got the logo in there, the colours look good, it’s all CMYK and the brand guidelines have been met, let’s send this out’.

But, as most of you who have been handed a business card know, this is not finished, what stands out? Nothing at all about who’s card it is, my job title, or my email address? Yes, it’s all in there, but nothing is separated or stands out as it’s effectively been dumped in there.

Now, look at the below example. The text is nicely separated out into sections. You have who I am, that stands out the most, as it’s MY business card with MY information on. Below that, not as bold and in a smaller font size, you have my job title. So instantly whoever I hand this to has my name and what I do set out nice and clear.

Below that, separated out nicely is how to get in touch with me. The URL of the company I work for is there so clients can check out what we do with a clear email address for them to get in touch with me. Separated out again is my phone number. Again it’s set out nice and clearly so even if the person I hand this to quickly scans it, they’ll find the information so much easier than the example above.

Typography and hierarchy should be considered with every project you work on, even down to logo design. Does the Limited section of a logo really need to stand out as much as a long company name?

DO NOT rip off other designers

Really this should be my number one tip, but surely this is obvious?! Do NOT rip off something you have seen on Google, Pinterest or wherever...it’s plain lazy. It’s perfectly ok to do some research into what has been and how others have approached a similar project, but taking a screenshot of that and tracing over it to recreate with different colours and a slightly different font, is not ok.

You’d be surprised how often this happens in the real world of design. Most of the time you will get found out and maybe even threatened with legal action if you blatantly rip off another designer or agency.


Image from: Lowyat Forum - Lowyat.NET

My advice is to take inspiration from other designs but do not directly rip them off. You might think inspiration and copying is a fine line. Now have a think about what you’d do if you were set a brief to design coffee company logo… would you do this?

Do not use dated stock imagery

It’s a fact; dated stock imagery KILLS a design! You could have a lovely, modern, clean website design or even an interesting blog post, but if you fill it with 3D renders, interfaces floating in the air, or the dreaded keyboard button that will never appear on a keyboard anywhere other than stock image websites, it kills it.

There are now more and more websites offering commercial-free stock images, where talented photographs and content creators let you use their beautiful images for your project-license free. This gives you the rights to use them. 

Our Head of Design, Wayne, wrote a great article a few months back with links to these websites so go check that out after you’ve read this.

When you’re searching for images, don’t think too direct. If you’re designing a website for an IT security software website, for example, don’t download these type of images:


I literally typed IT security into a popular stock image website and my search results were filled with images like these. Now if I head over to unsplash.com but think of some search terms that are a little more creative and less obvious I get nice images like these:

Totally different images, but they wouldn’t look out of place on an IT security software website.

No, it’s not obvious their computer is being protected because there’s not a big, fat, red SECURITY button, floating force field or wall of fire around the laptop protecting it! But the everyday workers getting on with their work helps allude to the idea that these people are using this IT security software and they’re able to use their computer like normal.

If you’d like any more tips or advice on apprenticeships vs university, please get in touch on Twitter @ReflectDigital or email me steve@reflectdigital.co.uk.


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