What is the main reason a graphic design fails miserably? It’s quite simple: you played with graphic content before you worked out your message.
If you don’t have your text, your copy, your content, your message, or your desired reaction nearly perfectly worked out before you fire up Illustrator or PhotoShop or what-have-you, you’ll end up playing with grids and graphics with no real aim. I see junior designers doing this all the time. It’s painful, but you can see what the wrong path looks like from across the room!
Ways to tell if your design is going to fail before it fails
This isn’t an exact science, and I’m not talking about the final end design. I’m talking about iterations. How can you know if your iteration is on the right track? How can you speed up the iterative process and increase quality? First, let’s examine how slow down the iterative design process and muddle up the quality. Here are a few signs to look for, to see if you are about to fail:
- You are focused on the detail of a particular graphic element before all the copy from your notes is even on the screen
- You don’t have the information hierarchy worked out in in sketch or outline form
- You made arbitrary design decisions in your mind before you completed working out copy, and now you are trying to cram text into a pre-fab “template” in your mind
- You haven’t completed at least a few sketches of the final design, either in digital or analog (pencil or pen) form
- You are excited by a “filter” or “effect” you got from a tutorial and you are frustrated as you are trying to shoehorn it into your work
- You spent 3 hours on a texture for the background
- You are fiddling with brushes or stroke widths or opacities on elements you aren’t even sure are in the right place on the page
- You are more concerned and aware of look and feel than about message and desired response
- You don’t know the software very well, and you are trying to learn a cool new trick at the expense of proper engagement with your text
- You think a cool visual technique is equal in importance to textual content
The list can go on, and I’m sure you could fill in a few more. All designers get off track at times in a project. It’s par for the course, but you can limit time-wasting habits by becoming aware of them and eliminating them. But to eliminate a bad habit, you have to replace it with a new one.
How to ensure your graphic design does not fail
- Plan the text: work out some sketches!
- Plan the hierarchy: what is the first most important textual element on the page, and what is the secondary and tertiary?
- Plan the desired response: what is it you want the viewer to do or how to you want them to react?
- Plan the _____ and the _____ and also the _____ without forgetting to plan the _____, too.
Yes, plan. Plan any way you can. Plan as much as you can. Before you start designing, plan.
If after asking yourself “Have I planned?” you aren’t sure you’ve planned enough, you haven’t planned enough.
If you fail to work out these three points, fiddling with fonts, colors, and grids are simply just rearranging chairs on the deck of a sinking ship.
Yo, Font-Addict! Make sure to check out The Big Book of Font Combinations. Go grab a copy from Amazon or B&N and stare at all 350+ examples of informative font combinations for web and print. You know you want to!
Plan for success and plan not to fail
Ensure your success and don’t fail: plan everything (as much as you can) ahead, before starting graphic production. Do the hard work of thinking things through before you start the “fun” part.
Oh, and make sure you plan everything, as much as you can, before you start designing. Wait, did I say that already? Well if I did, it’s good for you to hear and no trouble for me to repeat.
Remember that no filter, color combination, font palette, stock photo, original illustration, PhotoShop filter, Illustrator scatter brush can make a poorly planned idea come out looking any better than a poorly planned idea—albeit with some lipstick on it.
Good luck planning and even better luck to you designing!