You might be an insecure graphic designer if…

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insecure graphic designerRecently, I was in a classroom with some rookie graphic designers and advertisers and I noticed a few habits that tend to spotlight you as an insecure graphic designer. Don’t get me wrong, if you happen to do any of these things, you are not inherently wrong. Rules are meant to be broken – and especially in graphic design.  But the truth of the matter is if you will avoid the points mentioned in this post, you will appear more confident and rise above the graphic design clutter out there.

With that said, here we go. You might be an insecure graphic designer if…

1.  You use a lot of borders, strokes, or other framing elements.
While framing particular elements in your design piece can be effetive and professional, you may want to avoid using multiple borders or strokes.  You almost always want to avoid closing text in entirely. Use white space as your friend and give the piece some room to breathe. Just like you wouldn’t want to be cooped up in a small room with no way out, your design needs room to flow and your viewer needs room to move around.

2. You always use the same fonts.

Now, try not to misunderstand me. I love Helvetica as much as the next guy, but when you use the default fonts more frequently than not, you’re probably insecure in your designing abilities.  Check your design pieces. Do you use Times New Roman, Georgia, Myriad Pro, or other “standard” fonts? Try using some unique fonts in your next design piece.

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WARNING: The above reference to “unique fonts” does not necessarily mean extremely fancy, flourished, grunged, or illegible fonts. Find some classy, easy to read, simple fonts that you can add to your own personal font book for later use.  There are millions of free font resources out there.  Just type “free fonts” in your preferred search engine and go!

3. You clutter your piece with “stuff” and leave no room for white space.
For the newbies in the group, white space doesn’t have to be white in color.  White space is any area where there is not a major design element. (I know, I know, white space is a design element, but you know what I mean.)

Have you ever walked into a house or apartment and just been amazed by how much “junk” is scattered around?  You start to feel crowded and anxious for some fresh air or clean living space. So it is with design. If you never give your viewers a chance to enjoy empty space they will feel anxious and not want to stay at your site, read your ad, or enjoy your art for very long.

4. You thrive on filters and effects.

Again, filters and effects DO have a place in the design world. They should almost always, however, be used sparingly.  iF you find yourself using bevels, embossing, extreme drop shadows, inner glow, overlay blending mode, and cutout filter all on one element, maybe you should rethink it.  Simple elements will be inherently beautiful without the need of extreme embellishments.

5. You live and die by the “rules”.
While all design rules are important. Graphic design is about visual appeal. Your goal as a graphic designer, should be to saturate your mind with the visual elements all around you.  As you keep in mind what looks “good” and what looks “bad” you will be able to create beautiful design pieces whether they “follow the rules” or not.

As stated in the last post here on Millo, remember the wise words of designer Peter Bilak: “Right and wrong do not exist in graphic design. There is only effective and non-effective communication.” If something technically follows the rules but doesn’t look good, it’s NOT good graphic design.

What other signs of insecure graphic designers have you seen? Share your comments below.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.

Leave a Comment



  1. Great post.
    I agree with all of the points mentioned.
    One thing I would like to point out is that as graphic designers we often deal with clients that are convinced that what they like is best. One of my long-term clients is sooooooooooo allergic to white space and everything has to be cluttered. We mostly negotiate but the design ends up looking great in the client’s eyes and you know what in my eyes. At the end of the day what do you do? It is your client and you need to satisfy their needs.

    But if you have similar clients you end up with a portfolio that doesn’t really reflect your own style and capabilities.

    • Web Design Melbourne,
      I know what you mean. I have a client that is exactly the same way. What I try to do is do it his way and then do it my way and show him the differences. Sometimes it makes for more work but a lot of times he, or others whose opinions he asks for, agree that the design I preferred in the first place is better. In the end they tend to be happier. Unfortuantely this can’t happen every time, but with patience and persistence it gets better.

  2. You might be a rookie if you refer to negative space as “white space” ….great article.

  3. I remember when I first started I thought I had to fill every empty space there was and use every filter and effect photoshop had to offer. You live and you learn. The difficult thing is to communicate that to a client when they mention that they want something to “pop”.

    • @Mark, Agreed — I worked in radio as a webmaster, and if I had a dollar for everytime some program director or DJ asked if I could “make that part REALLY POP” or “can you make that TEXT POP”.. Ugh. MAKE EVERYTHING POP!

  4. Glad to find this isn’t a list of things of I do in design, but it’s certainly a list of things I’ve been guilty off way back.

    To echo the other comments white space is certainly a problem with a number of clients, often they see space as somewhere they can squeeze in another affiliate ad to make more money.

  5. Agree with all point especially “Right and wrong do not exist in graphic design. There is only effective and non-effective communication.” , but i still not good in choosing font, still need to improve.

  6. Good post, Preston. I agree with your points and can add one more: lack of proper color usage. By this I mean the tendency to put certain colors together to make them stand out; for example, red/magenta on top of blue (visual distortion), or the use of color 100% as opposed to a percentage of that color. I used to be guilty of a couple of these points long ago, but I’ve learned a lot since. 🙂

  7. I think the only point in this article that matches the title is “Live and Die by the Rules.” The rest sound like they belong on a “You’re new to design and downloaded(pirated) Photoshop, didn’t you” article.

    A key give away to an insecure designer is always explaining their work and reasons to others- especially after a critique. Many ‘secure’ designers will ask themselves ‘why did they do/think that’ rather than ‘i did it this way, they shouldn’t think that!’

  8. Too bad you dont know what you are talking about


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