Categories / Inspiration
10 Sneaky Ways to Detect an Amateur Designer
Kevin Whipps March 31, 2021 · 8 min read
Font StretchingThe worst — and I mean the worst — is when you see a font that you love, and you try to figure out what it is using Whatthefont or Identifont, but to no avail. And then, after doing some digging and wasting a ton of time, you realize that it’s a stretched version of something mundane, and you immediately want to punch a puppy in the mouth. OK, maybe not a puppy, but you get the idea. Font stretching is a rookie move for a number of reasons, but one of them is that there’s no reason to do it. There’s almost certainly an alternative font that can do what you’re asking it to do, so there’s that. Second, if you ever need to add text in later, you’ll never get it to match the now stretched version, because unless you’re writing down every spec, there’s no way to make the numbers work. Look, it’s a bad idea all around, so just stop it.
Mammoth Shadows, Huge Radiant Glows and Big EmbossingRemember when you were new to the graphic design world and you first learned how to do effects in Photoshop? Oh, I do, and I embossed and shadowed the crap out of everything I touched. If I wanted to get super fancy, I’d throw in a radiant glow, too. And you can bet your lasso tool that sometimes I’d even do all three like a boss. That’s right, I was that guy. Wanna catch an amateur in the wild? Look for the triple-threat of those effects used in excess. Understand that the tools are there for a reason, and nobody is saying that adding drop shadows to your design makes you an amateur. But what does is when the effects become the thing that steal the show, detracting from the design. All things in moderation, folks. Now if I could just listen to that advice when it comes to brownies, I’d be fine.
They’re a Frequent Participant in Design ContestsSo I’m a writer and a designer, and I make money by both typing words into a computer and pushing pixels around a screen. People give me money for those services, because that’s how capitalism works. And then there are newbies who do their work for free, because they think it will give them exposure, getting them in the door at some big job. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. People hold logo contests to get work product for free, end of story. It brings down the rates for the rest of us who do need to eat, and unless you’re a complete amateur and have no intention of making money off your skills, stop screwing it up for the rest of us.
They don’t check their workTrue story: a designer buddy of mine does work for a marketing company here in town, and he told me the other day about how excited he was to get his new assistant. “Why do you need an assistant?” I asked, knowing full well that he couldn’t possibly be busy enough to need one. As it turns out, he does have quite the workload, but the assistant isn’t a designer, they’re an English major. He needs a copy editor to spell check his work because he doesn’t look at it himself. You don’t need to be well versed in copyediting to work as a designer, but at least give it a cursory look before you push it on to the next level. Simple typos and misspellings are embarrassing, and if you incur extra expenses because of your mistakes, then it’s your butt on the line. It’s a rookie designer mistake, as pros always look over their work for both design and grammatical errors.
The Inability to ShipRaise your hand if you’re a perfectionist. Yeah? Me too. Thing is, you’ve gotta let that go if you want to be a professional, because only amateurs sit on projects forever, missing their deadlines along the way. A true pro knows that no design is ever truly done, it’s just turned in. There’s always more tweaking to do. Is it frustrating? Absolutely. But after the first 10-15 times you get over it. Plus, paying your rent is usually a pretty solid motivator, as is the desire not to be fired. Ship your products, people. It’s the right thing to do.
Font OverloadThere’s no set rule on how many fonts you should have in a design, and what number is too many. But generally, 2-3 fonts is the standard, and again, there’s nothing definitive, but you know when there are too many fonts in a design when you see it. And boy, do amateur designers fall into this trap. The more fonts you use, the more cluttered your design looks. And even though you may think it makes it stand out, more often than not, the opposite is true. Sure, it may become popular and people may enjoy what you produce, but it’s not going to get you any kudos from your buddies in the field. In fact, it may pull in the opposite. image via Etsy
Incorrectly Formatted DesignsThe rookie designs a company logo in Photoshop. Sure, it’s 10,000 pixels wide, but it’s still wrong. An amateur edits a photo for print that’s 72 DPI, not the required 300-plus that most magazines and companies require. A n00b uses the layers panel to hide pieces of reference, even though they can still be seen with just the click of a mouse. These are the kinds of mistakes that happen in the beginning, and while we, as professionals, can laugh them off at times, having one of these designs land in our laps to “fix” is a bit frustrating. The other day I had a logo come to me that was not only designed in Photoshop, but had a screenshot of an Android phone web page, plus 32 other layers (most of them invisible) full of junk. Oh, and the font was stretched, too. Glorious.
“Reappropriating” Someone’s DesignYou see a cool design out there, and you think that nobody will notice if you just make a few tweaks and call it your own. Chances are good that the client hasn’t seen that movie/magazine/web page, right? Rookie mistake, buddy. Let’s just call this what it is: stealing. The amateur designer doesn’t understand the line that the rest of us draw when it comes to taking other people’s designs. Yes, it is possible to copy someone else’s work without ever having seen their stuff — everything is a remix, and all that — but doing it consciously is unconscionable. Follow Wheaton’s Law and you’ll be fine.
OverdesigningHow do you know when you’ve done too much work? When you have 85 layers for one piece of text — that’s probably a good time to quit. Or there are a million fonts. And 18 colors. Get the picture? This is a trap that lots of amateur designers fall into, because it’s easy to get — as Aaron Draplin puts it — drunk on white space and start pushing pixels like a crazy person. Know when to say when, folks.
Not Keeping Up With Design TrendsI’ve got a buddy of mine who I don’t think has ever been on Behance, never posts his work on Dribbble and certainly doesn’t look at any other design websites, because his stuff is dated. It’s like he graduated design school and that’s where his knowledge stuck, and he’s just unwilling to learn anything new. And he’s been in the business now for over a decade. That’s an amateur move for sure, and one that a lot of beginning designers fall into. Don’t let yourself go down that rabbit hole. Learn something new every day and always try to expand your knowledge. It’s the right thing to do.
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