The Unspoken Rules of Graphic Design

(Hat Tip: Adland via

Some of these I agree with, others could be reworded. I’ve taken the liberty to post comments in grey/span> below.

  1. Your fonts will default to the worst possible font available on the machine you are showing your work on. Comic Sans anyone?
  2. If you have two versions of a photo, the wrong one will make its way to the printer. Very very possible. When you’re dealing with a lot of assets in a project, it’s always possible to goof up which files are linked in your document.
  3. The less time you have the more useless your computer will become. I totally agree with this assessment. It seems like my 3Ghz Dell with 2Gb of RAM runs slowest when the deadlines are tightest.
  4. Promises made by the sales staff have no basis in reality. Sometimes they do, but I think this more accurately could be phrased as “Sales staff, on occasion, make promises without consulting with those responsible for completing the work.”
  5. The sales staff will promise anything. You betcha. An unfortunate necessity on some deals.
  6. If the text consists of two words, one will be misspelled. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened to me too much… but it’s possible.
  7. Speed. Quality. Affordability. Pick any two. This needs to be carefully explained at times, because if it’s not discussed up front, clients might assume this is how things are from that point forward. Case in point, client needs X turned around in 3 days. They pay a little more for it, but perhaps you don’t charge enough. You run the risk of setting an expectation where the client assumes you can turn things around at the drop of a hat.
  8. If the run is wrong, it’s never the press operator’s fault. Press check, press check, press check. Even if you trust the printer you’re dealing with, you need to do a quality check before printing important pieces.
  9. Spell checkers don’t. Too right. I depend too heavily on Word processing programs.
  10. Grammar checkers don’t, either. See #9.
  11. Proof raeders are useless. No argument here. That’s why you need to have as many eyes check out a project as possible before getting it printed or showing it to a client.
  12. Global search-and-replaces aren’t. They almost always miss something. Never rely on them. They help, for the most part, but don’t catch everything.
  13. The index entry you leave out will be the first one the client looks under. Yep.
  14. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is good comedy. Right-o. That’s why I don’t rely on using OCR much these days.
  15. If three designs are shown to a client, your least favorite will be chosen or any combination of worst components of each. Too right. Too much choice is a bad thing. It’s better to present one strong layout that you can build on, than to provide competing designs that clients can pick and choose from. You are the expert after all. (Hopefully.)
  16. If two designs are shown, a third will be requested. If provided, then one of the first two will be chosen. I’ve had this happen a lot. It’s hard to tell how a client will go when presenting comps to them. Be prepared to urge them into a particular direction if necessary.
  17. If you ask for more copy it will be sent as a .jpg. If you ask for images they will send powerpoint presentations. Or it gets faxed to you… This is one of my pet peeves.
  18. Clients don’t have their company logo in a usable print ready format so don’t bother asking. Too right most of the time. We usually end up having to find it on the net, contacting the company that designed it for them, or recreating it. The latter is not preferred… we hardly ever get compensated for it, and it never turns out exactly as the original in most cases.
  19. Blue line proofs reveal previously invisible errors. Yep. But they can save you a lot of stress, money, etc. by catching the errors early.
  20. The best designs never survive contact with the client. In most cases. Clients like to take ownership of work that is done for them, and they want to provide influence/direction that enables them to leave their mark on the work. Not all clients are this way, but some are.
  21. You will misspell the name of the client’s spouse. You mean your wife’s name isn’t Suzie? It’s Susie? Whodathunkit?
  22. Your best idea is already copyrighted. Too right. There are no original ideas… The best designers take great ideas and make them their own.
  23. The best way to find errors in your code is to show a client “a new feature”. Unless you document specifically how things need to work and get signoff from the client, you’re invariably going to get something screwed up somewhere.
  24. There is no stock photo ever made that matches the image you have in your head. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me. On rare occasions, I find what I am looking for and they are rights-managed images.
  25. Creative inspiration flows in inverse proportion to the distance from the studio. lol, I find this to be the opposite for me. I work in downtown Augusta, and it’s beatiful down here. It’s easy to be inspired here at work.
  26. Time allowed to complete work is inversely proportional to time taken by client to work out what to complain about. hehe. I find this to be true a good part of the time. Getting approval is a long, drawn out part of the process most of the time.
  27. Doctors, astronauts, and plumbers need training to do their jobs, but anyone with a computer is a graphic designer. We battle this on a daily basis. Ultimately, my counter to this assumption is that you get what you pay for. If you want to spend $10/hr paying your cousin’s uncle’s brother’s friend’s daughter to make your website, you’re probably going to get something that looks like an amateur did it. You pay professionals more to do the job right, to make you look good …
  28. No matter how detailed the tech support FAQ is, nobody has ever heard of your problem. I’ve encountered this a lot with new hardware I’ve purchased. Fortunately, most things can be resolved with some tinkering… and/or sledgehammers.
  29. The number of colors in a client’s design will equal the number of colors in the original bid specs, plus two. I try not to let this happen. If it does, change orders are always in order.
  30. The client’s disk won’t run on your equipment & when it does will contain unusable copyrighted images. This happens often (the latter part). Clients often send us pics they found on competitors sites. That’s a no-no.
  31. If you purchase new equipment to read your client’s disk, it will be the last disk of that type you will ever receive. I bought a Zip100 USB drive off of eBay for this very reason. I haven’t used it since.
  32. Your client will often not like your design but not quite know why. Yep, I’ve gotten feedback that designs are “child-like” or “crap” and they couldn’t tell me why they felt that way. Sometimes I think this happens because the client has an idea in their mind about what they want but can’t accurately explain why they feel that way.
  33. Computer crashes always happen exactly 30 seconds before saving. Save often! Bah, I’ve been hit with Photoshop crashes far too often to suffer this fate again.
  34. A client who knows exactly what he wants is worse than one that has no idea. Hitting the mark with a client that knows exactly what they want can be more difficult if they don’t accurately explain what they want.
  35. Clients who do not provide content upfront will complain about the use of Lorem Ipsum. Yep. Almost always. You need to be able to read a client before submitting a comp. Some can take things very literally.
  36. Everything has to be done immediately, deadlines are incredibly important unless client has to provide materials or approve your work. This happens a lot with us. Deadlines are pretty strict when it comes to us completing things, but become very liquid if things are required from the client. I understand why this happens though… Your client has a job to do on top of working with you on the design project. You’re probably very low on their priority list.
  37. The customer is always right. And an idiot. In some cases, I agree with this, but I don’t think clients are idiots. They are just uneducated when it comes to graphics and design and web stuff. That’s why it’s our job to inform them to the best of our abilities. Occasionally you’ll butt heads with clients and they’ll have to have things done their way or no way… in those cases, you do what they ask in order to get the work done, and you move on. Better to get those projects out of the way, instead of letting them linger on while you fight a losing battle to get a client to see things from your point of view. Pick your battles wisely.