20 Surprisingly Common Graphic Design Myths: Debunked

Graphic design is a bit of an enigma. It’s essential to business but it’s obviously highly creative. Oddly, any discipline that has a foot in both “professional” and “creative” camps seems to attract myths and misconceptions from all over the shop.

This can’t exactly be helped. Graphic design, as a term, has been around for about a hundred years, so the twists and turns that design has taken since then are bound to have left some people scratching their heads.

So with that in mind, we’ve delved deep into the recesses of the internet – and our own experience – to unearth 20 mind-boggling graphic design misconceptions. Let’s dive right in and set the record straight.

Myths About Design & Creativity

Graphic Design is Purely an Artistic Pursuit

Naturally, graphic design requires an eye for artistic style and balance, but there’s a surprising amount of non-arty things that go into great design.

A good designer needs to be able to research a client’s market and competition; be well versed in communication psychology; have the know-how to identify the best design tools and software for a task; and be sensitive to the social, ideological, and political sensibilities that may surround a given project.

Graphic Design is Just Decorative Fluff

We admit, there are times where graphic design is fluffy and frivolous. It is grounded in artistic pursuits after all – and it can be a lot of fun. But good graphic design can lead surprisingly hard-hitting campaigns. Just take a look at the front page of The National Autistic Society’s 2016 “Too Much Information” report which visually communicates audio-sensory overload; or take the West London Mission’s copy-driven “Are you OK?” campaign.

So no, designers don’t simply “polish things up” or “roll stuff in glitter”. Their art (usually paired with equally excellent copy) can communicate difficult topics like a punch in the gut.

Design Can Happen Independent of Strategy, Copy & Other Marketing

Good design isn’t carried by sheer creativity alone. Think of any marketing or comms campaign like a jigsaw puzzle: research, design, copy, and distribution are all pieces of the puzzle, and strategy provides the instructions on how those pieces need to come together.

So in order to create effective design, the graphic designer needs a working knowledge of the whole promotional ecosystem their design plays a part in – that includes an awareness of strategy of strategy and what the other “puzzle pieces” are doing.

There are No Rules in Graphic Design

… Usually paired with “and the ones that are there are meant to be broken”. This is another myth that comes from the pervading falsehood that marketers are the “beanbag chair and crayons” department!

Design is highly psychological. Materials have to be easy to read and follow. Everyone views things through their own personal, cultural, and ideological lenses, and are likely to imbue anything they see with their own meaning. Designers therefore have to second-guess how people are going to interpret their work.

Designers also have to be sensitive to accessibility concerns – is their design easy to follow for those with visual impairments, colour-blindness, or dyslexia? How present are those needs within the desired audience?

Myths About What Designers Do

Graphic Design is a Non-Essential Thing That’s Just “Nice to Have”

When was the last time you saw a promotional poster with no design whatsoever? Just black text on a white background, with no typography or design sensibilities applied? When was the last time you interacted with a website that had absolutely no design whatsoever? Chances are, there was no last time.

How something looks can be just as important as what’s being said. Design is there to catch your audience’s eye after all. If it doesn’t do that then the message is worse than lost – it’s never picked up to begin with. Design is what attracts attention, and can be an integral part of what gets people invested and sets tongues wagging.

Graphic Design is Just for Logos/Brochures/Web Assets/Print Assets [Delete as Appropriate]

Graphic design can cover a vast swath of digital and print media. Graphic design can be online or offline; commercially promotional or to foster awareness of a good cause; practical and long standing (like signage or wayfinding) or decorative and impermanent (like one-off flyers and social posts). Yes, it’s all graphic design!

Graphic Designers Only Design Static Assets

Though much of graphic design does purely deal with static media, it is in no way limited to it. Graphic designers usually have a hand in designing all kinds of animated media too, including GIFs, animations, and full-motion social media and display ads.

Graphic Designers Only Use [Insert Design Software/Tool(s) Here]

Good graphic design is more about the quality of the end result and the skill of the designer rather than the tools used to achieve it. Software like Adobe Creative Cloud and hardware like graphics tablets are simply a means to an end.

Naturally, better tools can lead to better-looking results, but it’s really the designer’s talent and training that makes the magic happen. Good design sensibilities can lead to great design, even in free tools like Canva.

Digital Graphic Designers = Web Developers

Though many agencies (OLCO Design included) cover both graphic design and web development, they are two very different disciplines.

Let’s explore these differences briefly. Web developers have all of the technical ins and outs of website functionality to consider; including things like SEO, hosting, and on-site functionality (like e-commerce or lead generation requirements); as well as design elements like the user interface and use of colour. Graphic designers are more focused on pure visual communication; though there are ways in which the disciplines overlap.

Myths About the Time Graphic Design Takes

“It’ll Only Take 10 Minutes”

Argh! This phrase is the bane of every creative’s existence! There’s a highly irritating assumption that creative work only takes a couple of clicks and it’s done. This is patently false. However, it’s not much clearer designer-side too – sometimes we creatives don’t know how long a piece of work is going to take either.

Sometimes tiny jobs and tweaks are legitimately tiny, but that only really happens once in a blue moon or really near the end of a project. Even the smallest design request may require lots of careful thought and implementation. And amendments can take as much time as initial design – if not more! While we’re on the subject…

Amendments are Rare and Quickly Dealt With

We admit, we wish this one was true too! Implementing client amends – and ideating around them – is common and can create just as much work as creating the original deliverable. This is because there’s more concrete design in place to work around when accommodating requests and feedback.

Think about it – if a designer has created a brochure and then is asked to add heaps of new copy, that may take much more work than the simple 20-minute “copy and paste” job that the client may envisage. The new text may require pages to be redesigned and things moved around to fit.

As a side note, there are two things you can do beforehand to minimise the possibility and impact of amendments. Firstly, have all copy and text finalised before you engage your designer and be as specific in your brief as possible. Secondly, if you’re still drafting your design brief while the design work is actually taking place, that’s a recipe for disaster!

All of a Designer’s Time is Spent Designing

This might be nice, but it’s sadly not the case. Designers are generally savvy marketers who need to research a client’s market, their competition, their audience, and understand what design each project is going to be competing with out in the wild. We also need to ensure our work is totally original, distinctive, and conveys what the client needs it to convey.

This may seem outside of a designer’s remit, yet if we misjudge an audience’s preferences or a competitor’s USP (for example), that can completely change the thrust of a design, creating a lot of work for us further down the line to put it right.

Myths About Design Costs

Complex Design Costs More/Takes Longer than Minimalist Design

Yes, it sounds a little odd, but minimalist design can take just as long as complex design. When you have fewer “moving parts” to play with, getting all elements to harmonise perfectly given the simplicity of a piece can be tricky. Because there’s less there, errors or something looking “off” is going to be more starkly visible.

Graphic Design Can be Good, Quick, and Cheap

Though there are going to be exceptions to this rule – chiefly from talented designers who don’t understand their true worth – it’s unlikely that you will get showstopping design, quickly, for a low price.

There’s an old business adage that we love – “Good, cheap, and fast. You can only pick two”. Want your design fast and cheap? You’re going to have to compromise on quality. Want high quality and quick delivery? Expect to pay for the privilege. Want design that’s good but need to save a few pennies? This isn’t always possible full stop, but if it is don’t expect it to be fast.

Graphic Designers Charge Too Much

Unfortunately, websites like Fiverr have skewed a lot of people’s view of the costs and time taken to create great design, copy, and creative work. It’s caused a highly transactional market for creatives, resulting in a worrying lack of appreciation for what talented creative professionals bring to the table.

Freelancers who work with these design and content “mills” often have to turn around a lot of work quickly in order to make money, meaning they spend less time on each piece. So when you pay for a designer’s time, you’re paying for their expertise, their training, and their time spent focused singly on your project.

Myths About Design Skills

Graphic Design is All About Following the Latest Trends

Sometimes graphic design does have to adapt to trends, fads, and fashions. But for the most part, good design is all about creating (and building upon) enduring, memorable brand entities that stand the test of time.

Brand consistency is essential to lasting brand recognition and awareness. So in a way, brands have to be designed without trends in mind, yet be flexible enough to adapt to them if needed – it’s quite the skill!

Graphic Design is Only for Natural Born Artsy, Creative Types

Though having a natural artistic flair certainly won’t hurt anyone seeking a career in design, creativity is absolutely something you can nurture and graphic design skill is something that most people can learn.

Design – and marketing as a whole – is a great marriage between the more cognitive practices of research and analysis and the more creative work involved in actual design and comms. So if you find yourself drawn towards less creative, more analytical practices, there is absolutely a place for you at the marketing/design table!

You Can Learn Graphic Design From a Single Book or Course

Graphic design is one of those fields of study that you never stop learning about once you start. There’s no closing the book – no dusting your hands off and saying “Right, well that’s that mastered!”. Even designers with relevant postgraduate degrees report picking up new knowledge all the time – even knowledge that queries and probes their existing ways of working.

So if you read a single book or take a single online course in graphic design, that’s great! But remember that’s only one teacher’s point of view – there’s so much more design wisdom out there (conventional and otherwise) that’s ripe for the picking!

And to Finish…

Graphic Design is Fun!

Yes, graphic design can be a lot of fun, but it can also… not be. Not to paint designers as “tortured artist” types, but things like creator’s block, ever-changing briefs, and interpreting vague requests can be infuriating. Giving your creativity away can be a draining experience too, even when compensated properly. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s tedious. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.

Graphic Designers Can Fix Your IT

We have no idea where this one comes from, but the answer is “no”!

So whether you’re after a total branding overhaul, or you’d like to outsource a little extra design talent, give us a call or book your free, no-obligation consultation today!

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