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12 Common Design Mistakes Small Businesses Should Avoid

12 Design Mistakes Small Businesses Often Make

Feb 18, 2021
11 minutes


Learn what are the most common mistakes small business owners make when it comes to graphic design, web design and branding.

You’re losing customers right now. Why? Picture this: your target audience reached your website through a search engine or social media, they’ve seen your product, but ultimately turned around and said ‘I don’t like how it looks.’

It’s sad but true: we all judge a book by its cover sometimes, and the same goes for bad graphic design. The visual appeal of things is always the first thing we account for when forming a first impression, and a target audience notices things you might have missed.

But, the sooner you create high-quality branding identity and online presence, the better. Having a limited budget is understandable, but you shouldn’t get to the point when saving is unreasonable and hurting your brand in the long run. Any business that takes itself and its customers seriously will invest resources into good design.

We’re going to go through the most common design mistakes to help you avoid making them yourself.

Not knowing your audience

Your audience is part of your brand identity. Especially for small businesses, it’s far better to have a smaller, loyal customer base, than to squander resources trying to reach more people that probably have no real interest in what you’re offering.

Don’t try to appeal to everyone. If your audience is middle-aged accountants, your quirky, hipster design might make you seem untrustworthy. On the other hand, if your customers are indeed quirky hipsters, you probably don’t want to come across as a middle-aged accountant.

Research similar brands and gather ideas on what you like and what you don’t like. Ideally, gather a focus group of your customers and ask them for feedback.

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No brand and visual identity

Bottom line, this is a crucial mistake. A brand identity does not equal your logo. Instead, brand identity relates to the overarching strategy of what you want to achieve: what kind of a message you want to convey and to what audience. What kind of emotion your potential customers will feel from your brand too.

Creating your brand identity is a long, detailed process that cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. But, it is important to bear in mind that whether you’re just starting out or have an established business, building your brand is an ongoing process and one of the key aspects of your work.

Tied to the brand identity is the visual identity itself, which is the way your brand is perceived thanks to all the branding assets included in marketing, communication, PR efforts, etc.

A quick tip we can share for starting the development of your visual identity is to start by creating a mood board. Think of designs you’ve seen and liked, and keep an eye on what these companies are doing. Make sure to check out your competitors, but when it comes to design, don’t limit yourself to your industry.

sbb 4.jpg


Ok, so finding inspiration is one thing—copying a totally different one.

First of all, copyright is a real thing, and if you get caught, you might get yourself into some serious legal trouble. Secondly, people aren’t stupid. If you take someone else’s well-known design, they will probably figure out you’re a phony.

Like this South Korean coffee company whose logo was very similar to another brand, you’re probably familiar with. Although Starbucks lost its copyright infringement claim (and the local nature of Starpreya might have had something to do with that), there’s probably a bitter aftertaste to being called a copycat in the first instance.

plagiarism design mistake.jpg Creativebloq

Moreover, Starbucks later scrapped the black background making their famous mermaid more distinctive. Sure, this industry giant probably has resources to spend and keep one step ahead in the design game. Still, we at least believe you can have an amazing, original design without breaking the bank.

Bad choice of fonts and colors

Design is subjective. Yet there’s no beating around the bush with this one: there is such a thing as bad design. What it comes down to is usually a mix of things—overcrowding, confusing messages, inappropriate use of visuals, etc.

However, many designs fail due to something much simpler: poor choices of font and color.

Using colors that are too contrasting can give viewers an instant headache, while elements too similar to the background might blend in. Of course, you can be bold—think of the McDonald’s logo, for example. Red and yellow are intentionally chosen since it’s been proven that this color combination makes people feel hungry.

Similarly, there are a couple of fonts that are considered a bit of a no-no in the professional world, like Comic Sans and Papyrus (SNL explained it quite well with this hilarious video).

On the other hand, even the most well-designed and beautiful fonts can turn out to be a pretty horrific choice. A critical thing to bear in mind is kerning or the spacing between letters, which can make a world of difference to what you’re trying to write/say. This design fail is one that has already made history by using the wrong font and spacing between letters.

And here’s how even the best-designed world-known logos, like Facebook’s, can look with a bad choice of a font.

facebook goldmarie.jpg

Also, remember to step away from your design from time to time, and make sure you get someone else to see it before you settle on the final version.

Too much going on

You would think that with so many reminders, people would have learned. Less.Is.More.

It’s understandable that if you’re excited about your brand (as you should be), you sometimes get carried away. So if you are guilty of overcrowding your designs, we understand. Just please don’t do it anymore.

Consider what your clients need to know and save the trivia of your favorite holiday for some other time. If you have a lot of products/work experience to show, that’s great. Just don’t show them all at once like these guys.

busy design fail.jpg Arngren

When I think simple, I often think of the iconic Macy’s brown bag. The design is as plain as it gets, but it works so well with what they’re trying to sell: the excitement of shopping. Macy’s is a department store, which means that the bag can contain anything from Italian boots to linen, and the mystery of it always gets me!

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Not enough going on

The bag was a good example of simplicity, how about a bad one?

too simple design mistake.jpg Touch Start

No, I would not like to touch start as I have no clue what’s about to happen!

Design examples such as this one are not going to attract a wide audience, and definitely aren’t informative enough and fitting for a small business. Unless your target market is exclusively edgy hipsters, it’s safe to assume that most businesses will do better with a more traditional-looking design (especially for a website).

The key to producing a design that is not oversaturated, but also has everything it needs in it, is keeping it simple and in line with the branding guide.

Misleading CTA or too many CTAs

A great call to action (CTA) is two things: clear and well-timed. Your landing pages, digital marketing posts and website design need to have a consistent, truthful and relevant CTA, rationed and placed at the right spots.

It’s totally fine to use traditional ones like ‘buy now,’ ‘learn more’ or ‘sign up,’ but also feel free to get a little creative.

Don’t make too many calls to action at once, but try to have one strong CTA as the focal point of your design. If you look at this very confusing example of Macy’s email marketing, you probably won’t know where you should click, but you might realize what a cacophony of CTAs feels like.

cta bad example.jpg Econsultancy

The perfect CTA also comes right on time. Make it too soon, and your customers might find you annoying and pushy (like the website example above). Put it at the very bottom, and some people might not stick around long enough to notice it.

Great design can make your CTA both subtle and powerful. This example by one of our designers does precisely that—it focuses on how the product helps you (the tempting prospect of ‘discovering the world’) and tells you why you should act now (discount). The ‘Let’s go,’ although understated, has a powerful pull afterward.

cta good example.jpg

Boring visuals

You might think we are biased, but good design has proven to be a must for any successful business.

A stock photo can often do the trick, and with so many platforms, you probably won’t run out of options. However, stock photos can leave a lot of people yawning. And sometimes, they look nothing like reality and you end up with these extremely amusing examples of poor stock photography.

If you’re using photographs, it’s always better to use ones of your business and your team. If you can’t afford to hire a professional photographer, you can always try to polish your pics off in photo editing software. Or, spruce up your design with illustrations. Luckily, our vast illustration gallery offers plenty of free editable illustrations in multiple styles.

manypixels illu gallery.jpg

Dated design

Not everyone is super trendy, and honestly, not everyone needs to be. If you sell agricultural products, it’s not likely your customer base will be looking for trending videos on TikTok.

That being said, with the online world going through constant changes, you simply cannot afford to have graphics that haven’t been updated since the 80s. Whether or not they consider themselves interested in design, your customers have not been living under a rock. This means that they will have come across good graphic design examples which they will judge yours by.

Irish Wrecks Online is a great bad example. Apart from having a confusing CTA (although it tells you to click the ship logo, this isn’t at all intuitive), the outdated design makes every piece of information seem untrustworthy.

irish shipwrecks.jpg

Inconsistent design in digital marketing

Digital marketing, and especially social media marketing, requires experimenting and pivoting. Not every campaign you do can be perfectly aligned with your branding and visual identity, however, there are simple tactics that will help you create an art direction that can span across platforms.

Whether you infuse your logo as a watermark, use the same colors in frames, communicate with emojis on social media, or completely start from scratch to define your look, just make sure your design is consistent.

Web design mistakes

Your business website is a huge part of your branding, and possibly one of the most important places for you to get customers. People tend to discover businesses online more and more, so risking losing potential customers because of a badly designed website that lacks good functionality is something you cannot afford.

Whether you will be working with a web design company, freelance web designers, or simply making your own website from a Wix or WordPress template, some things are extremely important to nail.

For example, your homepage needs to be informative and easy to navigate, and you need to use the right wording for each webpage for better SEO so that you rank better locally.

Web design surely needs to be pretty, but even more importantly, it needs to be intuitive. Think of the user experience, not just how you want your website to look. Small business websites are often one-pagers and very crammed, so users are discouraged to get informed or buy online. If you want to incorporate ecommerce into your strategy, you need an optimized and well-structured website.

Relay all the important contact information in a user-friendly way, and show them what your business is about with impactful design. A screen size fits a mobile phone number, some values and CTAs (more about that later), product shots, brand story… Everything important, but designed according to your brand guide and consistent with every other marketing effort.

One of the most common web design mistakes small businesses make is also not making the website mobile-friendly. In 2020, 80% of shoppers used a mobile phone inside of a physical store to either look up product reviews, compare prices or find alternative store locations. So your website needs to be optimized for mobile devices too. Even better, you can create a mobile app.


Great design isn’t a luxury, nor should it be an afterthought in growing your business. Instead, it should be an integral part of your business strategy.

If you’re just starting out, make sure you’re confident about your brand identity and know what kind of audience you’re targeting.

And if you’ve spotted a design mistake you’re guilty of, try using some of our tips to set your design back on track!

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Danica Popovic

February 18, 2021

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.