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Small Businesses


9 Design Mistakes Small Businesses Make

March 4, 2020
Danica Popovic


You’re losing customers right now. Why? Picture this: Someone is visiting your website, 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. However, it’s not about being unreasonable. Any business that takes itself and its customers seriously will invest resources into good design.

No brand identity

This is a biggie. Remember, brand identity does not equal your logo. Instead, brand identity relates to the overarching strategy of what you want you want to achieve: what kind of a message you want to convey and to what audience.

Creating your brand identity is a long, detailed process that we don’t have the time or space to get into now. It’s 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.

Maybe it’s things you haven’t even thought about or just a rookie mistake. We’re going to go through the most common design mistakes to help you avoid making them yourself

brand identity example By Ramotion

A quick tip we can share is to start by creating a mood board. There are many platforms you can do this at: Pinterest, Milanote, Sampleboard, to name a few.

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.

And remember, inspiration is not the same as plagiarism. Look for inspiration everywhere, but be sure to make your brand your own.

Bad colors and fonts

Sure, 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 both bright, bold colors, but they belong to the same palette.

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-meaning and beautiful of fonts can turn out to be a pretty horrific choice. This design fail is one that has already made history by making the word glitter look like something much more ominous

font design fail.jpg Twitter

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.

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 bag can contain anything from Italian boots to linen, and the mystery of it always gets me!

Not enough going on

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

too simple design mistake.png AintWet

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

To be completely honest, sites like this one belong to a relatively new movement of website design, called brutalist. The idea is to subvert traditional expectations of website design and offer an honest, to-the-point presentation of your product/service.

That being said, this trend is yet to gain a wide following. So unless your audience are exclusively edgy hipsters, it’s safe to assume that most businesses will do better with a more traditional-looking design (especially for a website). Relay all the important information in a user-friendly way, and show them what your business is about with impactful design.

Unclear CtA

A great call to action (CtA) is two things: clear and well-timed.

This isn’t a time to be shy—ask your clients upfront what you would like them to do. 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 ManyPixels

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 are 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.

know your audience.png By Carrie Voldengen


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 amazing, original design without breaking the bank.

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.

There are many good alternatives out there, illustrations being an increasingly popular one. 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 a photo editing software.

photo editing good design.jpg By Offspace Team

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 Shipwrecks 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.


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

March 4, 2020

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.