The Twelve Deadly Sins of Design

harlanwestblogphotoBy Harlan West, Design and Marketing Professional with nearly 30 years of experience designing communications for major healthcare organizations, municipalities and large corporations.

Old Cemeteries - Row of Tombstones

Heed the warning and don’t make the following mistakes. Successful corporate communication designers know how to avoid these pitfalls:

1) Failure to include a call to action.  What is the purpose of a marketing or sales publication if it doesn’t produce a return on investment (ROE)? Let’s face it, the print world has largely gone away. Clients are looking for results from their advertising and marketing budgets. Promoting awareness or providing information alone just won’t cut it in today’s marketplace.

2) Failure to follow the client’s corporate design standards. Don’t overlook the brand. Shame, shame, on you if you do!!! Effective corporate communications are branded to help promote awareness of the corporate brand and to promote consistency of look and style.

3) Failure to select images that are not carefully vetted. For example, never show a person not wearing a seat belt in a carpool photo. Never show a bicyclist not wearing a helmet in a promotion for Bike to Work Day. Never show just one person driving a car in a brochure on ridesharing or commute options.

4) Designing text using colors that are too difficult to read.  This means colors that are too light, too bright or that are printed with fluorescent inks. I once saw a publication created by a popular art school that was indeed beautiful but you needed sunglasses to read it. Beautiful as it may have been, the publication was completely illegible since all the type was printed in bright orange fluorescent ink against a pure white background. Yikes.  Pass the sunscreen!

5) Failure to place functionality over aesthetics. A beautifully designed work of art which does not sell the product, promote awareness or even reach the targeted audience is a zero design. A piece can be the really beautiful, but if it doesn’t work what is the value? Remember what my grandmother used to say, “Beauty is only skin deep but ugly is to the bone.”

6) Failure to design a piece that cannot be easily printed. Many inexperienced designers create pieces that do not have proper bleeds, do not contain proper color call-outs, do not have plates that separate out or do not have postscript and properly licensed fonts. Have the printer review the art during the process to make sure that it can be printed using their equipment. Make sure that the printer has the correct print specifications.

7) Failure to include diversity or demographics.  Today’s world is important—it is a global community. Don’t “look yesterday!”  Be sure to represent people who are the intended audience and who represent the local community. Publications that fail to do so will be overlooked.

8) Failure to modify or enhance a stock image. These images can be easily spotted. Furthermore, you don’t want your photo to show up somewhere else.  All stock images need to be customized to the publication. Change the cropping, colorization, angle. Add a funky border treatment or combine photos or superimpose type so that the images do not look generic.

9) Failure to use high resolution images for print. Cell phone images usually don’t cut it. When designing for print be sure to use images that are at least 300 dots per inch. Low quality images almost always look bad.  Remember, ”garbage in is garbage out.”

10) Failure to use fonts that are easy on the eye. Using a condensed font, italicized type or all caps throughout can be a legibility nightmare. Don’t make your client go blind while attempting to read your publication.

11) Failure to design for the audience. Use large type for an older audience. Use graphics and color schemes which relate to the demographics and cultural traditions of the target group. Don’t design a super hip publication for an older audience and don’t create a stodgy traditional layout for a group of teens or millenials.

12) Failure to properly outline hair on people or what is known as the “helmet-head effect.” Avoid those bad hair days when your parents put a bowl around your head and cut off the excess hair. Hair needs to be soft with flowing strands, not hard angled and choppy. Don’t attempt to give someone a haircut if you are unskilled in Photoshop.

Follow these valuable tips and design with confidence.  Don’t be a sinner along the way.


If your company or organization needs an innovative or unique solution for a promotion or marketing campaign, please contact HWDS at hwdesign@west.netWe make beautiful things happen. To find out more, please visit

Harlan West is the author of and has been working as a creative director and design professional for nearly 30 years and has designed and art directed hundred of publications for both print and online purposes. HWDS and Associates, Inc. has been in business for 25 years.

As a Communicator, It’s Your Job to Help the Client See

harlanwestblogphotoBy Harlan West, Design and Marketing Professional with nearly 30 years of experience designing communications for major healthcare organizations, municipalities and large corporations.

Give Your Client Reading Glasses.

The road ahead is dark and clients cannot see with your help. You need to illuminate it.

Help them understand what you are thinking; they cannot read minds. Unfortunately, the client has an inability to visualize concepts without reviewing a layout or comp. Just assume that the client is not right-brained and cannot imagine what you are proposing.  Provide a conceptual roadmap.

patient at oculist

Create a map to the finish line
This starts the ball rolling. Some clients are unwilling to commit on a proposal or don’t know where to start. By jumping in feet first and developing some concepts, you give them a better way to get engaged with the project and to have a map to the finish line. Continue reading

The Twelve Deadly Sins of Print

Cmyk Publishing Shows Printing And Printer Ink


  1. Failure to have a proofreader review the final document.  There is nothing worse than a glaring typo on the front cover of a publication. Sometimes the most obvious typos are the most difficult to catch.
  2. Failure to review a proof from the printer. Don’t overlook this critical step. I often catch things at the proofing stage. Clients who don’t want to take this added precaution are penny-wise and pound-foolish.
  3. Failure to print sufficient quantity and then doing a costly reprint.  This is a frequent blunder. Had the client printed just a few hundred more copies (often pennies on the dollar), they would have have saved thousand of dollars on the reprinting.
  4. Failure to deliver the printed piece on-time to an important event.  Here’s an example of probably the worst delivery possible.  The printer produced a beautiful piece but the driver failed to deliver the piece on-time to the proper address.  Unfortunately for the printer, the piece was produced for an event that included VIPs, namely a congressional delegation.  Someone really had egg on their face that day.
  5. Failure to print text in a color that is legible. This may include type reverses.  Illegible colored type may not be obvious when proofing from the screen or even from a laser print. Small text printed in a very light or bright color such as yellow, pink or beige may be a nightmare to read on the printed page. Not including enough contrast between the type and the background may also inhibit legibility. Try squinting at the type to see if it is legible from about five feet. If not, change the color. It is best to err on the side of a darker color choice.
  6. Failure to design a product that is easily printable.  It is not uncommon for inexperienced designers to create a publication that is not easily printable.  This could be due to many factors—e.g., type that is too fine or too difficult to trap in 4-color process, special effects that do not knock-out properly, RGB files which are not set up to print as CMYK, insufficient bleeds, complicated overprinting areas, crossovers of art that are not on the center spread or ink colors that are too difficult to print in a large areas (metallic inks and Reflex Blue).
  7. Failure to print fine colored type in a PMS color rather than a spot color.  First of all, fine type called out as a CMYK is too difficult to register.  Moreover, the printing plates and paper may shift ever so slightly when the job is on press.  The dot pattern which makes up CMYK printing will result in type that has a jagged edge. To achieve the best results, always print fine type in black or as a special spot PMS plate. This will ensure sharp, beautiful type that is easy to read.
  8. Failure to set up art properly in prepress. Amateur designers often do not preflight the art to check the links and the proper color call-outs. They leave out files or create layouts.  Sometimes they even create their layouts in WORD.  WORD files do not easily translate to 4-color, high resolution art that the prepress department can separate into CMYK for offset printing.  Some designers often fail to account for “live” areas where  type and critical art should not go beyond. It is always best to allow plenty of space in the gutter and on bleeds so that critical art  does not get trimmed off at the edge or fall into the fold.
  9. Failure to properly allow for folds in the publication. Often designers run photos across a fold.  This may result in “crossover” photos that do not meet up on opposite side of the fold. I have seen people’s heads getting caught in the fold or staples running through a person’s eyes. Ouch!  Crossovers occur when an image “crosses over” from one page to the next and runs over the fold. Be sure to do a folded color comp before printing and use a printer who is adept at printing crossovers.  The printer needs to ensure that the bindery will account for the crossover during the ‘ever so’ critical folding stage of production.
  10. Failure to print the piece using high-resolution photos of at least 300 dpi.  Unskilled designers often make the mistake of printing the final piece using low-res photos taken from a cell phone or images pulled directly from the web. Take the time to locate high-res photos. If not buys some stock images and alter them a bit. The result will be crisp photos and graphics that are not pixelated or blurry. Remember, “Garbage In is Garbage Out.”
  11. Failure to check page numbers on proofs from the printer.  Printing an incorrect page number or date on the piece is a common blunder, especially on long publications.  Always check all page numbers and dates when you get a proof from the printer.  You or your client may not have done this earlier. Never skip this step or you will regret it!
  12. Failure to press check a complex job such as an annual report or catalog. It is not always “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG).  Assume that most jobs will print 10-15% darker on press due to dot gain. With a press check, you can “pull-down” colors that are printing too densely. You can also look for “hickeys” and inconsistent ink coverage.  Hickeys are a printing inconsistency that result from a spec of paper, dirt or other debris attaching itself to the printing plate or blanket.  This can be seen most easily in areas where heavy ink coverage is used.

Remember it is always best to resolve these issues before a job is on press. Once a job is at the printer the costs nearly quadruple.  Don’t be a sinner!  Create successful corporate communications…

25 Years of Successful Creative and Counting…


What do 25 years in the creative field mean?

Lots of gray hair or maybe no hair?  Both for sure.

Lots of client files.  Millions to be sure.

Lots of laughs.  Stories that will make you roll on the floor in hilarity for sure.

Lots of memories of wacky client requests.  Plenty of nail biting moments to be sure.

Lots of late nights.  No these were not for partying or a rendezvous.  I am sure.

Lots of edits. And more edits.  And more. With no end in sight.  To be sure.

Lots of beautiful printed samples.   Numerous enough to fill a museum.  Not sure.

Lots of contacts come and gone.  People change jobs quicker than some men change underwear.  For sure.

Lots of bids and proposals.  Gosh where did the time go?  Not sure.

Lots of old media.  CDs, disks, floppies, DAT taps, hard drives, zip drives and thumb drives.  Sure looks like a junk yard.  Surely.

Lots of old software.  Freehand, Quark, Word Perfect, Flash…  Sure I remember.

Lots of concepts cut on the drawing room floor.  We killed a forest! Sure did.

Lots of good times.  I wouldn’t trade it for the world!  For sure.


If your company or organization needs an innovative or unique design solution please contact HWDS at hwdesign@west.netWe make beautiful things happen. To find out more please visit

Harlan West is the author of and has been working as a creative director and design professional for more than 25 years and has designed and art directed hundred of publications for both print and online purposes.

A New Year Design Manifesto

springtime landscape

Here’s a list of resolutions to help you start out designing a successful New Year:

I WILL print less, digitize more…In this age of green, we can only move to greater use of online e-publications that have little impact on the environment. That does not mean that we should abandon print completely, but rather we should use it were we can have the greatest impact. Such effective uses include annual reports, car catalogs or product brochures and some direct mail pieces.
I WILL produce sustainable events that employ digital invitations, reusable directional signage, recyclable tableware, hand-printed nametags. Attendees might also be encouraged to use ridesharing or alternative fuel vehicles to reach the event.  Include commute options with the invitation.
I WILL design for cell phones, tablets and desktops with responsive design that adjusts to the device.
I WILL not print 2-color materials. Four-color printing gives so much more bang for the buck especially with the widespread use of digital printing.
I WILL design with clean, uncluttered and simple layouts with lots of white space.
I WILL use infographics to display data and I will skip the boring charts, graphs and tables. No one reads them.
I WILL refuse to use clipart.
I WILL refrain from using stock photos that have not been customized or altered. This consists of modifying photos so that they are unique to your publication or website.  This prevents them from reappearing in another publication and avoid the use of a stale prefabricated, canned image.
I WILL try to use PowerPoint less frequently for my presentations. In my opinion, it is dated and trite. I will try other programs such as Adobe Keynote or programs such as Adobe Muse to provide interactivity. Simple talking points with a few visuals are often enough. Why put the audience to sleep? If I do use PowerPoint, I will limit my presentations to five words per slide, and I will not repeat what is already visible on the screen. Try something new and original.
I WILL design websites that are informational and functional, rather than complex works of art. The days of websites driven by special effects and animated graphics are long gone.
I WILL create communications that show diversity and inclusivity in the use of photos.
I WILL strive to create publications that have a localized feel to better tie products and services to the community
I WILL strive develop publications which promote giving back to the community or that have a charitable component.
I WILL print on recycled papers using vegetable-based inks.
I WILL, I CAN AND I PROMISE to create better and more enriching communications.

Make 2016 the best it can be. Art makes life livable.

Finding New Design Inspiration in Victorian Architecture

harlanwestblogphotoBy Harlan West, Design and Marketing Professional with 28 years of experience designing materials for major healthcare organizations, municipalities and large corporations.

A Victory for Design

During a recent family vacation to San Francisco, I happened to stumble across a wonderful cache of very ornate Victorian homes. These homes are quite beautiful in their unique design and each included a vast array of exterior decorative elements.  These elements can provide a great source of inspiration for corporate design, logos and graphical enhancements for publications for print and online. We have created some interesting design elements influenced by Victorian architecture. These can be seen below.

San francisco - Central street

Characteristics of these old beauties can include:

  • bay windows
  • colorful moldings, called dentils, which frame the house
  • a series of columns extending to the roofline
  • cornices where the roofline and wall meet and extension of wood protrudes from the roofline
  • clapboard siding, common wood used along the sides of the house instead of brick
  • windows, called dormers which protrude from the roof.  Each often has its own roof.

ARCHWAY windows


Graphical ElementsVictorian Homes3

victorian2BIn addition, most Victorian houses are narrow, have stairs, towers and turrets, decorative trim, asymmetrical design, unique window styles, tiny balconies, and wrap around porches. Queen Anne Victorians often have stained glass windows and have decorative trim painted in a contrasting color to the siding. Wrought iron railings frequently adorn the stairs and porches. Many of these porches also have roofs, called porticos. In short, each Victorian house has its own personality and nothing of this style is ever too extravagant.

What is also so wonderful about these Victorians is that they demonstrate some of the most fundamental principles of successful design:

  • repetition
  • pattern
  • balance
  • contrast
  • unity
  • harmony
  • dominance

Victorians4The architects of the period also employed these elements of design:

  • strong lines
  • geometric shapes
  • vertical direction (showing an upward movement)
  • contrasting colors
  • value consisting of lightness or darkness of color throughout the exterior facade

Here’s some logo samples that we created using Victorian decorative elements.

Logo sheet

With decorative design, inspired by these impressive Victorian houses, you can add visual interest to any corporate communication.  Go ahead and see what a difference Victorian architecture can make!


If your company or organization needs an innovative or unique creative solution for a promotion or marketing campaign, please contact HWDS at hwdesign@west.netWe make beautiful things happen. To find out more, please visit

Harlan West is the author of and has been working as a creative director and design professional for more than 28 years and has designed and art directed hundred of publications for both print and online purposes.

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