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6 Newbie Graphic Designer Mistakes to Avoid

8 April 2015

Like any skilled profession, graphic design has a learning curve that can result in several common beginners’ mistakes. These gaffes may range from how you approach your design to the relationships you form with your clients. Here are 6 of the top major mistakes prevalent among young graphic designers, and how to avoid them.

6 Newbie Graphic Designer Mistakes to Avoid

1. Messy Design Elements

New graphic designers often go above and beyond to please new clients and showcase their talents. However, left unchecked, this eagerness can lead to overdesign and even a bit of chaos. So keep your focus on implementing a simple and clean design, unless your client specifies otherwise.

2. Failing to Sign a Contract

Unfortunately, graphic designers don’t always protect themselves with client contracts. Be aware that, without a contract, unscrupulous clients could short you or take your work without proper compensation. Although you may think that asking a client for a more formal agreement involving a contract might scare them away, it’s important to get one signed anyway.

3. Stock Image Overuse

As a web designer, it’s tempting to use simple stock photos. Unfortunately, the best stock photos are already being used across the web, which can detract from the originality of your web design. If possible, include your own images. Take them yourself, if feasible, or, if your budget allows, partner with a photographer you know and trust. Let your client know that you’re putting extra time and effort to deliver them personalized images, and they'll notice the difference.

4. Stale Designs

As a graphic designer, you may have a great sense of aesthetics, but it's also important to stay on top of the latest trends to make sure you offer something fresh. Creating a design that stands out from the competition can be one of the single best ways to keep clients happy.

5. Not Understanding a Client’s Needs

Always check and double-check that you fully understand your client’s needs before producing a design. Build a roadmap of your graphic or web design plan and make sure your client is on board. This will help you please the client the first time around and help you avoid costly redesigns.

6. Not Knowing Your Limits

You may want to take on a lot of work, but it’s important to set deadlines you can meet and tackle projects that are within your skill set. Over time, your knowledge of graphic design will grow and you’ll be more comfortable tackling more complex projects. Until then, know your limits.


Remember, everyone makes mistakes. It's an unavoidable and essential part of learning something new, but you can always learn from the mistakes of those who come before you! To really up your design game, consider earning a degree in the area of Graphic & Web Design. Explore our programs today!

Announcing the 8th Annual Graphic & Web Design Career Series

1 April 2015

The 2015 Graphic and Web Design Career Series is just around the corner! The Graphic and Web Design Department at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh — Online Division is holding weekly webinars from April 9 to April 30, 2015, open to current students.

This annual event features top industry professionals and designers as guest speakers, who will discuss critical industry topics and creative inspiration in two hour sessions on Thursday evenings at 7pm ET. Attendees will gain valuable insights on career preparation and what to expect when working as a design professional. Register now via the Campus Common Events Calendar!

This year’s lineup includes:

Brent Stickels, Co-Founder and Partner of YYES
Dear Hiring Manager: And Other Job Search Fails

Landing your dream job isn’t too likely if you don’t know how to impress a hiring manager. Join Brent Stickels, co-founder and partner of YYES, a boutique design studio, as he discusses how to stand out from other applicants without choking. Learn how he got his first jobs, mistakes he made, and wins he earned to get where he is today.

David Taylor, Recruiting Manager with The Creative Group
Starting Your Career Adventure: Correcting the Course and Upgrading Your Gear

Sometimes it takes a bit of savvy searching to find the right career opportunity. As The Creative Group’s recruiting manager, David Taylor works with many motivated and inspired candidates, helping them to better market themselves and discover the right path to pursue their career adventures. Join us to learn common misconceptions about the job hunting process and a number of tips on how to better your resume, digital presence, portfolio, and interview techniques.

Bob Calvano, Vice President, Design: A+E Networks, New York
What the Heck Does a Design Career Look Like?

Join us as Bob discusses what he thought a career would look like and how the path traveled is nothing like he anticipated. See highlights of work from some of the various parts of his career journey, as well as his latest work at A+E Networks. Gather round for some inspiration and two cents of advice for starting out in the design profession, from the man who leads visual and user experience design for A+E’s portfolio of properties, including A&E, Lifetime, HISTORY, LMN, FYI, and HISTORY 2.

Wendy MacNaughton, Illustrator and Graphic Journalist
Illustration as a Career and Other Things I Never Thought I’d Give a Talk About

Wendy’s discussion will address her journey to becoming a professional illustrator and graphic journalist. She is a New York Times best-selling illustrator and graphic journalist based in San Francisco. Her work appears in publication like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Print Magazine. Wendy has authored a number of books, including Meanwhile in San Francisco, The City in Its On Words; Pen & Ink, Tattoos and The Stories Behind Them; and Lost Cat. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Art Center College of Design, and a Master of Science in Social Work from Columbia University. She is the 2015 artist in residence at the Zen Hospice Project.

There are only a limited number of spots available for each presentation, so register today using the Campus Common Events Calendar!

To request disability related accommodations for a virtual event please contact the event organizer in advance at

Student Represents Phoenix, AZ, in Annual Photography Contest

27 February 2015

Lisa Hanard, a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design student at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division, was selected to represent her city of Phoenix, AZ, in the photography division of the 6th Annual RAWards, moving on to the national stage of the competition! More than 15,000 artists across the country participate in the indie arts award competition each year.

The RAWards has a total of 9 categories, including visual artist, fashion designer, musician, filmmaker, hairstylist, makeup artist, photographer, performer, and accessories of the year.

The final winner in each category will be announced on Monday, March 2, 2015. Congratulations and good luck Lisa!

Check out some of Lisa’s amazing photographs:

Lisa Hanard with her photos

Lisa Hanard photo

Lisa Hanard photo

Lisa Hanard photo

Lisa Hanard photo

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3 Design Elements to Focus on in Testing

13 November 2014

Do your web design choices compel users to take further action or cause them to swiftly click away? Once you have great written content, your design must be carefully crafted. Sometimes, A/B testing will reveal the most effective design, while other times, asking directly for feedback offers a wealth of information. Here are just a few graphic design and web elements that should be tested.

1. CTA Position

The call-to-action, or CTA, tells the user what you want him to do next. Maybe you want him to sign up for a webinar, or perhaps the CTA will help a user navigate to a video. The CTA is usually a clickable button that should be placed near the top of the page. Users may scroll down to the bottom of the screen, but only if your content and design compel them to read that far. In many cases, placing the CTA at the top of the screen where the user can't miss it is the best choice. Remember that web users read in an F-shaped pattern. Testing CTA position lets you see where it is most likely to be clicked.

CTA buttons2. CTA Color

The color of your CTA button is another important element of any interactive design. Some colors will jump out from the page better than others, and, when your background is white, many options exist. The color of the CTA should stand out on your design -- but not like a sore thumb. Finding the right CTA color can be a fine line; it should typically be consistent with the overall design scheme, but the CTA may be ignored if it blends in with the background or neighboring design elements. The only way to know what CTA colors work best is testing!

3. Photo Selection

A powerful image may keep people on a web page or email screen and increase user engagement. Using images of real customers, versus stock photography, generally adds more value to the design. However, product photos may also be more appropriate in certain situations. The placement and size of the photo will also affect its impact. Users may ignore an image placed off to the side without a clear relationship to the text. Knowing which image will connect best with the end user may be a bit of a guessing game. Testing enables designers to determine which photos elicit the best response from users.

Testing Methods

TestingOne popular means of testing your web or interactive design is A/B testing. When utilizing this method, you will create two versions of your email, landing page, website, or other design to implement simultaneously. In most cases, each version is exactly the same, minus one difference--that could be copy, CTA color, CTA position, or any other element you are testing. Sometimes, you may need to test two entirely different designs, but when you begin changing multiple pieces on your design it becomes hard to know to which design elements you can attribute success. Whichever version produces the most interactions can be used moving forward--and you can always continue testing other elements over time. Remember, testing your web design stands to greatly increase the success of your efforts. Don't be afraid to learn by trial and error!

Learn more about web design best practices in our Web Design & Interactive Media Programs.

The Ideal Client: How and Why to Create Personas

9 October 2014

If you want to launch a career in a creative field such as web design, fashion design, or video game development, you should understand the vital role of personas. Personas, which should be used throughout the creative and development process, are in-depth profiles of potential clients. Those make-believe individuals will represent precisely the kinds of customers that you're trying to reach.

By creating personas, you help yourself and your colleagues to analyze andunderstand your customers, audience, or users. Once you’ve built personas, all of your decisions should rely on these imaginary people and what would—or would not—resonate with them or move them to action. Ask yourself about their wants, their needs, and their goals. Think about their prior knowledge and background and how that will influence the way they interact with what you create.

Be aware, however, that you should only rely on three or four personas for one project or campaign; have more than that and it starts to get confusing. Therefore, those personas you select must accurately represent your largest groups of potential customers. Of course, you won't be able to capture every potential user in those personas; the key is to cover as many as you can.

How to create a persona

To create effective personas, you'll first have to do some investigating. That is, you must learn about the backgrounds and needs of the people who are most likely to seek your services. This kind of inquiry is called market research.

Step 1: Market research

There are several ways in which to conduct market research. For starters, you can interview past and current customers over the phone or in person, and you can direct them to online surveys. To ensure that enough people complete such interrogations, you could offer them discounts in exchange for participating. You may also be able to conduct research about those who purchase products from your closest competitors. You could even contact trade associations, major industry publications, and even friends who are in the same business as you; ask them to send you some of the customer data that they've collected over time. Even if you don’t have customers yet, you can create personas based on information you find about your target customers or the people most likely to purchase your product or service.

Step 2: Find patterns

Once your market research is complete, it's time to turn those statistics into personas. To get started, identify recurring patterns in the customer information that you've gathered in order to settle on three or four archetypes. For example, if teachers and women between the ages of 50 and 60 are among the people who appear the most often, one of your personas could describe a female, 55-year-old high school teacher. 

Step 3: Templatize

Your next step is to create a template for your personas so that they'll have a uniform layout. It's wise to search the Internet for personas and to study as many as you can; borrow the elements that most appeal to you. Your final product should be clean, attractive, and easy to read; you’ll probably be sharing this document a lot! Each entry should also include a photo of the person's face: You can purchase the rights to stock photos, or include of friends and family members.

Step 4: Fill in the details

When it comes to the text of a persona, provide the person's first name next to the photo. Below the name, supply information in several categories. The first grouping should be a demographic outline, which might include:

- age
- ethnicity
- place of residence
- educational history
- marital status
- any other relevant factors

Other categories could be employment details, technical knowledge, and relevant interests. Finally, set up a section that describes what the person would need and expect from you and your business. Note that you should use short phrases and bullet points to present these facts, rather than complete sentences.

Step 5: Distribute your personas

Once, you’ve assembled personas, make sure to share them with other designers, your stakeholders, manager, and anyone else on the project team. Remember, your persona will help you focus on your audience and ensure that your design is functional and relevant for your customers—making you more likely to succeed!

Sign up for our upcoming graphic design webinar!

23 September 2014


Mike Massengale & Garry McKee, senior full-time faculty members in graphic design at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division, present “Skills Graphic Designers Should Learn,” to be held Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 6pm ET. All enrolled students are invited to attend!

About the webinar

Topics that will be covered include:

• The importance of learning to draw
• Learning the art of the pitch
• Learning the importance of teamwork

During the event, students can volunteer to speak. If you would like to speak, you can virtually raise your hand and wait to be called upon. In addition, you can submit your comments through the comments module in the webinar. Some of these comments will be read aloud during the session.


If you're a current student, register for the virtual event at Space is limited.

Meet the presenters

Mike Massengale
MikeArtist Mike Massengale is best known for his liquid vibrations style. Mike often uses music to drive the emotion of his signature style—warm, emotionally evocative images that are dreamy and tranquil yet alive with intense colors. Massengale’s mediums cover the gamut—from oil and pastel to digital painting. He is always studying new techniques that lend themselves to his style and his work has resonated with audiences and buyers throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Mike resides in South Carolina with his wife and twin children (son and daughter), where he illustrates and teaches full-time at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division. Massengale holds an AA in Commercial Art from Anderson College, a BS in Commercial Fine Arts from Appalachian State University, an MA in Illustration from Syracuse University, and a MFA in Illustration from University of Hartford School of Art. During the past 30 years he has worked in commercial art in a number of capacities including graphic artist, illustrator, animator, art director, and creative director.

Garry McKee
GaryGarry McKee earned his MFA from Georgia Southern University. Just after graduating in 2000, he began teaching full time as a member of the Graphic Design Department at The Art Institute of Atlanta, where he remained until 2005. In January 2005, he moved from being a full-time faculty member at The Art Institute of Atlanta to being a full-time faculty member with The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division.

During that time, he has remained active as a freelance print/web designer and illustrator with clients ranging from Tyco Electronics, to Marvel Comics, to a wide variety of local and regional organizations. You can find his work at or view videos and tutorials on his Youtube channel: theseersucker. His Google+ and Twitter handle is theseersucker as well. As he explains, he “apparently has an odd fascination with the fabric.”

To find and register for more student events, check out the Events Calendar in the Campus Common today!

How to Choose the Right Typography for Your Next Project

18 July 2014


Choosing fonts for a project can be an overwhelming task if you don't know what look you're going for. Typography is just as important as a logo, so choose one that echoes your brand's personality. Here are some tips on how to choose the right font for your next project.

Define your style

Are you creating content for fashion, technology, or children? Your style will greatly depend on the subject matter of your content. For instance, if you're doing graphic design for a hip fashion marketing company, you may want to go with something bold and modern.

Choose professional fonts

There are many free resources for fonts on the web. It's very easy to download a few and make choices from there. However, only a few resources offer well-made fonts that are fit for professional use. Some sites that feature high-quality fonts are Fontsquirrel and Myfonts. You can also check out Google's Webfonts and Typekit for fonts intended for web-based projects.

Get opinions

Choose two fonts you are considering to use and create samples using both. Print them out and show them to friends, colleagues and anyone else whose opinion matters to you and ask which one they think looks best. Make sure you provide some basic information of the project you're using them for. Sometimes getting second, third and fourth opinions on a certain design can give you more insight and help you make a final decision.


Look around for similar projects that have great exposure. Billboards, magazine ads and posters are great things to observe when gauging the appropriateness of certain typographical styles. Sticking with the fashion marketing example, find out what type of font what other fashion companies are using. What gets your attention? What fonts make sense when used with similar content?

Use licensed fonts

You may not be aware of it, but certain fonts are protected by copyright. Whether you plan to use a font for personal or commercial use, be sure that you are doing so without infringing on the creator's work. While some fonts may be free to use for personal use, there may be some restrictions on where and how they can be used professionally. To get more details, check out The Law on Fonts and Typefaces from Crowdspring.

Most importantly, choosing a font for your project is a personal journey. The typography you select should make a connection with you, your vision, and what you want to tell the world. While these tips can get you started, only you can decide where your font-hunting quest ends and your project begins.

Don’t Miss the 2014 Graphic Design Career Series

25 March 2014

With weekly webinars taking place from April 3, 2014 to May 1, 2014, the Graphic Design Department at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division announces the seventh annual Graphic Design Career Series. Each presentation is open to current students via GoToWebinar.

In 2014, this exciting event features top industry professionals and designers discussing critical industry topics as well as their creative inspiration. The discourse provides students with valuable insight to contemporary professional practice and career preparation. The talks will include:

Jenn Godbout 
Associate Director of Partnerships at Behance, part of the Adobe family
The Art of Self Promotion with Behance
Thursday, April 3, 2014 | 7:00pm - 9:00pm ET

Whether your goal is to work in-house at creative company, or build your own business as a freelancer – your online presence can make or break your career. Join Jenn Godbout from Behance, the leading online platform to showcase and discover creative work, as she discusses what makes an online portfolio successful, why self-curation is so important and how to make the best first impression online.

Sumaya Kazi 
Founder and CEO of
How to Connect with the People You Don't Know, But Should
Thursday, April 10, 2014 | Time: 7:00pm - 9:00pm ET

This insightful talk, How to Connect with the People You Don't Know, But Should will explore the power of networking. Sumaya will share her story of her path toward entrepreneurship, and how she utilized networking to become an award-winning entrepreneur. She will provide actionable insights on tools and ways to utilize networking to get ahead.

Bill Thorburn
Chief Executive Officer at The Thorburn Group
Branding as Storytelling
Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 7:00pm - 9:00pm ET

Bill has been honored to work with some of the world’s most prestigious brands: Coke, Harley Davidson, Disney, Formica, VH1, United Colors of Benetton, Nike, Porsche, LaCoste, Capital Records, and Hallmark. The work of Bill and his team has been consistently honored in every industry publication from Communication Arts to ID Magazine for the past 20 years, winning every award from a Cannes Lion to the prestigious Gold pencil. The topic of Bill’s talk is branding as storytelling.

Jeni Herberger 
Creative Pro Turned Corporate Guru and Founder of Creative Concepts
Creativity + Business
Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 7:00pm - 9:00pm ET

Jeni's talk, Creativity + Business, will address why creativity is a key skill in addressing today’s business challenges. Every designer must learn to approach the process with whole-brain thinking. Discover creative confidence – the natural ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out. Learn the fundamentals of creative thinking and be introduced to tools that will spark inspiration and innovation.

Noreen Moiroka
Partner, AdamsMorioka, Inc
Being a Famous Designer is like being a Famous Dentist
Thursday, May 1, 2014 | 7:00pm - 9:00pm ET

If you Google Noreen Morioka, most likely this quote will come up many times. This was one of her answers 15 years ago when a student asked what it was like to be a famous designer. In her presentation, Noreen will share how, together with Sean Adams, they built AdamsMorioka on the simple test of who and what is the right project to work on. She'll share shortcuts to succeeding with clients, professional advice on building a business, and, most importantly, knowing who you are and where you should be headed. Plus Noreen has a few strong pirate jokes just in case you get bored.

Space for each presentation is limited. Register today using the Campus Common Events Calendar!

Who Will Be Our Next Student Blogger?

27 October 2013

Calling all Graphic Design students at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division! The Connections Graphic Design department group, with over 1,000 members, is looking for volunteer student bloggers. Here’s an example of what we publish!

Some Things Never Change

by Julie Lewis, Associate of Science in Graphic Design student

Julie Lewis

It’s the first day of class. Some things never change. Will I like my teacher? Will I meet anyone interesting? Will I be able to do the work?

What grade could this student possibly be in? Grade school? Middle School? High School? I am a 45 year old online art student at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division. But I still experience some of the same wonderings, awkwardness, and excitement as I did in kindergarten, and I get to experience it every 5 1/2 weeks.

The first week of class is typically similar. You make your introductions and read each other’s biographies. We get to look over our online classroom and get a feel for what is expected. Then, after those few short weeks, we come out much more skilled and knowledgeable.

As a midlife student, it is a wonderful opportunity to be in such a diverse mix of people. Because we are studying art together in the online setting, we actually see each other in a very personable way. I cannot say I recognize a person’s classwork with their being, but more in the mysterious sense of seeing what their heart sees in such a passionate field. We generally do not know what our classmates look or sound like, but before the class is over, I can generally place a name to the artwork of most of my classmates. It’s very enjoyable seeing everyone’s personal style.

Style, hmmm, is there an age gap in style? Not from what I have seen. Everyone has their own uniqueness. I have been in class with adults of a more mature age than myself that love fantasy art, just as I have shared class with young adults straight from high school that have shown a style for very classic designs. Our common joy is the love of art.

In 2012, Complex Art+Design gave a list of 20 Graphic Designers You Should Know. These talented designers are men and women, young and not as young, who visually communicate with and inspire us. These designers are more refined than we students are today, but we are learning to think and express our style just as they have.

Do you find yourself designing with simple, strong, and free work like Henri Matisse? Maybe your work is more parallel to the studied and controlled work of Edgar Degas. When you are designing who do you go to for inspiration?

Would you like to discuss this blog post or read more from Julie? Visit the Graphic Design group in Connections from the Campus Common

Interested in writing Graphic Design blog posts? Do you have knowledge to share or interest in a specific design topic? We'd love to have you be a student blogger! It's a great opportunity to blog about design, connect with your fellow design peers and a nice addition to your resume. Contact Mary Clare at for more information.

Want to submit a post on another subject for Submit your writing at

6 Easy-to-Follow Rules for Designing Better Logos

10 October 2013


Designing a logo is no easy task, whether you're designing for a new company or reworking the symbol of an established brand.

Great logos make a company stand out while reinforcing their mission and appealing to their target clients. If you want to be known for your impressive logo designs, be sure you’re following these important guidelines.

Building a New Brand

1. Create a Timeless Look
One of the most successful, lasting and inspiring brand graphics is the "I Heart NY" logo created by Milton Glaser in the 1970s. From coffee cups to billboards, it's endearing message has motivated massive numbers of sales. It's simplistic and doesn't have any particular era attached to it, which makes it timeless and ever-current.

2. Reflect Your Brand, Not Your Industry
Apple's famous logo isn't a computer; it's instead a piece of fruit that has been bitten into. Twitter isn't a mini-post, rather it's a bird with an open mouth. Both of these highly successful images support the brands without incorporating obvious industry elements. This is important when it comes to standing out against the competition.

3. Aim for Versatility and Scalability
Successful businesses use their logos in all kinds of ways, on bumper stickers and stenciled on office doors. Logos are often featured on all of the company's products, on the website, letterheads and business cards and even on billboards.

While Apple's logo has been a semi-eaten apple almost since the company's conception, the first logo was an intricate illustration of Sir Isaac Newton's fabled discovery of gravity. Unfortunately, you couldn't really tell what it was from a few feet away, and thus it was tossed aside as being too busy. Remember, simplicity is key.

Preserving an Established Reputation

1. Stay Low-key
If Yahoo!'s new, redesigned logo had popped up by surprise, the feedback might have been positive. Unfortunately the company made a big to-do over what turned out to be very small changes to the previous logo. It didn't take bloggers long to turn it into a metaphor for the company's less-than-impressive actions over the last few years. Twitter had similar adjustments made to its logo and few people criticized the move. What was the difference? Twitter didn't make the modification such a big deal.

2. Work with Your Target Market
JCPenney's sales dropped after a re-branding effort in 2012, complete with the release of a logo it claimed supported American-made goods and prices that ensured customers were getting a "square deal." It turns out that JCP customers are not bargain shoppers. They didn't gel with the new logo, so the company moved on–-from the design and the designer.

3. Provide Continuity
Microsoft has made stark changes to its designs over the last 40 years, but one thing has always stayed the same. Look closely and you will see that the letters F and T are always connected. Starbucks had gone through major logo changes as well, but it has stuck closely to its mermaid design, stating in 2011 that its signature siren was well known enough to speak for the brand all by herself. Familiarity breeds friendship, and, ultimately, sales.

These marketing methods can keep a brand fresh while retaining the company's current fan base. At The Art Institute of Pittsburgh — Online Division, our Graphic Design (AS) and (BS) degree programs include courses such as Corporate Identity and Graphic Symbolism, both of which allow you to learn more about brand imaging techniques. 

Read More
- Yahoo! and 10 Other Controversial Logo Changes
- Inc.Com: Characteristics of Great Logo Design
- Smashing Magazine: Vital Tips for Effective Logo Design

Want to learn more about The Art Institute of Pittsburgh -- Online Division? Speak with an Admissions Representative today!