Creativity is in the Details

By Noel Lenard, Graphic Designer

With graphic design, going the extra mile is worth almost as much as starting the race. Everyone has watched a movie, read a book, or seen an ad and thought, “If they had just (done that thing) better, it would have been great!” You don’t want people to say that about your work, or the media your company has its name on. **Managers, directors, and designers, take note:** While there are various ways of creating designs, a quick fix will rarely make the cut when the ads are printed and the site is live. Whether it be isolating an image, making your pasted-together image seem like you shot it like that, or even adding copy, faster is not always better. When your clients’ ads and products will be seen by millions, the extra attention to detail will separate you from the rest and save your work from landing on any “Photoshop Fails” lists.

Detail Mistake #1 – Poorly Isolating Images

Speaking of Photoshop, non-designers rarely know what is involved in making an image what they want it to be (Hint: It’s almost never 2 clicks, and the wand tool isn’t really magic). Let’s say you want a picture of an orange in your ad, but your favorite shot of an orange is a stock image. If the stock image already has a solid background, here are 2 ways to go about removing the white and keeping the citrus.


Improper way: Select & Delete
The magic wand is a great way to select similar information quickly in an image. The problem is that it doesn’t always select everything you want to get rid of, and sometimes selects what you want to keep. Here is an example of unrefined wand usage (with a little Lasso tool to include the reflection) and deletion.

Not bad, right? What does it look like on black?

It may have taken a minute to make, but we can’t use it. If your project is still in the comping phase, this method could work if you add the removed section in with the Lasso tool, but don’t bother if this is your final. You’ve also lost this information, and unless you can undo, you’re not getting it back.

Proper Way: Masking

No matter the background, this is the best isolation method. Masking may seem complicated and a bit time consuming at first, but it’s worth it. You can create your layer mask a few different ways, and designers can decide which is best based on the image and time constraints. A few of those ways: using the pen tool and outlining your shape manually, or by starting with the wand and lasso tools, then turning your selection into a work path and refining the points from there before making your shape a mask. Rasterizing the mask and editing it is another way to control your edges (great for editing hair).

Notice the bottom of the leaf is slightly more blurred than the rest of the outline, leaving a hint of light green- this is to match the highlight of the leaf overlapping the orange. Adding a small feathering to an non-rasterized mask (or editing a rasterized one) can help your added image seem more a part of the world it now inhabits, which brings me to another common mistake.

Detail Mistake #2 – When Perfection is Your Downfall

We’ve all seen obviously Photoshopped images, but what makes them so obvious? The human eye is fantastic at noticing when something is fake, but a good designer will know why. If nothing has been warped, the chief culprits are lighting, proportion, angles, and clarity. I’m going to focus on that last one, as adjusting clarity can be the last thing on a designer’s mind when they want a product to stand out.

Here is one of Marketing Plus’ ads for Sunlight International earlier this year:
The image without color and lighting correction and blur stands out immediately as being fake.

Instinct makes us want the product in the shot to be perfectly clear, every juicy detail (pun intended) in focus; however, this looks unrealistic for the setting. The lighting and coloration differ from that of the rest of the image, and because that section of the car is blurred, clear grapes are nonsensical. With a bit more shadow, some blur, and a slight teal tint, the grapes blend into the setting and seem natural. You need your product details to be visible somewhere; therefore, as long as your product is clear where it makes sense, your piece will be fine.

Detail Mistake #3 – Your Typography is Bad and You Should Feel Bad

Though careless kerning and poor font choice has led to hours of mildly malicious laughter for most of us, bad typography (even NSFW, maybe, due to unintentional profanity) can be disastrous for your work and your business. (Kerning is the space between letters. If you “kern” something, you are adjusting the spacing. For a crash course in typography, read hereWhile going between individual letters and adjusting the kerning of every word of a headline, and scouring the internet and your computer for fonts can take hours, avoiding incidents, such as those curated by BuzzFeed, is paramount.


You can avoid these mistakes two ways: pick a different font (meaning that you will need the time to find better fonts) and/or kern. Failing to kern can lead some letters to appear as different letters depending on what precedes or follows them. There is an urban legend that comics in the 1950s banned the word “FLICK” for this exact reason.

“Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it.” Writer and designer Jared Spool knows what he is talking about. Designers, our challenge is to find the best and fastest way to make our work look as good as it can. We might not be able to choose the final concept, and we might be under a time crunch, but we have to keep it clean and cut as few corners as possible. Project managers, if your designers are taking more time on something than you think is necessary, politely ask them why. Designers don’t expect you to be an Adobe wizard, and a good designer will tell you why they’re over their allotted time limit. Maybe they needed to kern a tricky line of copy, edit a realistic drop of lemon juice, or were making your hair look good, even though you were photoshopped into the company photo because you picked a bad day to lunch at Chipotle. With balanced expectations, and remembering that the little things count, showing off your creativity depends on those details.