Graphic Designers can’t Spell

Graphic designers are fabulous, talented people.

They’ll  take a boring document and transform it into an eye-catching brochure  that begs to be read.

They’ll conjure up a hard-hitting poster with just a couple of lines of copy.

Unfazed by blank page, they’ll play with colours, stare at books and magazines, then dream up designs, crop indifferent photos and work magic on their computers to bring communication to life.

But they can’t spell.  Okay, that is a gross exaggeration, of course it’s not true for everyone.  But graphic designers are visual people so their spelling is not always on-point.  And don’t expect a graphic designer to type!

They are experts at manipulating images on-screen, but a lot of designers type with two fingers.  And since they work in specialized graphic design programs, they don’t get any of those helpful red or green squiggly lines that word processing programs use to warn of likely errors in spelling or grammar.

The responsibility for ensuring that typos are identified, duplicated content is edited and conflicting information is corrected falls on several different people.

Sometimes it’s the copywriter, sometimes the client service person.

In ideal circumstances, a proof-reader is used to quality-control the final proof.

Sometimes, a client supplies the ad agency or graphic designer with finished copy and it is used without any input from the ad agency.  But life is not perfect, and mistakes happen.

So what can be done to help to prevent errors in final artwork, and where does the buck stop?

1.  Don’t start the design process until the copy is final
This is particularly true for copy intensive items, like leaflets, brochures and newsletters.  It is much easier to pick up errors in a document than artwork.  And it’s more cost effective too. Changing the copy once the design is completed can mean that entire pages need to be reset.

2.  Understand that proof-reading is a special skill
Not everyone is good at proofing.   From childhood, some are better at Spot the Mistake than others.  Use a specialist proof reader and cost in their time.

3.  Use fresh eyes
When the copywriter and account handler have seen six revisions of the same artwork, they stop seeing the mistakes.

4.  Read backwards
You simply have to concentrate when you read backwards.  It’s not a good option when you are looking for language flow, but it is very efficient for packaging artwork or pharmaceutical marketing, where you need to check ingredient statements or for product specifications in technical brochures.

5.  Physically sign off the artwork
The client should physically sign the artwork or confirm in email that it is approved. It’s amazing how often, when asked to do this, people pause and ask for more time for “one last check”.  It is all too easy to rely on people whose intellect and skills you respect to have proof-read effectively.

6.  Make one person accountable
Certain industries, such as pharmaceuticals, require approval of artwork by from several signatories. But when rushed, it can be very tempting to give it only gave a cursory glance, “knowing” that someone in the process would be sure to pick up errors.  But what if they are just as busy?   If only one person is accountable, they are liable to check extremely carefully!

It would be a brave brand manager, marketing manager or ad agency who claims that they’ve never gone to print, only to discover a glaring error in the artwork.  And I include these examples with respect and empathy.  But they serve to show just how easily errors can creep in.  Mad in Italy?  Two different spellings of accommodation in two different headings?

If you’d like help with copywriting for print advertising, newsletters, brochures or leaflets, contact Octarine.  We won’t guarantee we’ll never make a mistake, but we’ll certainly do our best to avoid them.



  1. Gordon on December 11, 2012 at 09:20

    Worst typo I ever heard of was on Australia where 7000 recipe books had to be reprinted because it said, “now liberally add black people” rather than saying “now liberally add black pepper.”

    And then there was the time I printed beautiful brochures for my brother in law and he failed to notice the telephone number was incorrect. Facepalm

    • Ann Druce on December 12, 2012 at 17:39

      Ouch! And when it happens to you it’s cold comfort to know that it has happened to almost everyone at some point..

  2. Joan Stewart on November 22, 2012 at 16:19

    Great article Ann,

    Yes mistakes happen, important print should always be looked at a couple of times by a couple of people, today, tomorrow and the next day before signing it off for printers.

    What was missed first time round, might be a glaring mistake the next morning with ‘fresh’ eyes.

    Graphical designers definitely do not see ‘type’, so having a proof reader is a must have.

  3. Clive Raman on November 19, 2012 at 09:54

    Hi Ann,

    I like the idea of reading backwards…..would have never thought…Thank you for sharing …..

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