When Typos Go Rouge – How One Little Error Impacts Your Whole Design

Author: Shoshana Burgett

We all make mistakes, but sometimes one small error nullifies a whole design. See how some companies are able to recover from these small but highly visible mistakes and learn what you can do to avoid them on your next project.

Recently Rhode Island sent 175 tax refund checks signed by Mickey Mouse and his creator, Walt Disney. The State Treasurer’s office uses these signatures on test files, people have a sense of humor with test files. The whole point of using Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney is the mistake is so blatantly obvious, and yet these went to production, were proofed, printed and posted as real check. (OOF). While this makes for a funny news story, simple proofing mistakes are embarrassing. However, these mistakes are not only embarrassing for the individual, but for the team and brand; this is not including the costs and consequences of these mistakes.

2014 survey found that bad grammar was bad for brands. Consumers were less likely to buy products where the printed materials, advertisements or online/social teasers had spelling or grammatical errors.

First impressions count. If you see grammatical errors advertising a product, what does this say about product quality? It’s all about perception.  Just like Will Rogers famously said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Everything from your packaging, marketing materials, website, visuals, color and yes, the words – contribute to how consumers perceive a product or brand. If you make a simple spelling mistake it creates a negative first impression.


Over the winter I received a direct mail postcard from a local real estate agent.  I normally don’t pay much attention to these types of mailers, but this one caught my eye.  The lead message had numerous mistakes.  Were they trying to say, “Why is winter a great time to sell?”  And some words are capitalized and other are not.

This is a common marketing and design failure. In short headlines you either capitalize or not. Meaning be consistent with the headline.


Why Is Winter A Great Time To Sell?


Why is winter a great time to sell?

The clothing chain, H&M had costly spelling error back in 2015 that was pure genius.  They issued a t-shirt with a famous Thomas Edison quote that read, ‘Genious is 1% Inspiration and 99% Perspiration.’  But the company forgot to spellcheck it.  The mistake meant that H&M had to pull the item off their shelves and take a loss on the item.  Plus, they received negative publicity.  Something no company wants.


Last year, Graeter’s Ice Cream in Ohio misspelled their seasonal Elena’s Blueberry Pie ice cream pints. Instead of Blueberry, it went to the press as Bluberry. However, Graeyer’s was able to turn this embracing mistake into a positive one. Instead of recalling the item and reprinting it, they decided to donate money to a foundation tied to the ice cream called, The Cure Starts Now.

When you make an error, stand up and acknowledge it. It is when you ignore or blame it gets worse. Look how ASOS managed their typo, ‘Discover fashion onilne’. This was proudly placed front and center on their packaging. ASOS did not ignore it and was quick to respond. We all make mistakes and I am notorious for my typos, which is why I have an editor. But I recognize we make mistakes and life is short, have fun. ASOS recovered with a lovely cheeky response



The role of proofing cannot be underestimated in a design process. You can be the best speller, or an English Teacher, the fact is, when you read and reread, your brain starts to automatically correct for misspellings, which is how some of these things slip by. Regardless of what you are designing – direct mail, packaging, billboards, signage, advertising, home goods, or apparel – it all needs to be proofed and checked and double checked.

As designers our role is not just to create visually pleasing designs, but to ensure that the copy, graphics, images, etc. are accurate.  Content, whether it is words or visuals are all part of the design and as the designer we own the integrity of our work.

This is no one’s fault either; it’s our brains. You can be the best speller, or an English Teacher, the fact is, when you read and reread, your brain starts to automatically corrects for misspellings, which is how some of these things slip by.

It deson’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aepapr, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm.

S1M1L4RLY, Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1NG 7H15 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17.

There are a bunch of these on the internet. Images that say how many ‘F’s can you find.  Our brain puts things in context, clean buckets. Our brains don’t process individual words, they put the letters together into context.  It allows the multiple brain activities to keep going from task to task.

So if our eyes and brains are tired what can we do?

Here are some helpful proofing tips to keep in mind:
  • Proof materials when your eyes are ‘fresh’ and not when you have been staring at the design for hours.
  • Step away for a bit. A 5-minute brain break helps reset things.
  • Read the text aloud, word for word. By combining two senses your brain now has to put them together.
    • I had to put magazine pages for Travel Magazine before desktop publishing. Back then our copy came in on a roll, similar to the one you get receipts on. I was taught to read out loud and upside down. By forcing your brain to rearrange the words, your brain can no longer simply ‘skim’ the words. It has to visually put them back together. You will be amazed at how many things are easily caught with this simple trick. It also is a great skill to have at meetings when papers are on the other side of the desk
  • Go old school and use a Dictionary. If you are not sure on the spelling or grammar, double check using a dictionary, AP style guide, Chicago Manual of Style, or another grammar book. You can also google.
  • Make sure there are multiple reviewers. A ‘fresh set of eyes’ is always great. Don’t take it personally when they find a typo, that is why you ask them in the first place.
  • Have someone not associated with the project review it for an outside perspective. Context is important and if someone does not understand what the gist of the content is, then ‘Houston we have a problem’.
  • Software:
    • Grammarly – I use and love it. It comes as a standalone app, works with Microsoft, and your iPhone, has plugins for all the primary browsers. It offers stronger words, monitors your improvement, and has a plagiarism checker for students. There is a free, premium and now a business version. (Free, $143 a year, for Premium, $155 for Business)
    • ProWritingAid – Is very comprehensive and has a Chrome extension. ($70 a year)
    • Slick Write – Is an online tool and extension. It also has a word association game. (It’s free but they work for tips)
    • WhiteSmoke – is another online tool. It too has a desktop version as well as extensions for all primary browsers. (Web is $59.95 a year, Premium $79.95 a year, and Business is $137.95 a year)
On the production side, many printers and manufacturing suppliers will ask designers/ brands about any obvious mistakes they catch in the prepress stage. Print suppliers want to deliver a high-quality product the first time. That said, you should not rely on your print supplier to be your copy editor or proofreader. (Someone always signs off on the job, and it is that signature that is accountable for the final product. Just remember, before you approve anything for final production, take the time to proof it one last time for accuracy.

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