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Are You a Design Dinosaur?

Design cliches to avoid: swooshes, beveled anything, flash and more

You might be if you use these design cliches
Design annuals are great: they're a source of inspiration.

Design annuals are evil: they're a source of inspiration.

There is no doubt that in the design world there is some "monkey see, monkey do". Someone comes up with a great logo, Website, package . . . you name it. The next thing you know, you see the same sort of logo, Website, package everywhere.

What's wrong with using design cliches? Nine times out of ten, it means you're not stretching yourself as a designer. If you're designing a logo, for instance, you may find that you really like one of your very first designs. I encourage you to keep going. Sure, maybe that first design will turn out to be the right solution for the job. But it may not be until you're on the thirtieth design that you have that "aha!" moment.

logo design

Sometimes you don't know if your logo is good enough; it's a common feeling. You think it's good, but you turn it over to the customer and you worry. Other times you have absolutely no doubt: you have the right logo. Of course, that doesn't mean your customer is bright enough to know this. But you're more likely to have that "aha!" moment if you really challenge yourself. The more confident you are about the logo, the better chance you have of persuading your customer that it's the one.

Swooshes
Nike seemed to start it with its "swoosh" logo. Then before you knew it, "swooshes" were everywhere on the Net. Sure, it's dynamic. It's obviously been successful for Nike.

But if your Internet company is just one out of a thousand swooshes, who's going to remember you?

Beveled Anything
Your computer screen is pretty one dimensional: flat. So the graphics on your screen appear one dimensional, too.

Enter the bevel. Instant depth.

Too much of a good thing creates the exact opposite effect. Don't bevel just because Photoshop now makes it easy. Think about the company you're designing for. What sort of image do they want to portray?

icons

Ambiguous Icons
You've been there — the home page of a online casino Website. There's a row of little buttons. The buttons are graphical, but unfortunately the graphics don't mean anything to you. But you know there's a product you want to buy hidden somewhere on the Website.

Hopefully, you wave your mouse over the buttons. They'll change and tell you where they lead. But surprise! Yeah, the buttons change — but you still have no idea where to go to buy your product. This company just lost a sale.

If you can't come up with a graphic that is easily identifiable with where the button leads to, don't use a graphic — or don't use a graphic with no text.

Flash for the Sake of Flash
Is Flash really evil, as some designers seem to think? I don't think so, although until the last year or so I refused to link to any Flash sites. So maybe I am a little bit of a dinosaur myself. I skip almost any Flash intro I'm presented with. I'm on a cable modem, and they just take too long. I really do appreciate those little "skip intro" links — which are some of the most clicked on buttons on the Net.

Fading text and moving text is pretty been there, done that. You see it everywhere. It's the rare occasion when moving text really catches the eye.

Drop Shadows
Drop shadows a cliche? Maybe; maybe not. There's no doubt that you see drop shadows everywhere. But I'll let you in on a little secret: customers really like them. That doesn't mean they're not cliched, of course, but it could get you out of a tight spot. Customer doesn't like the logo? Throw in a drop shadow — see what happens. I'm sure someone is going to crucify me for that piece of advice, but maybe it will help someone out.

Keep one thing in mind if you're designing for the Web: nothing screams amateur like drop shadows going in differentdirections. A drop shadow going up and to the left here, a drop shadow going down and to the right there, a drop shadow going down and to the left over there. The whole idea behind the drop shadow, like beveled text, is to give depth to the page. So be consistent.

What's Left?
I am not saying that you absolutely cannot use any of the design devices above. They were new and hip at some point, or everyone wouldn't have copied them. All I'm saying is that you should really think about your designs. If the swoosh is the best solution to the problem after you've done a lot of sketches, then go for it. If you're designing a Website for a heavy metal band, beveled may be the way to go. Challenge yourself. Stretch your design muscles. Maybe you'll come up with the next design cliche

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