On the topic of creative design, famed British Ad man, John Hegarty, once said “As a creative person you have to have a philosophy, you have to have something you believe in. If you don’t have belief… then you will never truly be great.”
Fully understanding Hegarty’s quote isn’t as straightforward as you might think. In today’s day and age, one must follow-up and ask: Has truly creative design been defeated by designers and their bad habits? Or their lack of motivation to develop new and innovative ways of looking and approaching things? What is my philosophy of design?
It’s an interesting question, and one that has many possible answers. I remember a college professor who would constantly preach that designers eventually fall into a rut of laziness: designers have their set list of techniques, favorite fonts, and even a set list of pantone colors that they always use. And by subscribing to this inflexible mindset in your designs, with each new project, a designer does nothing to create something new.
With digital design everything has changed; we have Photoshop, Sketch, Illustrator, and a host of other programs that make the creative design process more simple than it once was. We do not rely on what was once called board skills; the ability to thumbnail has been all but thrown out the window. Today, designers want to go right to the computer and start building, without what was once integral to beginning of the creative design process: a strong concept.
So, have we, as designers, really become lazy?
Legendary designer and ad man, George Lois, was once quoted as saying that “to create great work, here’s how you spend your time: 1% inspiration, 9% perspiration, 90% justification.”
That’s pretty powerful. Can we really justify all of our design decisions in any client’s work? Did we forget the basics of typography, color theory and eye flow, or did we just skip a step and go right to the computer? Or is there something more, do we rely on trends to define our style?
I suppose it varies between cases, but it’s certainly something to think about.
With all that said, let’s look at several creative design trends that just simply need to go away!
- Bevel and emboss – I know, you have photoshop open, that window is screaming just use a little, but don’t do it. Nothing screams 1990 like a full on bevel and emboss. Today, go minimal, clean, easy to read and understand this is very important, don’t fall into the skinny jeans trap, you’re just going to regret it.
- Glossy reflective buttons – As an old school designer, I remember how cool it was to make buttons in Illustrator, and they all had a 3D look, cool bevels, rounded edges and that shine. Today, solid simple buttons are the norm. Viewers expect simple, so ditch the shine, if you need shine, try something simple like a radial gradient with subtle color shifts, it will accomplish the same thing without dating the design.
- Excessive cursive text – We all have seen it: the work is impossible to read, you can’t focus for more than a second, and have a hard time deciphering the call to action. I remember when clean italic text was often frowned on by clients as hard to read. One option is just use cursive texts sparingly, a little at a time, or build it into the design, give it a purpose, not just a lot of random cursive text filling up space.
- The starburst – The biggest trend in retail print advertising in the 80’s and 90’s was the starburst. They screamed sale. They were big, often bright red, and you had no choice but to look at them. The major issue with starbursts now is that they are ugly, and date your product or service quickly. Try developing an element that compliments your design, something that looks like you intended it to be there, not just slapped into the upper right corner.
- Drop shadows – Now I believe that there’s a time and a place for drop shadows, but with that said, if you’re just relying on photoshop to position your drop shadows then your going to have a problem. Try a soft shadow, with simple feathered edges, it will look less like a lighting effect and more intentional. Now you want to go retro, try a solid drop shadow, it will take you back to the 50’s and give a nice clean intentional look.
- Bad stock photography – We all have seen it, you’re scrolling through a site, and up pops the most overused stock photograph in the history of the world. There’s a place for stock photography, but you need to make sure that the image you have picked has not been widely used. Services like Google images will check the web for you, potentially preventing a huge mistake. Depending on your needs, sometimes hiring a professional photographer to shoot the image you need instead of resorting to stock photography – it will be a better use of budget and you’re also going to get exactly what the client wanted in the first place.
- Overly Complex Logos – And last but not least, we have overly complex logos. Why do you think big name brands have successful logos? It’s not because they are complex, but instead, are generally simple, easy-to-remember, easy-to-view, and use the “KISS theory.” KISS = keep it simple stupid. When you overload your logo design, the viewer has no idea where to look first. The icon or graphic needs to be simple, clean, and memorable. Don’t throw too many elements into it when a few will do. And when using text, please think about how the viewer is going to enter and exit the design. Does your branding achieve the most important goal — is it memorable?
OK. End rant.
Take some time to sit back and think about how you approach creative design. Do you fall into the same ole traps: starbursts, heavy drop shadows, bevels and embosses? As designers, we need to be constantly evolving, learning new things and pushing our boundaries.
Steve Job’s once said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
Design is not a job; it’s a calling. How will you answer the call?