If you do a google search for ‘Top 10 Graphic Design Cliches), pretty much all of the articles will focus on all the things professional designers cringe at when these a non-professional try (and fail) to to use to make their brand ‘stand out from the crowd”.
As right as they are, I can’t help but feel that there are many cliches which professionals designers use, and perhaps not realise are so commonplace in examples of good graphic design. So, I decided to investigate, and see which cliches and trends are used more often than most.
I’ll mostly be focusing on cliches that exist throughout multiple forms of graphic design, and have been popular throughout the majority of the past century.
And like I said, I’m not saying that using any of these cliches is a bad thing, since many of these examples are well-respected brands and designs. I’d rather think of these as the components to a branding agencies ‘safety net’.
No.10 – Integrating Graphics into Real Life
Nobody wants an overly simple design where the text and images are separated, so designers often try to bring life to their designs by combining them into one. From using technology to overlay designs onto video, to actually drawing whatever text needs to be read onto its subject, the more a designer can blend image and type together, the better.
No.9 – Titles at the Top
In western society, we naturally read from the top right, to the bottom left. This, plus the fact that most graphic products are stacked in a step-fashion, might explain why so many cover-designs have the title at the top of the page. Magazines, calendars, posters and book covers often have their titles at the top of the page, and who can blame them? It’s the first thing we read, after all.
No.8 – Layers with Reduced Opacities
Layers are practically inevitable when it comes to graphic design, and it would seem many designers have taken advantage of this by making their layers anything but 2-dimentional. Layers can be used in a variety of ways, but the double-exposure effect seems to be the most popular way of using them. What can I say? Reducing opacity brings depth to designs.
No.7 – A Human Touch
As human being, it’s inevitable that we relate most of all to our fellow human-kind, which might explain why so many brands use human-figures. By using a model, a mascot (even if it’s in the form of an anthropomorphised creature), or simply a facial feature, a brand can suddenly become more relatable, and help to attract the audience the brand is after.
No.6 – Using Type as Decoration
Nothing says “I’m a great designer” like using text as if it’s wallpaper. Whether it’s stylising the text to make it stand out against the photographs, or creating other illustrations and logos with letterforms, an extraordinarily common cliche of famous works of graphic design is decorative type. It’s fun to read, and it’s fun to look at, so it’s pretty much a win-win situation.
No.5 – Circles
There are various cliche shapes that are used in logo’s, but circular designs come up trumps. Whether it’s a standard circle, a ring, a dart board, or even a sphere, circles’ seemingly universal appeal make them an extremely popular shape for logo-designs. Not to mention that in our digital age, circular share-icons and apps bring an ‘all-around appeal’ (pardon the pun) into the 21st century.
No.4 – One Key Image
There’s a saying that ‘less is more’ in design, and that applies to graphic design too. Rarely will you ever find a design which uses multiple photographs and/or illustrations, as using a single image helps to sell the brand in one breath. Web design did buck this trend for a short while with scrolling web-banners, but even that seems to be fading away with the rise of hero-images.
No.3 – Red, Black and White
It;s amazing to think that with the number of possible colour palettes that can be chosen for a brand, the red, black and white one seems to pop up more often than most. But why exactly is this? Is it the strong contrasts? Is it red’s supposedly universal appeal. Is it something inspired by the Swiss due to their flags design. Whatever the reason, this palette doesn’t look like it’s going to die any time soon.
No.2 – Grid Systems
This is a cliche you’ve probably seen a million times without ever noticing. Another cliche pioneered by the Swiss, designers will often use grids to bring a formality to their layouts. Although they’re mostly hidden, designers can sometimes bring the grid into the foreground and use it as a feature. There are just so many ways one UI designer can use one grid.
Using Lettering for Logos and Slogans – E.g. Cadbury’s, Tesco
Cel-Shading – E.g. Taco Bell’s Logo, traditional animation
Bleeding – Any time an image is deliberately sliced off at the edge of the page
Indexical/Symbolic Logos – E.g. Apple, Museum of London
No.1 – Helvetica
Did you know that half of all your favourite brands use exactly the same font-family? That family is Helvetica, designed as far back as 1957! It’s most commonly used for body-type due to its strong legibility despite being sans-serif. And yet, it’s managed to work its way into many of our favourite logos and brand identities. They don’t call it the Designer’s Font for nothing!
What do you think? Are there any cliche’s I missed? Do you think one of these cliche’s shows up more often than another? Fell free to express your opinion in the comment section below.