Top 10 (Good) Branding and Graphic Design Cliches

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

intergrating_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

title_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_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

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

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

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

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

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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

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.

Honourable Mentions

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

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.

Christmas Traditions You Never Knew Were Commercialised

It’s almost become a cliche to say that Christmas has become too commercialised, that it’s all about buying expensive gifts for one another and John Lewis adverts, and not about the traditional messages of good-will for all men and women.

What you probably don’t realise, however, is that many of the things we typically call ‘traditional’ at christmastime are probably more commercialised than you originally thought. Don’t believe me? Well, just read these examples below…

Father Christmas’s Design

commercial christmas santa
(Yes, I know even British folk are calling him Santa nowadays, but screw it, I still prefer Father Christmas.)

I remember being told back in primary school that the fat man with the red suit and big, white beard was popularised by the Haddon Sundblom illustrations for Coca Cola. Heck, the company glorifies their ties with his design!

However, it isn’t actually that clear which brand made his design official. There are sources to say that Thomas Nast was the one who popularised the look with his illustrations of the Santa Suit for Harpers Weekly, whilst other sources claim the design came from wooden carvings that were handed out during a 1804 New York Historical Society meeting.

What is clear, though, is that the brands that have helped to influence the overall design of Father Christmas took great inspiration from the Clement Clarke Moore poem, ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ (1823) (better known as ‘The Night Before Christmas’).

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

commercial christmas rudolph
Yet another tradition influenced by ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ is the names of Father Christmas’s eight reindeer. Whilst Rudolph was invented long after the poem was written, he has pretty much become synonymous with the flying reindeer in present day. And as we all know, he was first conceived in that classic Christmas song. Right? Wrong!

Back in the 1930’s, the American retail-enterprise, Montgomery Ward, handed out free colouring books to children. However, they decided to produce their own books to save on the financial costs of buying others. And thus, they hired Robert L. May to create Rudolph as the face for their own-brand colouring books. It would be another 10 years before May allowed his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, to convert the words of that book into the song we all know and love.

Initially, May didn’t own the copyright to Rudolph, and didn’t receive any royalties for his work. However, Montgomery Ward handed the copyright over to him, since his wife was terminally ill, and they wanted to help him pay for debt he was in from having to pay for medical bills.

Robins on Christmas Cards

commercial christmas robin
This is probably the most surprising of all Christmas traditions, in terms of which are commercialised and which aren’t. Many of us would like to believe that the distinctively British tradition of red-breasted robins as a symbol of Christmas is because of their prevalence during the winter.

Yet the reason we see robins on cards is because they were intended to be a joke. Back in the 1800’s, British postmen wore bright-red uniforms to match the branding of The Royal Mail, which gave them the nickname ‘robins’. And, of course, it was the 19th Century when some of our most familiar traditions came about, such as Mince Pies and Christmas Trees.

Therefore, illustrators caught onto the link between robins and their delivery of cards to people’s doors every winter, and out the robins on the front of Christmas Cards as a homage to the men who made card-giving possible. Thankfully, the tradition still lives on today, in large part due to the Royal Mail never losing its distinctive shade of red.

What about you? Do you think there are any Christmas traditions which are surprisingly commercial when you look into their origins? If so, let me know in the comment section below!

And regardless, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!