3 Print Design Cliches to Avoid

Did you know the word ‘cliché’ itself actually comes from the printing industry?

Nor did we until fairly recently! Apparently the word refers to the metal plate used by early printers to economically reproduce identical copies of the same text (which was also known as a ‘stereotype’ – that’s where that word comes from, too!)

Why was this plate called a ‘cliché’? One method of manufacturing these plates was to press wooden type blocks into molten metal – this would make a distinctive sound which gained the onomatopoeic name ‘cliché’. (Just in case you’re unfamiliar, an onomatopoeic word is a word which sounds like the thing it’s describing – like ‘meow’ for a cat’s call, or ‘fizz’ for the bubbles of a soft drink.)

This daft factoid got us thinking about clichés in general – particularly the ones we see from time to time in the designs we print. Here are our top 3 design clichés – and how to avoid them in your own print artwork!

What’s wrong with design clichés?

Design elements are simply tools for creating artwork, and no particular design is objectively worse than another. Design tropes can often come in handy, particularly as a starting point to guide the creative process.

The trouble comes when particular design choices become widely used to the point of oversaturation; they lose their original meaning and become boring to look at.

Using clichéd graphic design in your own promotional materials won’t help you stand out from your competitors, and can often make your organisation look cheap, amateurish and not to be trusted.

Here’s three design clichés you should run a mile from…

example of overused fonts

Ask any graphic designer to tell you their least favourite font, and they’ll probably answer ‘Comic Sans’.

If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a fun, ‘cartoony’ typeface which vaguely resembles childrens’ handwriting. It often shows up on teaching materials and other documents produced for kids. (It’s also said that dyslexic readers find Comic Sans text easier to read, although the jury’s still out on this.)

And it’s not the only font with an image problem – other widely-derided fonts include:
• Papyrus – a font designed to emulate ancient Egyptian calligraphy; now used for everything from cafe signs to the logo of the movie Avatar
• Arial – a bold, clean ‘neo-grotesque’ typeface, thats essentially a copy of the superior Helvtica that pops up a lot in company logos and Business Cards – something we’ll be talking about more very shortly…
• Lobster – a relatively new modern calligraphy font which is just starting to drive graphic designers nuts with its overuse

Remember, none of these fonts are objectively bad, and there’s nothing to say you can’t use them in your own promotional materials. Just make sure your font choices are appropriate for the situation – and keep in mind that a more original font will help you stand out from the crowd.

Generic logo example

Generic logos

This is more of a branding issue than a print design problem – hopefully you’ve already secured a great logo design long before you’ve started considering your print literature – but it’s still a common design pitfall to avoid.

Your logo is a key part of your company identity. it’s usually the first thing your potential customers will see, so it needs to represent who you are, what you can offer them and what makes your organisation unique.

So why do so many companies choose logos that look the same as any other? The world of logo design has its own set of clichés, particularly when it comes to B2B organisations:

• Lightbulbs – ironically often used to signify original ideas and innovation – but overused to the point of attracting ridicule
• Globes – often used by companies who deliver a wide-reaching international service, especially those in distribution and forwarding
• Industry-specific designs – many different business types have their own design clichés – for example, how many car dealerships and garages have you seen that use a stylised car for their logo?

To avoid committing the same mistakes with your own logo, start by researching the company logos of competitors in your industry. Which objects and design features are cropping up again and again? Which competitors are doing something a little different with their logo designs?

photoshop faux pas

Last for this list, let’s talk about the dreaded effects that plague every beginner Photoshop project – the bevel and drop shadow effects

Both are commonly used for similar purposes making two-dimensional text and images appear as 3D objects. Applying a drop shadow gives the impression that the text or image is ‘floating’ above the surface of the page, while the bevel effect creates the illusion that the object has bevelled edges.

Sounds good, right? Everyone wants their print marketing to jump out at readers – so why not use these effects in your own design?

The trouble is, drop shadows and bevels are not only overused, but also often overcooked – the effects are applied to starkly, resulting in ugly designs which don’t convincingly convey the 3D illusion. Blurry shadows can often make text more uncomfortable to read too; especially if the text colour isn’t sufficiently brighter than the shadow underneath.

It’s best to avoid the two effects altogether if you want a professional, original design – but if they’re used sparingly and creatively, they can sometimes provide subtle contrast to bring out text, icons and other design elements.

And that’s our three print design clichés to avoid! Which design clichés drive you up the wall? Let us know in the comments below.

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