This post is about those symbols we use … or rather, those other people use … to indicate common themes, concepts or ideas. Those symbols which have been used so often that they’ve become clichés. I warn against using them: or challenge designers to breathe new life into their rotting corpses. Welcome to the land of the living dead.
It’s burned out. Should not be used to indicate ideas, innovation, intelligence …
If this is your bright idea, you’re not very bright.
Could be used to indicate: light
Your client is WorldX, TravelX, GlobalX, TransX, InternationalX, InterGlobalTransWorldX …
The symbol to use is … anything but a globe. Nope, not even as an outline or a wireframe or a 3D rotating thing. There’s got to be something else … got
to be ….
I know! How about a … See above
It’s the grip of death. It should not be used to indicate sealed deals, friendship, trust, approachability, connection, race relations (The interracial handshake? Puhleeez!), or pretty much anything else. Furthermore, in this author’s opinion all handshakes should be Photoshopped out of any image.
Could be used in: irony or humour
Reprinted without permission from Armin Vit.
Ah the binary code. What a short life it’s had as a graphic symbol! Why, only a few years ago it had to be explained to people, now … a graphic cliché! Check those royalty free images of “digital” things carefully. You open the hi res and What’s that? The whole thing is covered in 010101010 … Kewl.
Could be used for: ummm …. er …. ????
Pretty as they are, they’ve been a cliché in photography for eons. Why do they still keep showing up in graphic design? Nothing says kiddies like a rainbow. Nothing says “make me barf” like a rainbow.
Still acceptable as: prismatic spectrum, re: light.
Pointing Finger People
You know the ones: “Look dad! Look at that incredible new building!” “Look Honey, at this amazing tradeshow display!” “Look son! Don’t step in the dogshit!”
Could be used with: multiple pointing finger people: intended absurdity.
I’m certain someone famous is to blame for this. Under the excuse of “universality,” people who can’t draw represent humans with round balls for heads, floating above the body. Kill the Bubbleheads! Kill them all!
The Puzzle Piece
Hmm, something’s missing. Might it be your brain?
Could be used to represent: jigsaw puzzles
Yeah, the human spine. It has no more support, having been used countless times for any doctor, clinician, masseuse or whatever that has anything to do with the back. Totally amazing to me, as it’s such a disgusting looking thing: like an alien worm. Yuck!
Could be used for: horror sci-fi
Oh, this is the one that people think they’re so clever for thinking up. I knew enough to decline a client’s request to do this for their logo about 10 years ago. If the company name requires this tired trick, maybe it’s time someone came up with a new name … or used some graphic ingenuity.
Could be used in: a dik’-shu-ner-ee
(Apologies: required diacritic marks not available in HTML)
Personally, I’d put this in the Dead category, but so many people seem to be addicted to this substance I’ll just issue a health-warning for now. Use of the swoosh (the loop, the wave, the underscore) indicates, imho, a lack of concept and may be dangerous to your health.
Could be used to indicate: burning rubber
Now some of you may disagree, but I think there’s some life in the old ticker yet. Used simply to indicate love, friendship, joy, peace etc. etc. it’s an absolute cliché … and yet, and yet I’ve seen it done with success. But use with extreme care: it can break.
Yeah yeah, we’ve seen closeups, rows and rows, patterns made out of, pill bottles full of, spilled over a surface, broken open, in the hand, filling various unlikely containers …
“We’ve got a story on presectiption drugs … hey, let’s get a bunch of pills and arrange them in a rainbow!” You go!
This one’s hanging by a thread for its life. Someone give it an upper.
Could be used to show: a specific pill
<like this!> especially for the <company name>. Oh, they work with computer code, right? Them and 10 million other people. Still, inventive use of code could potentially contain funny in-jokes to computer geeks.
Could also be used for: Coding manuals
Why is the globe dead and the sun is not? I don’t know. The sun is weak, the sun is tired, but still it shines on. Just don’t use a child’s hand-drawn sun; that’s dead.
Who’d’a thunk? Surely the biggest cliché on the planet, but still full of life. I don’t get it, but it would appear you can still use flowers with gay abandon! Go nuts; use them for everything! Maybe it can fill in for a globe or something.
Got a genuine, bonafide design cliché to add? Speak Up!