To Cliché, or Not to Cliché…

After seeing a post by a friend about design clichés, it got me thinking. As a designer, we tend to see similar solutions to design problems pretty often. And it’s easy to get jaded about these solutions when you see them all the time.

The question I have is, are these design clichés really a cliché to the target audience? Isn’t the audience the important thing?

For example, I was tasked to design a logo for the local chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA). After toiling over the content for the logo, I eventually decided to include a sun in the logo. Is it cliché to have a sun in something relating to Phoenix? Heck ya! But I decided to use the motif because the logo will be seen by other chapters in other cities and the logo should have some visual reference to Phoenix. I resisted it. I tried to come up with alternatives but ultimately decided it was better to have a cliché that people understood than to break convention and have people confused. Ironically the client then asked me to use a graphical treatment which I felt was cliché. I resisted that one as well but ultimately gave the client what they requested and I think the end result came out pretty well.

Why do some designers embrace standards yet feel like they’re cheating if they don’t reinvent the wheel every time?

You know what I mean? Like, you should always put a search box in the upper-right corner of a website. Or a form field label should always be below the field. Or your home button should always be in the top left corner of a website. Aren’t those all design clichés? They are…but with good reasoning behind them.

To quote a lyric by Lloyd Cole, “the reason it’s a cliché is because it’s true”.

This also came up with another designer friend who was designing a marketing campaign for Arizona Tourism. He was told by the client, “we’re tired of the Grand Canyon”. Sure, they were tired of seeing the Grand Canyon in all their marketing materials but when your target audience hasn’t seen all those materials and your target audience is VERY interested in the Grand Canyon, maybe the Grand Canyon isn’t such a bad idea.

So, what do you think? Should we as designers always avoid any possibility of clichés or is there a balance between a good cliché and a bad cliché? Lemme know your thoughts…

Here’s that Lloyd Cole song for you to enjoy…

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