When it comes to design? The answer is YES.
I came across a blog post today from a respected business strategist that made me seethe – just a little – but still a definite seethe or two was on display for a moment at Stokefire HQ. And all it took to cause this was a single word, “strategy“. Out of respect for the strategist who was trying to share some genuine business wisdom I’ll not be sharing the link to the post where I found this.
In that unshared post (about using proper strategy to develop client trust more quickly) the following image was used:
At first glance it’s just your run-of-the-mill clipart special. But then you look closer. The word is presented directly facing you, the viewer. It’s got a soothing purple-to-grey-to-white vertical gradient combined with a rakish italic. Sort of like saying “let’s take it easy baby and go break down that wall!” As incongruous as that may be, at least it doesn’t violate the laws of physics or geometry. Which, if you couldn’t tell, is where we go after I rant a little bit more.
Perhaps you notice the cool dimensionality of the image? Good, because it’s pretty clear someone wanted to make sure you knew that multiple dimensions were involved. You’ve got the letters on a flat plane, the shadows on the letters, the shadows behind the letters, and the reflection beneath the letters.
There shall be no mistaking the fact that this is not just some plain old black text on a white background shiznit here. This took some serious CS-2 Photoshop-effecting skillz.
And yet the brilliance of the piece hasn’t even been touched upon. Check it – There is no combination of two effects that actually works together in the same physical universe. Seriously. Here’s the list I came up with:
- The light casting a shadow behind the letters is 45 degrees up and slightly behind your left shoulder as you view the text. So we’re starting off well enough here… But…
- The lighting on the letters is also above the text but apparently further to the left, as evidenced by the shadows on portions of letters that are casting shadows themselves in item 1.
- The lighting in the reflection is similar to that of the letters, but lets you see the hot spots that would only be visible if you were viewing the image from above, which you can’t do in a reflection beneath the image.
- The reflection itself has somehow shifted slightly to the right of where the letters themselves exist in space, without needing to do anything practical, like, say, tilting the mirror to one side or the other. The reflection just up and moved because it was, perhaps, strategically prudent to do so.
- The reflection compresses the font vertically, suggesting that we’re viewing the original text from above or that the mirrored surface is significantly slanted, but…
- The perspective given by the shadows cast behind the letters shows that the reflective surface is even.
But perhaps best of all…
7. The nifty descenders on the g and y descend below the (now selectively 100% transparent and non-reflective!) mirrored surface, forcing the inverted reflected letters to end abruptly before converting one pixel later to a matte surface onto which the shadows fall (on a different plane than the reflection.) Got that? Physics ain’t got nothing on this design.
No seriously. It ain’t. Or… uh… Doesn’t.
I’m sure some of you want to say, “Dude – why get so hung up on something as minuscule as some clip art used in a blog post? It’s just something used to fill space and sum up the fact that this is about strategy.”
My response (thanks for asking) is that this is exactly the sort of thing that led me to say Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just sum everything up.
Instead of using a throwaway piece of clipart that adds nothing, makes no sense, and looks amateurish (if you can prove that it’s you and that you’re nationally known award winning designer I’ll buy you lunch for a week) you could’ve found something that actually communicated the point of the blog post in a different way.
There is no part of your identity on which you get a free pass. Everything counts. If it is associated with things you think, do or say? That’s you. So when you choose to use clipart – or stuff that looks bad enough to be clipart – it says a ton about you and your business. And unless you’re a discount store it is probably saying stuff you don’t want to say.
Clipart-like design conveys stuff like:
- We think you’re not paying attention – nor worth paying attention to
- We’re cheap
- We’re not creative
- We don’t care about the customer experience
- We don’t value aesthetics
- We’re like everyone else
- And if you find what we do for less than we do it? You should jump on it, because price is our only differentiator.
The person who took the time to build the impossibly bad clipart that started this whole rant doesn’t deserve this wrath. I think it’s more directed at a culture that thinks that just having the tools to do something makes us expert practitioners
So… uh… if someone can give me the number of the person in charge of that I’ll go yell at them for a while and leave the poor soul (who will otherwise likely be waiting for me in a dark alley with a”strategy” tattoo on their forearm and a shiv in their hand) alone.