Whether designing for a client or simply just for artistic purposes, it is always important to maintain originality in your design. Why? Because originality means that you as an artist stand out as an individual. This means you are offering a distinct service that others are not providing, therefore putting you a step ahead of the competition in the eyes of potential clients. If you as a designer merely reproduce or imitate work that is already out there, then you are not proving that you are any better than the artists that created them and are therefore bringing nothing outstanding or spectacular to the client. More importantly, by implementing a sense of originality throughout your designs you are creating pieces that express your individuality and inspire others, which are essentially the primary functions of art. So now that we have established why is it important to create originality in design, we need to determine how it can be created, in order to make you as the designer stand out from the crowd and get noticed. The following three essential tips to achieving originality will show you just that.
Tip One – Avoid Design Clichés!
It goes without saying that the most important thing to do to achieve originality is to avoid imitating clichés and design trends in your work. However, this is easier said than done when the internet is crammed full of design tutorials and inspiration posts that suggest we should base our work on pieces already created. Although these types of posts are essential for our growth and development as a designer, and of course inspiration is essential for any artist, it is important to ensure that whilst we are being inspired by other pieces, we are interpreting and developing them into our own style, rather than merely imitating them. To do this, we must steer clear of particular design trends that have been reproduced continuously across the net, and attempt to create new trends ourselves. After all, even the most reproduced and worn out design trends had to start out as original designs at some point. For example, take the Avatar franchise that started out as original designs and have now been imitated and reproduced by thousands of today’s designers. So what are the most common design clichés and how can we avoid them? Well if we see it on the net, then it’s been done, and admittedly I am guilty of some of the following clichés, but it is important to distinguish whether your work is for experimental uses or for the purpose of creating an original design. Here is a list of just a few of the most overused design trends seen today:
Floral and Swirly Brushes
All too often do I see pieces of art lazily finished off and vamped up with free brushes found across the net. The most common being the dreaded floral and swirly brushes! Admittedly these can achieve nice effects, and can instantly add that extra something to your artwork, but it is ridiculously overdone! These brushes are free to download and available for anyone to use, and should only really be used when experimenting, in order to save time – but not when creating original pieces of design!
Eye Photo Manipulations
In ‘photo manipulation’ or ‘photo montage’ designs, several themes and symbols are frequently repeated across the net. One of which is the eye manipulation, again the effect achieved can be beautiful, but whether it’s a hand crawling out of the eye lid or flames, moons or water for pupils – it’s all been done!
Mystical and Futuristic Female Characters
Another overused design in photo manipulation is the use of mystical female (and sometimes male) characters. They are often placed in the design with no purpose other than being aesthetically pleasing, and serve no contribution to the overall message of the design. Obviously sometimes it is important to have human characters in your art to express certain emotions or create a connectivity with the viewer, but please ensure they serve a purpose rather than just being there for the sake of a focal point of the design!
Splashing/Fragmented Skin Manipulations
The third photo manipulation cliché seemed very popular throughout 2009 and I am constantly still seeing it across tutorials and pieces of design. This is the distortion of the skin with a splash/fragment effect where the skin looks like it is breaking apart. Visually stunning when it was first achieved, but again, constantly overdone.
The use of grunge textures is something that has been used for years now, and sometimes it can be used in innovative ways to achieve great effects. However, all too often I see it being used as a heavy, dark overlay to cover up the unprofessionalism of the work underneath it.
Similar to overused brushes and textures, gradients are often overused as backgrounds for designs when the artist cannot think of anything else to put there. Photoshop gradients have many functional uses, beyond the aesthetic use, and should generally be avoided to cover space in designs.
In Web Design:
Similar to the clichés found across illustrations and photo manipulations, there are many overused trends that can be seen everywhere across the net in the form of web design.
Drop shadows are used in all sorts of areas of design to create a three-dimensional effect and make pieces ‘pop’. However, there are far more innovative ways to achieve this effect, as drop shadows often look amateur and lazy.
Rounded corners on boxes in websites are often used to create a ‘soft’, ‘friendly’ feel, but again it is way overdone and can sometimes look amateur.
Glossy Buttons are famously connected with the apple merchandise, and instantly give an elegant, professional feel to a website. However, they have been imitated so much by websites that they now offer nothing creative and original, and even make the website seem cliché and boring.
This list is just a few of the hundreds of overused trends that can be seen across designer’s work. Sometimes they can be recycled to create new, innovative designs, but the general rule of thumb is to stay well clear of these clichés if you want to stand out from the crowd in the design industry. Check out the following design cliché parody by the guys over at makemylogobiggercream.com!
Tip Two – Create Your Own Distinct Style
By definition, to be ‘original’, you must create something that is individual and unique to you as a designer. By creating a style that is instantly recognisable and connected to you, you are not only bringing a new area into graphic design, but you are making yourself recognisable as a product to the client. If they like your particular style and feel it would fit well with their campaign, they are going to choose you because the product you are offering is unique and they will not find that style anywhere else. If you are merely repeating styles and techniques used by top designers, then you are offering no more than the other hundreds of designers that are trying to do the same. Some styles may not be a huge success at first, but it is important to have a style connected to your name – proof of this success can be seen everywhere in art. For example, once you are familiar with the work of Salvador Dali, a piece of his work that you haven’t seen before is easily recognisable as belonging to him. It is exactly the same concept in graphic design, and many of the top designers have a distinct design style to offer. Here are my personal favourite top three successful designers with distinct styles:
Alberto is my personal favourite example of how an artist can create a distinct style. His beautiful skin manipulations in his portraits and illustrations are both visually stunning and sexually suggestive, creating a bold design statement across his works. His use of colourful vectors against monotonic portraits has become so distinct that the style has been coined as ‘sperm shaping’. It is this style and technique that has lead to Alberto’s success, where he has worked on several magazine covers and been noticed by companies such as Nikon who have wanted him to transfer his style onto their campaigns. View more of his designs on his Flickr or Behance.
Christopher Haines is a young designer from Australia who’s blend between 3D modeling and photo manipulation is second to none. It is through this beautiful blend of mediums that Chris has created some truly outstanding works that have set him apart from the rest, allowing him to be the king of his own style. He is proof that it is possible to have your own style whilst still being versatile, as his work covers several areas of design. Here are just a few of his beautiful pieces, you can view more on his Behance.
I have included Jerico here because he is a good example of the correct way to be influenced by another artist’s style. You can see from his works below that he is highly influenced by the works of Salvador Dali, but at the same time he has transferred Dali into a new medium, whilst incorporating his own thoughts and style into the pieces. His use of fluidity in textures and his abstract take on portraits show characteristics and origins of Dali’s style, but develop rather than imitate it. More of his works can be seen via Behance
From all three of the above designers, it is clear how they have achieved a distinct style and made it unique to them. However, when creating your own individual style, it is important that you do not limit yourself to one particular area of design. Practice ways in which you can transfer your style to other areas of design, such as illustration, 3D, photo manipulation, typography and web design. Whilst it is good to present yourself as a unique product, it is also important to display a diverse range of works to prove to your client that you are versatile. Originality and success is finding the balance between your own style and a variety of works that display this. You can only achieve a style you are comfortable with by experimenting, which brings us on to tip three.
Tip Three – Experiment!
Tutorials are a big part of the graphic design world. They can be found on pretty much any graphic design blog, and new ones are continuously being produced. In fact, the majority of the skills I have learnt as a designer have developed from tutorials I have read on the net. However, once these basic skills have been learnt it is important to try and break free from producing effects presented in tuts. By creating works based on tutorials we are merely imitating a popular style that has gained enough attention to be taught to designers. So how can we achieve effects that are original and therefore create this unique style that I have been talking about? By experimenting. So often when I am scouring the net, I come across the work of the designer that instantly makes me say ‘wow’, as it is something that I have not seen before. This leads me to wonder how they achieved these effects, and the answer is through experimenting. By experimenting with our work we can achieve great effects and develop them into our own personal style. But we have all at some point sat at Photoshop attempting to experiment with the features and ending up with something looking like it’s been created by an infant. So how can we experiment correctly and use it to our advantage? Well this brings me back to those ‘wow’ factor pieces of unique work that we often come across. When you come across an interesting effect from another designer, try and achieve this yourself without the use of any tutorials. Now I know this idea of copying another artist’s work goes against everything this article stands for, but remember it is for experimental purposes rather than publication. By playing around with Photoshop and attempting to achieve other artist’s effects, we can then develop this into our own style, and learn how to achieve a unique effect of our own.
A further use of experimenting is to combine the techniques that you have already learnt from tutorials and various sources and experiment to achieve something new. When doing this, try and break from typical conventions of graphic design. More and more often we are seeing pieces that incorporate techniques from more than one area of design, for example my previous reference to Chris Haines’s blend of 3D and photo manipulation. This is being taken further on all levels, with illustration, typography and even sketches being incorporated into artwork. For example take a look at these Clubmaster ads for Ray Bans that recycle an 80’s retro feel by collaborating several different techniques into one.
All of these stunning effects were achieved through the artist’s experimentation, and can be developed further into endless possibilities. At times as a designer we lack inspiration and it feels as if every theme and area of design has been covered by other artists. However, there is always room for development and expansion. Art has been around since the beginning of time in several different forms, and will never cease to stop growing, as long as individuals continue to bring originality and unique perspectives to the field.
I hope that my 3 tips have helped inspire your own originality in your designs. I think the main importance is to impart a part of yourself, as no two people are the same, and if this can be translated into design then you will have achieved your own style. This can be difficult when working for a client who will obviously have set ideas about what they want you to express, but when creating pieces for the sake of art, never be constrained by the conventions and trends of the design world. Always try and manipulate your own style out of your work, and most of all be happy with what you have created and the message it portrays. If you are not happy with your art yourself, then it will be even harder for anyone else to be.
Let me know your thoughts on how you ensure your pieces are original, and follow me on twitter, or view more posts on design and style on my new blog!
Cudos for an excellent and thought-provoking post : ) To further build upon your tip about experimenting, remember that each and every creative genius in one field or the other started out by copying other peoples work for practice. I’ve read somewhere that even Mozart started out by re-arranging other peoples work and then gradually developed his own style and compositions (while he was 6 or 7 years old, I beleive …). Beatles started out as a copy-band before engaging in their own style and compositions.
I guess my point is that it is OK to copy especially when starting out – as long as it is not for publication as you also state in your article.
Hey, thanks for your comment! 🙂
Yeah I definitely agree, no one can be expected to have their own unique style when they are still learning and developing, and as I say in the post, tutorials and inspiration posts are great for developing artists, because they help us improve our techniques and learn the basics. It is only after these are learnt that we can become truly individual and unique with our pieces. I also believe that to be original in our pieces it is sometimes important to know what is already out there. Although this means in a way we are basing our own pieces by deviating from what already exists, it does mean that we are not creating a style that is already seen across the net.
I think it’s all about finding a perfect balance and having both a good knowledge of work already in the design field, yet also having a concise view of what your own individual style or interpretation is.
Hi Tom, thanks for saying all that…i also got oftenly buggy by so many designs that use the same overused themes and techiniques, leaving creativity is last far behind, in a second, third place (or even not there at all)! And sometimes i fell a little guilt for not using all this photoshop paraphernalya. It’s obviously that all those techniques gives some interesting touch, but also, they make the work looks lazy and like ‘ok, i’ve already seen something like it somewhere else’. I don’t deny that i also have used them, specially when people ask for, but our task as designers is to create, not to repeat.
Wonderful read! I love keeping it fresh but I have fallen to the “this is the cool thing to do” side more then once….You live and learn. I always enjoy inspiration and try not to let it lead to duplication. Thanks for sharing!
First let me tell you what i disagree with. I totally disagree that webdesigners or product designers are artists. We work in certain environment or framework, and we make the best of it. What we create is not art for the sake of art, but functional design. IMO there is a huge difference. When I head someone telling that he is an artist I often think he just has overgrown ego, since he’s just another graphic designer.
Second thing I find odd in your post is that you blame the tools not the outcome. Sure – we’ve seen tons of glossy buttons and floral brushes, but as I mentioned earlier we work with limited tools. I don’t think you can just run away from drop shadows or rounded corners – you will eventually use them and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it works.
Third: It’s not the style that determines good design – it’s how the design solves problem, conveys message. You blame the overused tools/motifs, but look at people you mentioned. I didn’t explore their portfolio but it seems to me that they are doing the same over and over again, just background changes. I think that developing your own style in a sense that people mentioned by you places you in a niche – you dig into it and you may never come out of it. Why constrain yourself like that?
Despite all this I think that last tim is spot-on. There is no innovation if you repeat yourself over and over again. I always like to offer my client a draft that incorporates some new ideas. The development may be a pain in the a** but creativity calls for it 😉 In the end it might become inspiration for someone else and he will use it again. You can only hope that he creates something better than the original.
good point, greatly said… this post should end the discussion 🙂
Hey, thanks for your feedback, I think you raise some really interesting points!
Firstly, I think the way you interpret this highly depends on the way you interpret design itself. You clearly see graphic design as a very functional, technical use that is more of a commodity to the client than for the purpose of art. I’m sure a lot of people agree with this, but the way I see it is that, essentially, graphic design is a form of art. Yes it serves a purpose to the client and the customers of the clients, but it often does so by being visually stunning or noticeable – something which I feel defines art or design. Yes we may be creating just a website, or a product, but at the end of the day it is a ‘creation’ that the client wants to look good visually and be practical at the same time. So it is like seeing graphic design as two sides of a coin, one side is practicality and function of the design, and the other is what it expresses and offers visually as art.
I also agree that at some point drop shadows etc. will be used, and I’m not trying to say never to use them, because they are useful tools, but it is more the way in which the designer uses them that changed the effect. If they are used in the same way as any other website then it isn’t really standing out or differentiating itself from the competition, both for the designer and the client.
Also, with the designers, I mention in the post that it is definitely still important not to confine yourself too much to a distinct niche and still present yourself as versatile to book more jobs. However, it is also important to have a distinct style in the way that it separates you from other designers, and distinguishes you individually through a style. I think it is all about finding the perfect balance between it all. You need to balance your wants with the designers, function with design, creating pieces that are popular but not following trends too much, and much more.
I think everything you say though is perfectly valid, I just believe it depends on how the designer themselves views the purpose of their work – is it merely to serve a function, where individuality and originality may not be important to them; or is it to create a piece of art that inspires others and sets new boundaries in the industry. I think it’s a balance between the two.
this is a great thought… thanks so much.
Yeah… great recepie: take some of the most popular design trends and techniques… don’t forget the drop shadow…! uuu… but You dropped bevel&emboss somewhere. Then put some Golden & Original Creative Thoughts like – emmm… maybe… i know! Have Your Own Style, and… and… yes! Experiment. And now you are an artist, and your designs are original.
I keep coming back to this article. All this styles, design cliche and so on….certain looks get popular and move the crowd or get the attention desired. Our trends or in constant evolution and often cycle, coming back full circle. Everything from art to most other forms of expression cycles in and out…look at all the cicra 1992 style fuzzy faced 25 yr olds running around…sideburns from 90210 are back in, plaid..lol.
I guess my point is that some of this stuff is flat out COOL! I always get a kick out of 3d abstracts and shattered faces and at some point something that was hot back in 1950 will be hot again. After reading this article I was on a journey, thinking “damn” I need to stop drawing like this and do something different….
Reading over my little blurb here…I dont really have a point lmao…Just go out there and get inspired and who cares about rules and taboos…draw it like you want to. Be your self =)
Good talk hahaaa
People, just have fun. Looks become cliché because they are appealing, you don’t have to stop using your swirly, grungy, drop shadowed, 3D spaceships.
Maybe once in awhile, just try something new to you. Sometimes a drop shadow is THE best way to solve a design problem of a light logo on a light background. Sometimes grunge is the perfect subtly edgy background for an in your face subject.
As a well-compensated original artist & graphic designer, I’ll tell you, use every tool you need, when you need, and don’t fear them. Make your own design rules, that’s where your personal style will become realized. These rules are fine for this guy.
For every cliché listed, there are ways to use them that are fresh, and very appealing. Look at the examples, notice the use of styles that we’ve all seen before? Of course, but they are mixed & remixed in a way that is original.
Think of music. Can you imagine a musician telling you “Don’t use 4/4 time, it’s cliché”, “Avoid the key of C, it’s overused” Please!
Design swirls date back to pre-history and simply emulate graceful botanical lines. Make you own swirls, modify the free brushes you download.
And Gradients Rule! Do you realize how rare flat color is in nature?
Talk about cliché, how about the overuse of vectory flatness. Look at this very page, a logo with a gradient, a grunge border, grunge brush, and it looks good too. It suits the “Militia” theme.
The trick is, don’t let the trick get in the way of the emotion, simplicity, beauty, pain, meassage or mood you are conveying.
And hey Kiwus, I’ve had the pleasure of working with web, product, and graphic designers who are fabulous artists. And even Accountants who are artists with figures 😉 Don’t be an art snob, it’s rude.
Hey thanks a lot for your comment, I totally agree and I didn’t mean to strictly suggest that these cliches are FORBIDDEN or anything like that, my main aim was to get beginners to recognise them and realise that they do not make a great outcome on their own, and for established designers to come up with new ways of using them.
I’m glad the post has raised a big discussion/debate however because I mainly want people to just recognise and think about the items discussed rather than throwing them in every art work and hoping for the best.
I just found this post on overused wallpaper trends that covers similar topics
It shows how overused trends are done both well and badly, and shows that both are possible depending on how you use them, which is related to your comment mark.
I hope this brings new light to the subject, because I don’t want the post to be seen as strict rules everyone should follow, but merely something designers should consider in their works!
Great article! I totally agree!
hey I’m studying at English just like you but I’m studying at Turkey. 😀 And I’m also keen on at graphic designs. I liked your article
i agree with the article …i think designers are ahead of their time in terms of art … like they see new things …before the general public sees them … i think designers are on a higher level than ordinary people …so what fascinates a designer isnt really wat fascinates general public … like i remember making a complex design with many elements … art lovers liked it ..with client it was a bitter dissapointment … I felt bad about it .. came up with some junk usin typical design uses you mentioned …and it was a masterpiece in clients eyes.. original design took me over 6 hours … cheap typical design took me possibly less than 3 hours to execute… so sometimes its not like we design cos we like design …but design to fascinate client not ourselves or artlovers…just a thought ..but i do totaly agree with your article … i love seeing something new .. its fresh air to the mind
(Again, a very nice article!!)
It’s bitterly funny (but, understandable) how todays’ *designs & their clichés*
are skewed by public (clients) perception… and their taste.
I mean, I bet it WAS all innovations at the beginning… all experimental.
but, THEN; after being very popular… somehow all turned “naturalized”
People (to some: clients), just can’t get enough of “apple.com” style, etc…
One can argue so hard about functionality, yes; okay. Now, for example; in web VISUAL designs; even rounded corners and all those “subtle-glossy-3D” effects can be made within code editor alone… why? Because, that’s how “common market” understand which one is a button and which one is not….
But, what next? Waiting another clichés come out popular and abusing it (again and again) to the point of… boring/overused? Call yourself graphic designers, but you kill the graphic styles, dude!
I believe so much in this article… Because, it slaps me hard for making me realized that in many occasions; I’m just “A TOOLER”… doing exactly what clients TOLD me to create. Although, doing otherwise is harder said than done.
I think, accusing “problem solving” as the root of “TOOLER Style” graphic design is quite BS. The only problem solved by “TOOLER” mindset; is nothing but… easy & quick money. But, hey… it ain’t crime tho’.
Yet… what next?
I’m amazed with how much suggestions for designers to put aside their “personal ego”… compensating a ridiculous space for the client’s ego…
Yes, good advice; and trick… to keep the competition low. Why?
I think; every (any field of) designers have the potentials to be their best.
But lots of them lacks of (sincere) motivations & decent environment.
This article, is one of the rarest & sincere motivation available.
Whoever saying (graphic) design is differ from art; is probably a design god… LOL..
Design is a form of art in daily use; as simple as that! Design is industrial art.
Being said that; graphic designs are visual art for daily use. As a form of art; it’s important to make every work identified & personalized in a level of general public & social communications can take; not drowned in the sea of “well…it’s the way it is… millions are doing it, why shouldn’t we?”
If possible; educate the client… don’t treat them like a sack of money.
Oftentimes, it is the client who forced us to make a “design” that they CAN understand… they ALONE. But not how their audiences/target public interpret their business. They said, they wan’t to be different from competitors; but, eventually, trap in the doubt of “too different.”
Avoiding images… simple buttons that can be coded… “make it pops”… WTF?
so where’s the GRAPHIC part of it guys? come on…
I think, there’s a better way to make websites that, both,
appealing to the eye and at the same time; quickly loaded.
But, why do we just accept things? It’s our problem, right? so let’s solved it. Don’t just runaway from it; and claim “problem solved… avoid true images.”
*No wonder why the market is drowned into the zone of spec-works*
Analogically; todays most graphic in the market are as same as pop music worth… Jimi Hendrix? Hans Zimmer? Daft Punk? Metallica? They are artists. Everyone can sing, but not everybody can write a (musically worthed) song.
My point is, this article is telling (reminding) us on how to survive and stay on the right direction of our (so-called) profession.
I think, It’s not written just to say: “hey, stop use them swirls & splatters”…
Come on, guys… we’re smarter than that, right?
Again, very nice article!
Thanks for the inspiring article, it got my brain thinking about trying new things in design:)
Drawing cars is so hard in action. been drawing 3-D for about 2 year now and im trying to put some (action) in to the picture. Maybe having a subi drifting around a corner throwing mud all over or a big plum of dust. im good with my shading technigues, but need some tips on how to draw on paper with pencil (not mechanical), with my graphics. any tipz?ty
As a designer, I consider myself an experimenter. It is indeed quite difficult to not to recycle ideas which are already present on the web! But for me I tend to use themes in my work such as nature, music, gothic etc. and use these as frameworks in which to explore and build my own style within those.
Hey there! I’m at work browsing your www from my new iphone 3gs! Just want to write I love reading through your website and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the excellent work!
I have to agree with the first commentator in that all great artists, in any field, are inspired by others.
Part of what drives them is their love for their craft and their following and admiration of others is part of that, so influence is only natural, and indeed desirable.
I remember when I used to copy the illustrative style of Jason Brooks because I loved him so much. I went on to develop my own style after realising that I was just copying something I admired (still no where near as good as his work mind, lol), but at least my own style 😀
I’m a designer and marketer. I think that You are a good teacher. Your method is very easy a creative. I appreciate your idea. Thanks for sharing with us.