Top 7 Most Overused Techniques & Elements Used In 2008 Graphic Design

Top 7 Most Overused Techniques & Elements Used In 2008 Graphic Design

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Overused Graphic Design

Is all design looking the same to you? Are you following graphic design trends subconsciously?

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These are two questions to ponder over the next four weeks in this four part series showcasing the most used techniques, effects, icons, shapes, concepts, fonts, stock images and clichés used in design today.

The Four Part Series

Below is the first article of four.

Top 7 Most Overused Techniques & Elements Used in Graphic Design

Whenever you look for inspiration, you are bound to come across at least one of these techniques / effects / elements. These effects are neither “good or bad” however they are the most common elements found in today’s designs.

Stock images have been used to portray each element. On that note of stock, there was a great discussion about the use of stock art over at GoMediaZine.

1. Sunrays / Rays of Light / Rising Sun


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By far the most overused technique used in design today is the infamous rays of light usually found tucked away in the background of a design or at the very forefront of the design such as in the picture above.

2. Black  (or Coloured) Silhouettes


Vectorised silhouettes of people and other objects is definitely second on the list. Made famous by the iPod campaign this technique can now be seen everywhere. Notice the combination of the sun rays and black silhouettes?

3. Ink Splatter

Ink Splatter

Closely contending with number 4, ink splatters are everywhere. Ink Splatters do add a cool /  trendy  look to a design and they do blend well with grunge  style designs  however ink splatters should be used in moderation.

4. Swirls / Flourishes / Ornaments

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Swirls seem to be all the rage at the moment as they are quite appealing and generally just nice to look at. Flourishes & ornaments go well together to create organic, fresh designs which is quite ‘in’ at the moment.

5. Flowing Lines

Flowing Lines

Flowing lines  generally add motion and fluidity to  a design which gives it a certain emotion when combined with other elements (ie. funky circles as seen above) which is generally why they come up so often.

6. Funky Circles

Funky Circles

The funky circle colour combo is evident in numerous designs across the web and like the name suggests it does give a design  a quite funky look however they are being used everywhere!

7.   Smoke Textures


These smoky effects are not as blatantly obvious as the other ones as they are always in the background of a design however if you look a bit closer, these smoky effects are everywhere.

Is design looking more and more the same? Why? Is it because of stock art? Do you think the elements above are being overused? Voice your opinions below.

180 thoughts on “Top 7 Most Overused Techniques & Elements Used In 2008 Graphic Design”

  1. True, coming from a twitterer that uses a splat of ink as my twitter icon… representing bird doodie…

    So far in my online travels…. I’ve come across the silhouettes much more often than I’d like…..

  2. While everyone of these are “overused” they’ve been overused for centuries…just not as easily as they are today. But personally if they do the job, and in the end, appear fresh, then why not have some techniques to fall back on. Nothing wrong with that.

  3. Creating new trend need a very brave move. Moreover, client may not really appreciate it. I think that is also a reason why things have been overused.

  4. Stock imagery/stock art cannot be blamed for the over-use of any of these elements. Stock art is created to fulfill a need or eventual purpose; nothing more.

    Now it’d be easy to say that “people are lazy” even though that’s true to an extent. (Is it lazy to say that people are lazy? Eh.) But that’s not always the case.

    I think the truth lies somewhere in the idea of “everything that’s new is old is new again.” For example, a few of the “trends” in the above list can be found in Martin Sharp’s 1964 poster for Mr. Tambourine Man. Funky circles, sunrise rays, and flowing lines can all be found in there along with funky type, and repeating patterns.

    Perhaps the issue is “instant access”? For many centuries, for a person to be an artist, they had to travel/move away to a specific town, or study under someone who possessed some esoteric knowledge of the arts or they had to be better of financially than the average person to afford their materials.

    Today, almost EVERYONE has access to the tools and techniques to indulge every passing creative whimsy or fancy that enters their mind without consideration of the process involved with solving a specific creative problem.

    For most, the creative problem is simply making something cool.

    For real designers, the creative problem is much more complex and centered around communication.

    • This post OllieJ FTW!

      Now it’s almost 2014 and your post is still relevant.

      A great designer can make almost anything look great and modern or serve a purpose,
      Even these designs, just used slightly and not overdone is key.

      Almost every style known to man has been used and overused almost, now it just comes down to style, user functionality, purpose with an aesthetic design that’s pleasing to the eye, no matter what year it is.

  5. I also like flowing lines and colors but they’re so rarely done well. In fact, I’d say that if you think these are overused it’s because we’re seeing so many sites where these styles aren’t helping the overall aesthetic or function. If that’s the case, there’s A LOT of overuse out there. Can you say ‘web2.0 reflection’?

  6. Drew,
    I can agree with you on some parts but stock art is definitly not 100% to blame. There are many other considerations to include such as what some have mentioned below… lazyness, ease of access, client requests, etc.

    It is also not what customers request… the job as a designer is to create what a client needs, not what a client wants.

    Skulls and wings may be appearing in my other lists.

    Indeed, ease of access and lazyness (and time / money factors) are all key aspects of what is the “blame”.

    There are hundreds of original designs. A quick visit to will show you that.

    Only one week!

    I would believe everyone is guilty of using stock art such as above in some way or another so no need to feel guilty.

    That would be interesting to see.

    Haha, never looked at your avatar that way… a bird doodie.

    I suppose ink spatters go into the grunge category however grunge is more of a style. It will come up in another post I assure you 🙂

    I do challenge you to find these elements in design from centuries ago.

    In some designs it can work well, much alike the others above and they all can work with different variations.

    Form or function, the great debate.

    One person does not create a trend, it takes many and I am sure clients would approve of new designs if you educated them. Do you agree?

    I also believe stock image is not to blame but it does make up a part of it. Ease of access is another cause I believe, and also because most of these elements are usually free. But I liked your statment:

    For most, the creative problem is simply making something cool.

    For real designers, the creative problem is much more complex and centered around communication.

    Thank you for the digg.

    People may still like them, but are they getting sick of them? Clients usually do not request a certain effect in my experience… is that a common thing for you?

    Yeah I can agree on that one about it rarely being done well however there are some excellent applications of that effect in numerous designs. Web 2.0 Reflection oooooh.

  7. Erika, Christiano
    Well I did say none of these techniques are good or bad so don’t worry!

    You do not have to travel very far to find those websites… just check out this post on website graphic design trends and you will find them all.

    Thank you.

    When I refer to the great debate, I refer to how some use form over function and how others use function over form. A quick google on either of those terms brings up hundreds of articles on the “debate”. But yes, we should give clients what they need, not what they want.

    Web design and graphic design are so intertwined now. Check out this post about what designers should call them self. I found it an interesting read. And yeah checked shirts are everywhere (and I am guilty of charged too).

    It is a good skill to have Keir as they can enhance designs quite a bit, just use it appropriately.

  8. Esben,
    Actually it is your second comment (it tells you after your name when you comment). Simple gradients are a great effect and really adds to a design when used right, much alike all elements.

    Go for gold! Don’t think you can start trends by yourself, it just happens over time!

  9. Not to be picky… but these are all examples of Graphic Illustration trends not really Graphic Design trends. It’s like when people use Font instead of Typeface.

    Although I don’t see anything wrong with trends, these techniques have become more and more popular. This becomes even more difficult if you work at a agency or a design company. Clients like this stuff cause it’s “fresh” or “bright.”

    One of my favorite though is the flowing lines, however overused it is, it’s a technique that will not always look the same due to what can be done with the lines.

  10. I think it’s 100% because of stock art. If you search on istock, it is littered with silhouettes and rising suns. Customers see it and then request it, it’s the same thing every time. Customers know what they want based on what they’ve seen, not many of them have original ideas or the budget to let you use yours.

    I would also include skulls and wings on this list.

    I’m excited for the rest of this series!

  11. Ed,
    I could agree with you partly however not all of these elements are illustrations but I do agree with you about the flowing lines.

    Not completely over 😛

  12. My personal blog has ink splatters, but it was one of the first sites of that style, so I guess that’s OK 🙂 As for the others, I do see them as overused, but it’s probably because brushes/stock images of those types are so easy to get, and people are lazy.

    Nick | Resource Pile’s last blog post..Massive Wallpaper Roundup!

  13. Wow…is there anything that ISN’T overused? 🙂 On the upside, my new blog design (see link) doesn’t have any of those elements!

  14. I agree with drew, I think stock art is to blame although i am gulty of using one or two of these techiniques myself…. and am thinking of using some of these techniques in the future albeit it for web design purposes. But i can see some of these being in the Most Overused Stock Images Used in Web Design (which i also can’t wait for).

  15. This is spot-on! I think when these elements became popular, they were great ways to communicate joy, seriousness etc. But as you say, they are overused now—clichés.

    We as designers need to come up with new elements to convey the same, but in original ways.

    Looks like an interesting series! Looking forward to the rest of it!

    Eivind’s last blog post..7 photographic business cards I designed for myself

  16. This is gonna be good. I really dislike the funky circles effect because it always looks the same imo. I mean, there are a few variations you can do on the others, e.g. ink splatters

    sean’s last blog post..Student Assassinated at Graduation Ceremony

  17. I love flowing lines and swirls, but since years, I’m still not able to use those techniques in my work. There are two reasons for that : First, I have the constant impression that if I do that, I will copy someone. And then, I have absolutely no idea of its usefullness in communication. (Well, that’s beautiful… and then ? What about the “functional” ??)

  18. Oh there’s an exception who show that some of these techniques are functional : Coke.


    Greetings from France !

  19. Great post, I look forward to reading the rest of the series… Dugg!

    ptamaro’s last blog post..Office Jargon v3.1

  20. What about shiny objects and bad reflections?! Unnecessary Gradients have definitely run their course too…

  21. Hi Jacob,
    Whilst I see your point about graphical, Illustrative and photographic imagery being used as trends in the design industry, but a many cases, is this a bad thing?

    Just as fashion sells because of design trends, so does a great design. We as designers design for people — people who recognise design trends themselves and buy/look or relate to things they recognise.

    I think it can be beneficial for designs to utilise a trend and introduce a new twist, just like many logo design trends out there at the moment.

    To conclude, I don’t think it’s the imagery that is to blame for everything looking the same, rather the designers lack of creativity.

    Andrew Kelsall’s last blog post..Logo Design for J Smith Marine Consultancy Ltd

  22. Well, i’ve used ink splatter in my website, because i think the logo looks good with them around… 😛

    It is true that some things are getting overused, but let’s face it: people still like them, and clients will still request them for their designs… 😛

  23. I whined a little bit when I saw the ink splatters – while I have yet to find a use for them on my own, I think they’re kinda hot.

    I do want people to leave the ipod-esque silhouettes alone, though. LOL.

    Erika Nicole’s last blog post..5 Steps To Running A Lean, Mean, Clean and Green Business

  24. I work in the school book publishing field during the day. I don’t know where this fits into your scheme of things but I am so sick of beveled things and drop shadows. Although I use them myself I have done them for so long that I haven’t gotten really tired of them. Like everything else you said I guess there is a place for them and it is all a matter of how they are use.

    Pete’s last blog post..Chadwick

  25. I wanna see someone pull all of these lame-ass design fads into one be-all, end-all piece of crap tribute to lame-ass design fads.

  26. Hey there Jacob!
    I really enjoyed this post!
    I do agree with Erika, the ink splatters are by far the coolest design element. Even adding a few on the background of a default blogger template would make it look kinda hip.
    Indeed, as you said, the hard part is not overdoing them 😛
    May I suggest you give us some examples of websites that do imply the elements you list? For some of them, sites came to mind immediately (e.g. for the “funky circles”), but for others, I had never seen/noticed them.

  27. Jacob you said to OllieJ “But I liked your statment:

    For most, the creative problem is simply making something cool.

    For real designers, the creative problem is much more complex and centered around communication.”

    And you answered me : “Form or function, the great debate” when I talked about function !!

    Making “something cool” isn’t form ? A “problem centered around communication” isn’t function ?

    I don’t know if there is a “great debate”, you said it yourself : “We give clients what they need, not what they want”.

    That’s what I wanted to say when I talked about the usefullness of those techniques 🙂

  28. I don’t think anyone has mentioned that apart from the smoke (I think) they are all vector designs – giving a crisp, hi-fidelity look with lower bandwidth.

    That for me is the thing with the “ibodies”. They give a human dimension without details that gives a small file size. It’s also quite nice from a “diversity” point of view as people can mentally project themselves on to the outline easily without being put off by dissimilarities like skin/hair colour or facial features.

    pbhj’s last blog post..KDE4 built-in screencast for desktop recording

  29. Those are all still powerful graphical elements that shouldn’t be discounted because of their popularity. They can all still be used in great designs if used effectively, and not in the cookie-cutter ways they are presented in this article. I totally agree that the main culprit in cliche-ing these styles are the cheap stock houses. But what can you do.

  30. Yeah the most certainly are very common. Not just in print but in web design as well, tying in to the whole ‘web 2.0’ design trend.

    But just like clothes and art, web and print design fashion goes through trends and movements. Even at this early stage in the internet’s life, it’s still obvious what’s popular at the moment.

    Just like fashion – everyone and their dogs are wearing checkered shirts at the moment. Maybe it will be ink splats next season!

    Nathan Beck’s last blog post..Increasing and maintaining blog traffic

  31. ‘Every Day’ by Silveryn,a popular artist formerly on Deviantart. That particular piece (from around 2002) pre-dates just about every other silhouette stylized pic out there,even the Apple ads i’d say.

    That and variations of that piece were much copied at the time,and continue to be,as you’ve noted.

  32. Jennifer,
    I still am a fan of the floral thing actually but it is used everywhere.

    Digital Medley,
    They have their place 🙂 I still have some upcoming posts too!

    No, it is not a bad thing in all cases and yes trends are there for a reason. I think there are a number of reasons for so many designs looking the same as found in the other comments.

    People use stock because it easily available and clients do not know better which in turn saves designers time and money… just another reason.

    Gotta love the eighties, they just won’t go away!

    Some pages are still quite slow but while we were on the very front page of digg the site was down.

    Have you got the link to the post?

    Another possible reason.

    Hmm beveled and drop shadows seem a bit dated in my opinion now but they will always be around, as they can support many designs. And yes, there is a place for them and it is a matter of how they are used.

    Grunge I left out because I thought it was more a style thing.

    Someone on digg did put together a little piece of all of these designs combined. It has vulgar language just for a warning:

    I find the site to have some awesome non cliché designs.

    Ink splatters are not always vector, nor smoke effects but you are correct in your observation.

    As I did disclaim, I wasn’t stating that these effects are good or bad. I used the cookie-cutter images from a stock site so as not to disclaim other peoples work that used these elements.

    I wouldn’t say that the black silhouette is a completely new idea, it has been around for many, many years.

  33. I really enjoyed this post, simply because it’s a compact way to look at all of the trends going around. 🙂

    I think stock and brushes, etc definitely play a huge role in why these are overused, but it’s also because of trends. There’s trends in every industry – fashion, web design, advertising, etc. It’s the same here. 1 person starts something, a million others follow!

  34. Hi Jacob,

    Funny I think this is my first comment on your site 🙂

    I do agree with you on all 7, although I don’t see ink splatters that often. Another one thats high on that list is “simple gradients”, which is everywhere.

    Another reason why we see the things above, is that its sooo easy to make and at the same time vector graphics have had a boost the last year or so.

    Esben Thomsen’s last blog post..Exercises to Cultivate Your Creativity

  35. Its simple Create your own Brushes and styles. Get a sexy camera and get creating. Top post Jacob. I predict Displacement maps will be the next trend as that is the trend im going to set lol 😀

  36. Hey Jacob, got an idea (Bing!?) Lets set a competition for a new design trend? The winner gets a pair of slippers and a pipe 😀

  37. Of course it can be utilized as a great effect in the right hands 🙂

    Personally Im sick and tired looking at it and Im glad the “blueish web 2.0” craze is over.

    Esben Thomsen’s last blog post..Exercises to Cultivate Your Creativity

  38. Far out. I wish you’d posted the Logo one first. I’m doing logos this week and by the time you get around to posting the article about them I’ll be all done! When I read the article hopefully it wont leave me banging my head against the desk. Grr to you!

  39. Of all of these I think the floral thing is getting really boring now and it seems to be used on absolutely everything.

    I really love grunge when it’s done well but I thought that might be on there too.

  40. I’m with first commenter. It’s all due to stock art. web developers use these sites because they lack the skills to pull off original art. I have used stock before but never exactly the original i got from the site. I always change it up.

    add glossy buttons to this list..soooo over!

    modemlooper’s last blog post..Send Free TXT From iPhone

  41. in the Eighties it was all grids and stupid triangles/shapes, I tried “swirls, flourishes” etc and it cost me a job, so it goes.
    good post, funny too

  42. I believe as long as those elements are used appropriately, as in conveying the site’s theme or branding, then it’s OK. I think the over-usage happens when designers are simply following the trend of what looks “good,” and not putting too much thoughts into how it’d present the sites they’re designing. One good site design doesn’t mean it’d work for another site.

    I recently wrote on this similar topic on my blog.

    Jin’s last blog post..Presidential Design p2

  43. I would say it’s not overused elements but cheap tricks used by people with no imagination or creativity to make their works looks trendy and hide the lack of ideas.

    Michael Garmahis’s last blog post..1000+ free icon sets

  44. I totally agree, even though I have slight sun rays in my blog header…but its not framed in a cliched way. Gotta site a couple you missed though, all things 2.0 (its easy to do so I don’t hate it, but sooo played out), and the new craze of laying purple and yellow haze overlays on top of the swirly clusterfuck designs we keep seeing. Glad to see someone calling these elements out though. I would love to see something legitimately new pop-up. Love the blog.

  45. Good post. I agree that many of those elements are overused incorrectly. Can’t wait for the rest of the series.

    For logo cliches the “swoosh” better be on that list.

  46. I’m gonna have to agree that the skulls, wings and heraldry crests are becoming a bit visually overbearing now. They’re everywhere!! I’m officially making my own clothes to create designs that (though they are sometimes attractive) do NOT contain any of the previously mentioned elements!

  47. I don’t think that there is anything here that’s actually 2008 specific.

    If there is one trend that you really miss and that actually has come to a head in 2008 it’s the use of ultra weight typefaces with filled in counters and an optional rainbow gradient overlay.

  48. Right on Jacob, nice post.

    Though I’ve got to note the irony considering your ‘Smooth’ cd-case design: you’ve used rays, flowing lines and swirls all together hehe.

  49. They are missing FIRE not only smoke but fire I see it everywhere.
    I decided to use video in my website, and yes I used some of these techniques and elements a while ago. Now 3D became trendy…

  50. Eek, I recently added 1 and 2 to my new Bev and Catey cartoon ( and I also nearly put number 6 in there too!

    Sometimes it can be easy to fall into using (or over using) design elements that are familiar even though at the time it doesn’t necessarily feel that way – especially when your background is not in design. The flexibility of simple geometry for decoration such as the lines, circles and swirls (as well as the silhouettes idea) described above probably make them easy candidates for over-use.

    I would also add gradients to the list – now they really are everywhere! It would be useful to see one or two original alternatives included.

    I am looking forward to this new series Jacob so good luck with it.

    Jason Slater’s last blog post..Server Room: Assembling the Rack components part 3

  51. Marnie, Roe, Leo, Bill.
    It is always interesting to note down trends in writing rather than it just being there.

    Jess Hindmarsh,
    Sorry about that! Guess you will just have to wait 5 weeks and hope for the best but I am sure you have a good job none the less… just make sure it is original.

    Ah some interesting cartoons you have there, good work. I didn’t recognise 1 or 2 however in your comic? Simple geometry will always be in design however it is interesting to notice the trends, especially in writing.

    Read your article, it was great, I left a large comment on the article also.

    There are many considerations and reasons behind these trendy designs as many have outlined in the comments. And yes, it is a hard question to answer regarding where to draw the line of original, I don’t believe there is an answer. And yes most commissioned design is restricted to deadlines and budgets.

    Some of those you mentioned are coming up in another post.

    Not 100% but it is the year 2008 and these are the most prevalent elements of this year.

    I have actually just come by Design By Humans which has some rad T-shirts, all original. I even am trying them out as an affiliate.

    Yeah, many designs employ these effects hence why the article is called what it is called! I think I have also managed to use funky-circles in the background of my digital cd cover.

    Pepe, Chelsey
    I haven’t really noticed the fire or city skyline myself but thanks for your feedback.

    Thanks for your link and follow up to the article. Here is the link for people that missed it:

  52. Something to ask oneself is that as these all appear to be trendy designs, in the end, what was the goal in the first place?

    My answer is that the goal is to portray/reveal/display information. Also, there are clients to appeal to that have ideas and desires based upon what they’ve seen, oh…and deadlines.

    There’s an old saying, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” And graphic design is a saturated market. Someone in need of a designer is going to look for who can get done what they want at the right price.

    If you want to create original artwork, create art for yourself – paint, collage, sculpt – whatever. But design just has too many elements going on to ever be “original.”

    And where do you draw the line at original? Are you creating your own fonts? Taking your own photos? Design includes deadlines and budgets – not entirely conducive to “originality.”

    Of course there absolutely are some that have bucked the trend and forged their own paths – David Carson, Stefan Sagmeister, Milton Glaser, to name a few – and they are great examples in the design world. But every industry has its leaders and its followers. It’s just the way it is. At the end of the day, what are you trying to do with design? Change the world? Or pay the mortgage?

  53. Trends are trends because they come and then go. These are hot right now because people respond to them, just look at the graphic tees that people are buying and wearing. Some of these will certainly die, hopefully sooner than later, but they’ll be replaced by something else. Staying up with the trends make happy clients, and happy clients make successful businesses. I’m going through the, “my website isn’t shiny and 2.0ish enough” right now with a client. Deliver what they want, and in a couple years from now I’ll redo it because they’ll want something else.

  54. Mark: I think Jacob said it best—”the job as a designer is to create what a client needs, not what a client wants”—sometimes the right thing to do is to tell a client (tactfully) that they’re wrong. They’ve hired you for your ability to solve their problem, to increase sales, or for some other goal. By pandering to them a technique or element that they happen to have seen somewhere recently and liked, if it doesn’t fit with what’s needed, then I think that’s a betrayal of the years you’ve spent at school learning graphic design and how to solve creative problems.

  55. ”the job as a designer is to create what a client needs, not what a client wants”

    While I agree with the idea/intent behind the statement, I disagree with how it’s phrased.

    Our job is to synthesize the client’s needs and wants into the most successful design possible as efficiently as possible, and our goal is to help the client want everything they need.

  56. I’m guilty of using the swirls and splatter on my site. Even though the splatter is a close up of an airbrush piece I did – my latest site is too trendy and I’m ready to redo it.

    Thing is.. it’s been getting me a ton of work – so what to do? It’s trendy, agreed, but it’s working.

    I LOVE negative space, its probably my favorite style of design. But to a non-designer it probably seems boring, simplistic, and perhaps may appear that not a lot of thought went into it. Which, may also be true..

    Anyhow – I love your posts, and that you have no problem saying what needs to be said. You’d probably make a really great instructor (once you finish school, of course).

    Thank you for the great information, as always.

  57. See this blog that I did as a sort of extension and follow up to this as I thought it was a little short…but still a great topic – I would like to see a poll down of what people think the next trends are going to be too.

    Simon’s last blog post..Design Inspiration | top 12 most overused techniques & elements used in graphic design – Extended

  58. Overused? Yes, probably. But if it works, does it matter? Though I wouldn’t mind seeing the end of the mysterious “silhouettes.” I haven’t noticed the smoke being used all that often.

    @OllieJ – great point. You would enjoy this article, written by Massimo Vignelli. Designer, or information architect?

    Esben you silly, using CC for your back link! Well, I guess you contribute enough 😉

    LaurenMarie – Creative Curio’s last blog post..Enhance Your Designs with the Principle of Emphasis

  59. Yes,i would say the idea has been around for many years,but it didn’t really start taking such a stylized foothold again until that piece i mentioned and several others from the same artist. Most made the front page (or “popular” section) of Deviantart at the time.

    After his work came out,in particular a piece called ‘Change of Seasons’ in 2003,there was an explosion of copycats.

  60. OllieJ,

    In regards to your rephrase:

    Our job is to synthesize the client’s needs and wants into the most successful design possible as efficiently as possible, and our goal is to help the client want everything they need.

    I suppose helping the client ‘want’ everything they need comes down to educating and communicating with the client.

    When you mention most successful design possible, wouldn’t you be trying to achieve that in the first place?

    Glad the style is working for you at the moment, keep it up!

    Thanks for the clarification.

  61. What’s wrong with making what people like? If a client likes swirls, I make them. I refuse to using flashing animated .gif’s though 🙂

    The color blue is overused too, shouldn’t we use that anymore?

    Overused, maybe, but I wouldn’t ban the techniques..

  62. the most important thing is that the designer must know why s/he’s using that.

    the designer shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel everyday, he must find the best solution for each job and client.

  63. I just came across this site today:

    Scott’s print portfolio uses many of the techniques above (sunrays, flowing lines, silhouettes, funky circles, ornaments) — all applied beautifully – showing that it’s perfectly possible to use these elements without looking gimmicky or copycat-like.

  64. True. However, dont you think everything is over used? There is not much new things out there. Everywere you turn you see the same things just with a different style attached to it. Great article.
    I dont think I have ever used anything you mentioned, ok maybe the smoke whne I first started designing. You just have to love EyeCandy for Photoshop back in the day with the Fire and Smoke plugins. GREAT STUFF! (chuckles)

  65. I would add grudge to that list! Definitely an emerging overused design element.

    Jamie Le Souef’s last blog post..Tip : Backing up a large MySQL Database (errno: 24)

  66. Over used? maybe.
    Been around a while? Oh heck yes. We’ve all been seeing these around for the last decade or so. The only difference now is that they made their way into nearly every freakin’ website around.
    Hopefully it will get people to pay more attention to print advertising. If that where the case this blog entry would have been published five years ago.

  67. Great article, I am personally so tried of see flourishes and the circles. In a past job I was a designer for a sportswear company and I got so tried of requests for those two elements. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series.

    Erik’s last blog post..Designing for SEO

  68. Lol, yeah i agree with the ray of lights, ink splatters and the floral designs… i personally like the last two hehe

    Linora’s last blog post..Compaq City

  69. Oh dear, I’m guilty of a lot of these in my brush designs. However, though I’m aware that many of these have been done to death – it’s still what my clients and blog visitors clamor for. The download stats prove it. I think the general non designing public are slower to pick up on design trends. And so that’s what they request, until we offer something new. People are scared of change. And It’s all too easy to be ‘influenced’ when we are saturated by wading through graphic design blog posts!

    mel’s last blog post..First day of Autumn – 5 autumn brush resources

  70. I blame Illustrator’s ‘trace’ tool for the silhouettes, and possibly the flourishes too.

    I work in-house for a company, but they quite often out-source stuff… most of which recently has come back with 2 or 3 of these elements 😐

    I try to be a bit more original myself, but then I get asked to do more stuff like the out-sourced stuff.

  71. Oh so true! I think it has a lot to do with the whole “web 2.0” look, which I think people forget what it all really means and NO PEOPLE ITS NOT ALL ABOUT REFLECTIONS AND PRETTY LAYOUTS!

    Another over the top and used trend I’ve been seeing all over for the past year…CLEAN layouts. Not like this site, I mean the plain colored header that stretches to fit the screen with normal font for the title and then the content on a white BG with no type of style what-so-ever.

    I’m starting to doubt the new generation of “designers” out there…

  72. Love it! Thanks, Jacob! Short on time – so apologies in advance if I’m repeating previous comments . . .

    For whatever reasons, the whole grunge look just turns me off – so most of the elements you’ve included are ones that I tend to shy away from.

    Aside from just not appreciating their aesthetic value, I also think that they’re a great way to make a design look dated in a year or two. Fine for designers/developers/bloggers who frequently update their websites – but not as cool for clients who may be looking to establish a long term branding look/feel.

    Looking forward to the rest of your series.


  73. i hate some of fave ideas are already overused before i got the chance to use them!

    you can also add the pinkish-gray or grayish-pink color as a web accent i see it everywhere, including on this site…

  74. agree agree agree

    But since we’re blaming, I want to add another party to the blame list 🙂
    Smashing Magazine, and the likes of…

    These sites perpetuate trendy style. Nothing makes me thing of “style=fart” more than the rainbow hues and swirls in an emetic collage.

    That said, there are times when any of these elements warrant use, most examples I see only show deficiency in originality or creativity.

  75. hi,
    i just wanna know dat where should i get these kinds of elements or effects used in graphics nowdays.send me any link. thanxxxx

  76. I think part of the overuse is because of lack of time. Unfortunately, I have worked in positions in the US where people are so deficit in creativity that they demand, and I mean DEMAND that stock illustrations be used because “They pay good money for the subscription” (all of what, $15?). So many designers are stuck in places where they have so little control creatively. That is why I went to freelance.

    Overused elements are not necessarily bad, but at the same time you can take an element and make it your own, even with as little time as one has in a corporate environment or as an in-house. (I have worked in environments such as an in-house and as part of a team in Publication as well as Clothing Design).

    We shouldn’t run from a design because it has been used a lot, but we should steer clear of the “Mimic Factor” which gets so many designers into trouble.

    I personally hate skulls and grunge, but I have seen the grunge look pulled off perfectly. I have never seen skulls pulled off well. However I am a minimalist in some ways, so that’s just my opinion.

  77. I would have to agree with what a lot of people are saying…

    Except stock shit, stock images of this “trendy” shit came up after it was trendy…

    Most stock is created by freelancers… for the conusmer, based on needs ( or current trends) …

    Stock is bad. follows trend, If there is a stock site that created trends and the new “hot shit”,
    it would bank. but stock is far from being that creative.

    oh, and simplicity is the new black, you know that…

    as far as seeing new trends, the internet is the best place for that.. Sites like deviantart are the best and the worst. People take chances on new shit there, and it spreads… fast. Mostly because these “designers” are making shit look cool, not communicate.

    In the real world, production slows shit down, if you try to use trendy shit without communicating or with lack of any “design essentials”, by the time it releases it is no longer trendy…

    and your shit’s wack.

  78. I do a lot of ad design and started using the sun ray effect a few years ago to draw the eye to the title/central graphic. This was received very well by my employer and clients…so well in fact that recently when I pointed out the the sun ray effect was getting stale and I was tired of falling back on it (which I would do ofetn when I didn’t have time to come up with something original, which is usual in my tight deadline oriented job), the sales guys said “No…keep the sunrays, they do the job and the clients dig them.” so I’m pretty much forced to keep shelling out tired cliches because that’s what the customer wants. (apoligies for the run-on rant).

  79. My opinion is that the internet is ruining everything. It’s just becoming so saturated. The days where there was so much opportunity has gone. I left the graphic design scene and now run my own valeting business cause the competition in graphic design is just ridiculous and there isn’t a lot of money to be made. Anyone with a computer is getting in on the act and it’s saturating the market. Anyone seems to be able to design these days when web sites like istock are about.

  80. I find the only problem with design trends is… sometimes clients out right ask for them, and although we all know we don’t want to give it to them… what if they want it?

    I think that as long as you created it yourself, then you shouldn’t feel bad for it. If you are just using trendy stock art to make the same effect, then it’s a waste… at least that’s how I see it.

  81. As over used as the elements are (and yes I tend to use them as well) I think execution is the distinguishing factor. There is an extreme abuse of certain stock images, but only a handful of people actual use them in a unique way. I think designers should strive to use an image in away that is unique to them and their own sense of style.

  82. I think people use these elements because they are “safe”. Let’s face it…clients aren’t graphic designers. It is very hard to convince them to go for something bold and new. In the end, it’s the client that’s most important. They are my bread and butter…I will give them what they want, until the next trend comes around. This is what America and most of the rest of the world is about…following the current trends. I mean….do you ever look at the Billboard’s Top 100? It’s always some cheesy pop song by Beyonce or The Black Eyed Peas. It sells…it’s a formula that has worked for decades, and unfortunately will continue to do so.

  83. I agree, a lot of these are over used but that just means people really like them. It’s like music now days, it’s hard to come up with something truly original without being influenced by the previous musicians.

    As for Nate’s take on stuff that has been around for centuries, the “Sun Ray” effect has been used in a lot of Japenese art.

  84. I have to agree that these images are over used. Yet I have seen some very interesting designs using these basic elements and adding some original elements, like the silhouette but using typography to fill out the silhouetted image instead of black space. When considering a new design for a brochure or poster campaign project, the visibility of these designs can be helpful in attracting attention. If the designer can customize and add uniqueness to suit your purpose, even better!

  85. How do i blend different pictures together and with the background.
    is there any designing tips on corel draw you could pass across to me?

  86. Hey guys. I find it really interesting to see these over used designs on an in everything. If you are seeking something new. . . well good luck. I personally think of using a little more grunge effects and ofcourse the wonderful pencil art in digital format concept. I think some designs are a bit over rated but, like the flourishing swirls and stuff, it really is nice to look at and grabs emediate attention. Im working on my freelance site and the url is and do keep this url somewhere and you will see what i mean by grunge and what it really can do for your site. the site will be up and running in no time. Good luck to all the freelancers and pro designers out their!

  87. I totally agree with this article. The circles drive me crazy! I see them in almost every ad or package design lately…it must be so easy to write out text and slap on a bunch of awesome circles to instantly make something look super creative!

  88. I stumbled just upon this… especially the overuse of swirls makes me smile. 🙂

    Last week, I was making a cliched 00s design (on my website about old music, you can choose between a lot of themes/colors), and I was searching for swirls and baroque patterns. The stock sites, mentioned before, made me almost cry…

  89. It’s been over two years since you posted this and these are still on the top of overused design cliches. I’m glad I’ve never used them. Yes, they do look super slick, but they always left me feeling cold. Like the methods are inherently clip arty even when they aren’t.

  90. Hey Jacob,

    We have all used these effects but your presentation is amazing inspiration. I’ve loved flowing lines graphics design.

    Some instant inspiration. Whenever I get free, I’ll definitely write a dedicated blog post for your just creative design blog 🙂

  91. Been designing for 20 plus years. There have always been trendy looks in design that people use to give their work a ‘fresh’ or ‘current’ look. I don’t think stock art & photos have anything to do with it. Junior, less creative or less motivated designers fall into this trap a lot. A good designer knows how to inject elements of trends into their work and come up with stuff that actually IS fresh, not just trendy. Thanks for the articles, love it! But consider another easier to read spam stopper please 🙂

  92. I’m embarrassed to admit I consider all of these in my most current project. Thankfully, I chose to go another direction all together. I would agree that sites like Shutter Stock are laden with these kinds of images and it’s tempting to go with the status quo.

    This is an awesome site. Thanks.

  93. Lots of Photoshop tutorials I have read for graphic design tips. I am really impressed to this tutorial. I just want to include one thing “Without excercise, practise and experience, the talent is of no use” and You did it. Thank you

  94. How do i blend different pictures together and with the background.
    is there any designing tips on corel draw you could pass across to me?

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