Starbursts: Like Fireworks, But More Annoying

Since today is the Fourth of July in the United States (not sure what the date is in other countries), I feel I should mention that I love fireworks. Even if I don’t totally understand the point, I figure anything that is an excuse for a cookout and that can cause more than 400 people to show up at a Florida Marlins game has to be good for something.

However, when it comes to graphic design, the closest counterparts to fireworks are starbursts, which cause me to do what my son did the first time he experienced fireworks: burst into tears.

Whenever I make some unequivocal statement about what is good design and what is bad design, people come to me with arguments to the contrary. (“I use Comic Sans because I want people to equate my interpretive site with yard sales and take-out menus.”)

With that in mind, let me make this unequivocal statement: Starbursts are bad graphic design. Even if your product is FREE! or NEW! or simply AVAILABLE FOR A LIMITED TIME!, the starburst is the bold, blinking, animated gif of graphic design. The person who uses starbursts in design is the same person who emails you in all caps. Whatever reason a person has for using a starburst, I can assure you there’s a better solution.

I found this brochure in a rack at a highway-side restaurant in Wyoming. There are a lot of things wrong with it from a design perspective. It uses clip art, glowing drop shadows, random angles, roughly 8,000 fonts in every possible style, and a color palette loosely described as “all of them.” (It’s reminiscent of this design advice that Friend of IBD Matthew Greuel heard recently and shared on our Facebook page: “Keep adding fonts until the viewer vomits…then start adding colors….”)

Even amidst all that chaos, what stands out most is that it looks like the brochure was attacked by a pack of eight-year-olds wielding yellow paintball guns. I can’t be certain of this, but I’d guess that the person who designed this brochure has a background in producing late-night infomercials.

Of course, if you’ve read this far, you’re likely of a similar mind and the larger problem is what to do with that client (or boss) who asks for starbursts. This is your opportunity to politely resist and educate your client (or boss) about the more subtle and elegant ways of drawing attention to important information without resorting to the visual equivalent of punching your audience in the face. Sometimes the solution can be as simple as changing the color, size, or line thickness of your type, or possibly altering the composition to prominently feature important elements at the top of a page or within a large amount of white space. (There are lots of solutions, and all of them are better than starbursts.)

In the end, the things that make starbursts so terrible are what make fireworks so great: They’re loud, they’re obnoxious, and they’re pointless.

Happy Fourth of July!

Facebook vs. MySpace: A Design Perspective

I was a late bloomer when it came to life on MySpace or Facebook. In some ways I have always been a late bloomer. Something deep within me makes me think that parachute pants and Spuds Mackenzie T-shirts are still cool. I also recently bought a new pair of Vans. I’ve come to terms with being behind on things.

I came to MySpace and Facebook through peer pressure. You know, everyone’s doing it, why aren’t you? I have to admit now that I’m addicted. After using MySpace for several years I have primarily abandoned it, and focused my efforts on maintaining “relationships” on Facebook. I see pros and cons to each culture from a design perspective.

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I’m not anti-MySpace, because, as an interpreter, it appeals to me. The options for creativity are endless. There are so many applications or plug-ins that allow for a unique experience at every visit. The uniqueness is what makes MySpace what it is. This is also why I grew tired of MySpace. If I never see another pink and green polka dot background that hurts my eyes, it’ll be too soon.

I do find it fascinating how people try to apply a background that represents their personality in MySpace. My background, which has been there since 2006, has an argyle-based image. What does that say about me? I’m really afraid to ask. Many pages leave my asking questions about the person and design decisions being made.

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Facebook appeals to me as a designer. I like how clean it is, the consistency from page to page, and that the focus is on the interaction between individuals (rather than on the display of individuality). The software that drives the website is amazing to me. I’m constantly impressed with its possibilities and intelligence.  The way Facebook is designed makes it very easy to use. I find it to be more intuitive than MySpace and less complicated for navigation.

The problem that I have with Facebook is that the applications, blogging format, and other elements (snowball fights, trading junk, zombie wars, etc.) are just strange to me and take away from the strong points of the site’s design.

Maybe I’m just out of touch and need to go squeeze into my parachute pants.