Shortcuts Make for Cheap Images

Is design on the ropes?

I see it every single day: images posted on the web, on TV, in magazines. It seems everywhere you look that the message being reported or being shown or editorialized is the most important thing. And that’s fine, but it’s almost always being accompanied by an image where the designer(s) took shortcuts to make it.

It makes for throwaway designs. After all, in these cases they’re used just once. Who cares if they appear cheap? I do.

We live in product-transient society anymore. Things we use are disposable. Everything about American contemporary living reflects this “paper plate” mentality: disposable plastic bags and cartons, paper cups and plates, frozen meals, paper napkins and facial tissues, etc. just to name the “consumables”. Then we have items that are cheaper to buy new (or otherwise replace) than to repair, like a toaster or a cell phone or or even a car. We don’t think about this anymore, don’t seriously consider what we might toss in the trash. Is this “thing” recyclable?

Well it certainly appears that certain design is considered disposable. The above visuals are evidence of that thinking. And this kind of design thinking is very omnipresent. Some of it is the result of time expediency. But a lot of it is not.

The image at left is from a report I saw recently on television about an employee at Charlotte Douglas International Airport who takes it upon herself to be a vocal beacon of hospitality, her almost sing-song welcoming making the news. The video was recorded by a visitor to the airport and apparently submitted to the news station in Charlotte, then forwarded to CNN by the affiliate.

Notice the clear image in the center flanked by a fuzzy image on either side. You see this all the time nowadays. The cell phone recorded video’s perimeter is obviously limited by the confines of the cell phone’s screen, so in order to make the video presentable on TV, the graphic designer at the TV station fleshes out the 16:9 proportion by adding a section of the video behind the main image, enlarging it and then blurring it.

I’d seen this kind of design a long time ago in a book about web design. I don’t know who first decided this was a way to do what they felt was good design in that book, or what mindset they drew on, or what design school might’ve taught design that way. But it smacks of not having enough of one of two things: image resources or time.

In the web design book I had, time was obviously not a factor. Therefore not having enough image resources is no excuse. There are tons of stock photography available. In the above usage for TV, I can see that time was definitely a factor, but I also think there could’ve been a way to crop the video to make it look more presentable. Why not crop it in a bordered horizontal frame and place it in the center of the screen?

But TV stations and even CNN don’t even think about it. They do what we see above every time, like it’s a programmed format they use for any video that’s phoned in. Maybe the person shooting that video could’ve shot it with his/her phone held horizontally. I’m just tired of seeing this cheap way of fleshing out the screen. It isn’t necessary. It doesn’t make the video appear larger that it is.

As for the image at right, this is just garbage. It’s from an article in a magazine, showing a person drinking a beverage. This has become my newest rant in design: doing “designed” illustration the cheapest way possible, using simple geometric shapes, including a letterform (yes, that’s a cap J used as an arm on the eyeglasses), all as shortcuts to expedite an image’s production value. And this, people, is the extent of contemporary illustration. Wow.

Makes you wonder, as a designer. Does anyone care about design anymore? Is function everything now?

I believe the use of expedients should not be a practice. Expedients are one thing if they’re needed in an extreme time crunch. They are another if time is not a factor, and that’s just cheap.

 

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