Design Message

Cliché of the Week: Clip Art

True story: I was working with a client, reviewing his existing slides with him, and making notes as to what needed work. We came across a data slide containing a large piece of clip art, similar to the fellow you see here.

It was the only graphic in the entire presentation.

I impulsively reached for the delete key, even though we were just reviewing the deck. He stopped me and said, “What’s wrong with it?”

Hmmm.

Let me say first that I have nothing but the deepest respect for this client. And because I’ve known him for years, I felt I could say to him,

“Dude, it’s horrible.”

He suggested we come back to it later, and when he noticed that I started gagging every time we passed this particular slide, he relented. I clicked on the offending image and brought my finger down hard on the delete key. (Very satisfying.)

I’m afraid there’s no single rule I can give you with regards to choosing illustrations for your presentation. I can tell you that this particular one is probably not a good choice. And I can tell you that if you click “Insert clip art” in PowerPoint, you’re probably not going to get a very good one.

Remember how stores used to sell CDs full of “15,000 pieces of clip art”? Well, there was a reason it only cost you twenty bucks.

More importantly, clip art has gone far beyond the realm of “tired cliché”. Clip art achieved cliché status during the Clinton Administration. And most of your colleagues gave it up years ago.

You can, too. Let the clip art library rest in peace.

Doug Neff

AUTHOR |

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  • LOL…
    While reading your article, I got an imense “dejá-vu”, reviewing many of my briefing meetings with clients. Being a graphic designer it’s easy to picture my feelings. 🙂

  • LOL…
    While reading your article, I got an imense “dejá-vu”, reviewing many of my briefing meetings with clients. Being a graphic designer it’s easy to picture my feelings. 🙂

  • I will miss that nice little PowerPoint stick figure guy who always looked very thoughtful before having a brilliant-idea-light-bulb appear over his head. Farewell my friend.

  • I will miss that nice little PowerPoint stick figure guy who always looked very thoughtful before having a brilliant-idea-light-bulb appear over his head. Farewell my friend.

  • I certainly agree. But at the same time, Doug, I feel like you told us what we should not do, without telling us what we should do instead. I am perpetually on a mission to replace words & bullets in my presentations with graphics and visuals. But when the project has no budget for a graphic artist, where are the available sources for excellent graphics (since Powerpoint’s built-in clipart is not it)? I’d sure appreciate some professional help! 🙂

  • I certainly agree. But at the same time, Doug, I feel like you told us what we should not do, without telling us what we should do instead. I am perpetually on a mission to replace words & bullets in my presentations with graphics and visuals. But when the project has no budget for a graphic artist, where are the available sources for excellent graphics (since Powerpoint’s built-in clipart is not it)? I’d sure appreciate some professional help! 🙂

  • Bodie

    actually, as much as we all may hate to admit it… we all have our own self-created clip art libraries that we go to when w need something in a pinch. But for client reviews we just call it artwork. :c)

  • Bodie

    actually, as much as we all may hate to admit it… we all have our own self-created clip art libraries that we go to when w need something in a pinch. But for client reviews we just call it artwork. :c)

  • Fair point, Bruce. Luckily, places like http://www.istockphoto.com are awesome resources of illustrations as well as photos. A bit more expensive than photos usually, but you can easily find some great assets there.

    Be careful, though, and use a discerning eye. Mr. Detective came from istock, and they have plenty more like him. Look for simple, clear, well-designed graphics.

    Anyone else have a good resource for non-clip-art graphics for their presentations?

  • Fair point, Bruce. Luckily, places like http://www.istockphoto.com are awesome resources of illustrations as well as photos. A bit more expensive than photos usually, but you can easily find some great assets there.

    Be careful, though, and use a discerning eye. Mr. Detective came from istock, and they have plenty more like him. Look for simple, clear, well-designed graphics.

    Anyone else have a good resource for non-clip-art graphics for their presentations?

  • Bruce, Doug,

    As we all know, imagery use in presentations is, most of the time, conceptual.

    Clipart is the easiest/laziest/costless way of solving the problem…

    In my 20 years as a presentation designer, I’ve NEVER used clipart.

    Specially nowadays, with places selling royalty-free stockphotos like istockphoto.com or dreamstime.com, this last selling hi-res photos as low as $0.20 each? Will a few bucks be to heavy even for the lowest budget?
    Maybe, but only if you’re working for free…

  • Bruce, Doug,

    As we all know, imagery use in presentations is, most of the time, conceptual.

    Clipart is the easiest/laziest/costless way of solving the problem…

    In my 20 years as a presentation designer, I’ve NEVER used clipart.

    Specially nowadays, with places selling royalty-free stockphotos like istockphoto.com or dreamstime.com, this last selling hi-res photos as low as $0.20 each? Will a few bucks be to heavy even for the lowest budget?
    Maybe, but only if you’re working for free…

  • Sorry:
    “…selling low-cost royalty-free stockphotos”
    “…too heavy even for…”

  • Sorry:
    “…selling low-cost royalty-free stockphotos”
    “…too heavy even for…”

  • CK

    I found http://www.sxc.hu to be a great free resource for some stunning stock photos !
    Do check it out !

  • CK

    I found http://www.sxc.hu to be a great free resource for some stunning stock photos !
    Do check it out !

  • Neeraj

    Finding artwork is one piece of the puzzle, but for non-artist trained folks that plague the presentation worlds (read : engineers, MBAs) what are some good graphic creation software tools that we can use to make visual slides. I mean for me to learn adobe photoshop or illustrator seems to be overkill and highly time consuming….. so i use things like MS visio and those clearly don’t look good as visuals … thoughts?

  • Neeraj

    Finding artwork is one piece of the puzzle, but for non-artist trained folks that plague the presentation worlds (read : engineers, MBAs) what are some good graphic creation software tools that we can use to make visual slides. I mean for me to learn adobe photoshop or illustrator seems to be overkill and highly time consuming….. so i use things like MS visio and those clearly don’t look good as visuals … thoughts?

  • Hi Neeraj, I’ve designed a number of presentations myself, and I don’t know photoshop or illustrator. You can do quite a lot within PowerPoint or Keynote, for one thing, and istockphoto can fill in a lot of gaps for you. There are thousands of great illustrations on istock, for every kind of subject…

    I’ve used Visio, too, as well as Omnigraffle on the Mac, but I think of these more as personal organization tools. Mind-mapping, org-charting, etc.

    Have you been to our slide:ology basic course yet? (http://slideology.com/seminars/spring-slideology-workshop/) That’s really the point of these courses: how to design presentations in your mind, before you even boot up the computer. You’ll find out just how creative you are, and how much you can do without photoshop or illustrator.

    Best to you!

  • Hi Neeraj, I’ve designed a number of presentations myself, and I don’t know photoshop or illustrator. You can do quite a lot within PowerPoint or Keynote, for one thing, and istockphoto can fill in a lot of gaps for you. There are thousands of great illustrations on istock, for every kind of subject…

    I’ve used Visio, too, as well as Omnigraffle on the Mac, but I think of these more as personal organization tools. Mind-mapping, org-charting, etc.

    Have you been to our slide:ology basic course yet? (http://slideology.com/seminars/spring-slideology-workshop/) That’s really the point of these courses: how to design presentations in your mind, before you even boot up the computer. You’ll find out just how creative you are, and how much you can do without photoshop or illustrator.

    Best to you!

  • I’ve counseled clients to stay away from clip art as well, advising that a carefully chosen photo is always better. Problem remains, however, that a person without much of a graphic eye will choose something about as cheesy as the clip art they’re replacing. As a book cover designer I see people send this type of stuff every day.
    Perhaps the best way to avoid all this is to NEVER go to slide design until the concept and story is really solid on paper first.

  • I’ve counseled clients to stay away from clip art as well, advising that a carefully chosen photo is always better. Problem remains, however, that a person without much of a graphic eye will choose something about as cheesy as the clip art they’re replacing. As a book cover designer I see people send this type of stuff every day.
    Perhaps the best way to avoid all this is to NEVER go to slide design until the concept and story is really solid on paper first.

  • Norm Sutaria

    Another resource for photographs: Flickr’s Creative Commons images. Although businesses will be limited to the attribution, no derivatives and share alike licenses, there are some incredibly rich images. Also, be sure to include a credit line when necessary.

  • Norm Sutaria

    Another resource for photographs: Flickr’s Creative Commons images. Although businesses will be limited to the attribution, no derivatives and share alike licenses, there are some incredibly rich images. Also, be sure to include a credit line when necessary.

  • Trish

    Thank you. Some recent company communications I’ve been receiving are rife with stick-figure clip art, and reading this helped vent the frustration.

  • Trish

    Thank you. Some recent company communications I’ve been receiving are rife with stick-figure clip art, and reading this helped vent the frustration.

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