Design Message

Cliché of the Week: The Water Ripple

The presenter clicks, the water ripple fills the screen, and you wake up five minutes later to his “In Summary” slide.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen this on a slide. Yeah, we’ve seen it, too. This is another one of those visual metaphors so overused that it has gone over and joined the dark side of presentation visuals. Its clarity and simplicity, though once a breath of fresh air from the dreaded bullet slide, have now become the enemy of clear and effective communication.

Every member of your audience, their eyes reflecting back the blue light of ripple-slide goodness, will know that your visuals are not the result of countless hours of preparation, but rather the sad and hurried product of a “good enough” mentality, someone who grabbed the first image that came to mind.

And the fact is, you can do better. Lots better. Here are a few ideas:

  • Have a brainstorm with your friends on the words “impact” or “influence”.
  • Spend some quality time with a thesaurus.
  • Play with keywords when you’re searching for images.
  • If ripples are the key, do they have to be water ripples?
  • Does it have to be a photo? Maybe your kid can draw you something in Crayolas. (Crayola slides can be very effective.)

Got a better idea? Leave it in the comments. That way, we can all benefit from your creativity.

Remember, our point isn’t that clichés are bad. In fact, they never would have been overused if they weren’t good in the first place. But we have a responsibility as designers (yes, that means you!) to stretch ourselves, innovate, and come up with the next right answer.

Happy hunting.

Doug Neff

AUTHOR |

Related Posts

  • Adriano Sousa

    Speaking of water ripple: http://tinyurl.com/3n9xnn (A bit out of context, but nice indeed…)

  • Adriano Sousa

    Speaking of water ripple: http://tinyurl.com/3n9xnn (A bit out of context, but nice indeed…)

  • Adriano Sousa

    A very dark sweet cliché has two words in its name: Comic Sans. When in dental school, and also out of it, the main type used in presentations was Comic Sans. Can you explain this??? I mean, what kind of serious message can be spread with Comic Sans???

  • Adriano Sousa

    A very dark sweet cliché has two words in its name: Comic Sans. When in dental school, and also out of it, the main type used in presentations was Comic Sans. Can you explain this??? I mean, what kind of serious message can be spread with Comic Sans???

  • This is a sneaky one, because it’s a “pretty” image. The cool blue is soothing and attractive. Ooooh, and it’s ripples in water! That’s symbolic, innit?

    The problem with clichés is that people are seldom aware of them. It takes thinking, thinking about each word, each phrase, and each image in the presentation. And face it, most of us are lazy when we can get away with it.

  • This is a sneaky one, because it’s a “pretty” image. The cool blue is soothing and attractive. Ooooh, and it’s ripples in water! That’s symbolic, innit?

    The problem with clichés is that people are seldom aware of them. It takes thinking, thinking about each word, each phrase, and each image in the presentation. And face it, most of us are lazy when we can get away with it.

  • Thanks for the link, Adriano. Definitely NOT cliché…

    We’ll be covering overused fonts in a few weeks, but your point about Comic Sans is well-taken. We have a few designers here who would like to see it dragged out behind the barn and shot…

  • Thanks for the link, Adriano. Definitely NOT cliché…

    We’ll be covering overused fonts in a few weeks, but your point about Comic Sans is well-taken. We have a few designers here who would like to see it dragged out behind the barn and shot…

  • John

    But I work for a water utility – now what am I going to use? 🙂

  • John

    But I work for a water utility – now what am I going to use? 🙂

  • OK, confession time: my visual cliché is the light bulb. Betcha can’t guess what that’s symbolic of!

  • OK, confession time: my visual cliché is the light bulb. Betcha can’t guess what that’s symbolic of!

  • Good work, Roy. That’s the first step. 🙂

    Anyone else want to fess up?

  • Good work, Roy. That’s the first step. 🙂

    Anyone else want to fess up?

  • Really nice work! I guess we’ve all made the same mistake in the past. But its time we put a stop to same.

  • Really nice work! I guess we’ve all made the same mistake in the past. But its time we put a stop to same.

  • Although not the most uplifting visual metaphor for “impact” or “influence,” I’d suggest that a bully threatening someone may catch attention.

    As for my pet peeve visuals: photo after photo of office workers in various collaborative poses. A group gathered ’round a laptop. A typical business meeting. Yes, I’ve used some of these, but I’m trying to get better 🙂

    For the most recent web-based learning for which I wrote storyboards, I was heavily influenced by Dan Roam and choose to do it entirely as “whiteboarding,” including a hand-written type of font and hand-drawn pictures. It was much more interesting than “clean” line art graphics.

  • Although not the most uplifting visual metaphor for “impact” or “influence,” I’d suggest that a bully threatening someone may catch attention.

    As for my pet peeve visuals: photo after photo of office workers in various collaborative poses. A group gathered ’round a laptop. A typical business meeting. Yes, I’ve used some of these, but I’m trying to get better 🙂

    For the most recent web-based learning for which I wrote storyboards, I was heavily influenced by Dan Roam and choose to do it entirely as “whiteboarding,” including a hand-written type of font and hand-drawn pictures. It was much more interesting than “clean” line art graphics.

  • Awesome reference, Brian. We’re big fans of Dan Roam here at Duarte, and we’ve also used the whiteboard style for some of our presentations. I’m sure you already read his blog, but for everyone else’s benefit, check him out here: http://www.digitalroam.typepad.com/

    His book is great, too: http://www.thebackofthenapkin.com/

  • Awesome reference, Brian. We’re big fans of Dan Roam here at Duarte, and we’ve also used the whiteboard style for some of our presentations. I’m sure you already read his blog, but for everyone else’s benefit, check him out here: http://www.digitalroam.typepad.com/

    His book is great, too: http://www.thebackofthenapkin.com/

  • Alex

    Talking about keywords? how do you manage between “topics” and “tags”?

    For example, I was expecting “Cliché” as a topic on your site, but it is a tag :-p

    Have you a special way to manage that?

  • Alex

    Talking about keywords? how do you manage between “topics” and “tags”?

    For example, I was expecting “Cliché” as a topic on your site, but it is a tag :-p

    Have you a special way to manage that?

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