27 May 2006

[design] Does Stock Suck?

Gently wafting my way this last week were numerous opportunities to consider the concept of originality.

A discussion on the Graphic Designers Resource Group at Yahoo! Groups inspired me to write this piece over on Designorati regarding the thought of using clip-art as the basis for a logo design. My short take: while there may seem to be good reasons of the moment to do so, clip art for logos is a terrible idea.

Somehow, also, I stumbled on a link to a great (and knowingly funny) piece on the Forty Media site: Top Ten Stock Photography Clich├ęs. A title like that just begs to be read, so go do it already.

The article was found via this post at the About Desktop Publishing blog, maintained by another member of the Legion of Triply-Named Designers, Jacci Howard Bear. And, with respect to About DTP, on Designorati I did an overview of the free open source layout app Scribus, which she also linked to (thanks, Jacci, that did happen to brighten my day!)

This (and following a few links on this post at About DTP) has gotten me ruminating on the nature of the stock image beast. Stock is big business (just price some) and a lot of designers use a lot of it.

Actually it makes sense in many venues. But does it undermine the creative's milieu in the end?
The weak spot, as I see it, is well expressed by Jacci, if I may quote her:
If you are pulling your images from some of the most popular clip art packages or from shareware and free collections on the Web then chances are that you will see the same images popping up on fliers, in ads, or gracing newsletters and Web pages.

Royalty free illustrations and stock photography are relatively inexpensive. Their ready availability is what makes them attractive and what makes it likely that someone else will use that same image. You have to ask yourself how likely it is that someone else, including your competitor, will use the exact same image and how much will it matter if they do.

One of the goals of a design is, in many applications, to be memorable. There are situations, I suppose, that one would actually want to design toward a common, unremarkable vocabulary, but I can begin to see how the use of stock might actually contribute to a banalization of our cultural design vocabluary.

I am someone, however, who has a modest digital camera, average illustration skills, and can compose a picture and frame a shot. I, Samuel John Klein, am a multiple design threat.

I can do it all.

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