5 Ways To Look Stupid Doing 5 Things


Every art form has a learning curve. When you see these clichés, you don’t have to look any further to know someone is an amateur.

Film & Photography

  • The 180 Rule – Imagine an invisible line drawn between two actors who are speaking. This is the line of action. Don’t cross it. Keep the camera on only one side of that line.
  • Rule of Thirds – Divide the image into 3rds, vertically and horizontally. Place your subject along those intersections.
  • Focus – To draw attention to the subject, keep it in focus, let everything else be out of focus.
  • Cropping – Crop to the action. Unless it’s for a special effect, get rid of useless space.
  • Action – Non-moving, directional objects (guitars, swords) should face the center of the page. To convey motion, face it towards the outside of the page.
  • Performance

  • Speaking – Don’t lick your lips, clear your throat, adjust your hair & clothing, or say “um.”
  • Hide – Don’t go out on stage until you’re ready to start performing. It ruins the mystique.
  • Surprise – Don’t noodle the first few notes of the song before you play it. Don’t say the song name, either. Let the audience react in the moment. Unless you make a gag out of it like Ween: “This song is called Fat Lenny. By Ween.”
  • Tuning & Testing – Don’t tune and test your gear in front of the audience, while everyone waits. Don’t tap the mic and say, “Check. 1, 2. Testes. Can you hear me?” Have someone else do it before you go out there.
  • Mind Your Own Business – Avoid looking at your bandmates while playing, especially when a mistake is made. Nothing screams amateur like, “Everyone ready for the change? Here it comes… and…” If you’re a drummer, don’t do that “leaning back and getting ready to sneeze the chorus on everyone” face.
  • Typography & Layout

  • Scaling – Don’t stretch your type horizontally or vertically.
  • Drop Shadow – Never use it, unless it’s necessary to separate the element from its background or to add depth against something. Black type on white background = please, just leave it alone.
  • Unity – Use fonts in the same family. Never mix more than two typefaces, unless you need to “break the reality” of the page. It’s acceptable when you need to quote an external work, such as a screenplay.
  • Contrast – Vary the sizes, weights, and tints & shades of your elements. On the art board, size is relative. Big is only big when it’s next to something smaller.
  • Never, ever, ever use Comic Sans, Papyrus, or Hobo. When you can help it, avoid Helvetica, Times, Impact, or any font that is installed by default.
  • Writing

  • Use sentences of different lengths, so people don’t get bored. Like this. See?
  • Don’t repeat yourself.
  • Avoid adverbs. Choose a verb that doesn’t need decoration. “Tony ran really, really fast all in one single, quick, instant burst, like a hungry, starving, desperate cheetah after prey in the brutal wilderness” becomes “Tony sprinted.” If the action isn’t inherently interesting within context, tell a different story.
  • Don’t bold, italicize, underline, and colorize every sentence. If your writing is concise, you won’t need to make the important sentences stand out from all that crap you wrote.
  • Don’t try to sound smarter and more professional than you are, especially if you don’t know what the words mean.
  • Music / Audio Recording

  • Trimming – Unless it’s intentional to add charm, attitude, or humor, trim the beginnings and ends of your sound files to get rid of pops, swallowing noises, your fingers rubbing against the strings, and extra breaths.
  • Posture – Don’t cock your head down and sideways to look at your hands when playing guitar.
  • Effects – Only use them on purpose to create… an effect!
  • Melodic Contour – Melody should have peaks and valleys, and only hit the highest note ONCE. It’s called The Focal Point. Ever notice that a vocalist sounds like a pro when singing a cover song, but their originals hit the same 3 notes? (It’s usually the tonic, b3 and b7 over a major chord. Ugh.)
  • Scrubbing – Don’t strum the guitar strings up and down for the duration of the song. Vary your rhythm. Hold some notes. Leave some space. Drummers also commit this sin, and it’s called Double-Dribbling. Don’t alternate between the Snare and Kick on every 8th note as if they’re of equal value.
  • Of course, these can all be broken, but only on purpose. (And at the risk of looking like you made a mistake.)

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    9 thoughts on “5 Ways To Look Stupid Doing 5 Things

    1. Web Design:
      * Using stark black and red together for a logo. Lame.
      * Don’t use big, overused stock photography in your header. This shows a lack of creativity and thought.
      * Lowercase “g”s have ascenders for a reason, and when they are moved upwards to align with the baseline of other letters that don’t have them, it looks very awkward.
      * Backwards text for no reason and/or other treatment except to be backwards, looks like amateur hour.
      * Using a “TM” on something as vanilla as “My Name Creative” is completely weak and transparent (pssst we know you probably didn’t actually get that trademarked)
      * Search boxes that are the size of a thimble? I’m supposed to type in that thing?
      * Relatively huge, overused, unoriginal graphics for every social network you belong to. Goofy.
      * Standard, run-of-the-mill RSS icon. Boring.
      * A stack of links in a narrow column that have zero vertical spacing so you can’t see where one ends and another begins is no good. Blah.
      * The goddamn AddThis share box. Wow, this is the pinnacle of awful, overused, unnecessary, “social media” garbage. Really who in the world wants to share an article on 150+ obscure places? Wovre? What the hell is that?
      * Grass texture on the footer. Wow, never seen that one.
      * Last, but most definitely not least; writing articles in an overly matter-of-fact tone telling others how they need to do things so they don’t offend the senses of those, such as yourself, that obviously have everything figured out to a T.

      With Love,
      A Redditor

    2. Thanks for the critical response and thought put into this. Surprised to see a direct attack from someone who seems to be a fellow designer. What would motivate that? You made good points. Some were extreme and impractical. Thanks for the effort and observations, though. People who see that much detail and speak up are rare. Any links to your work?

    3. Yeah, I suppose I should have added one more for myself:
      * Leaving snarky, mean-spirited comments on blog posts makes me look like an ass. 🙂

      The thing that got under my skin, and motivated the comment, was the way I perceived the tone. It just came across so aloof. Even though I agree with most everything you said, and in the last line note that there are exceptions, it still just sounded so much like you’re telling how it is, instead of asking questions as to how and why the things are bad.

      Some work here: http://www.tylergaw.com

    4. Hey Tyler. I checked out your site. Now THAT is design. Great work! You’re right about my tone. I need to be more aware of that. The voice I write these blog entries with isn’t my everyday personality. I was in a really bad mood today, so I was venting.

      It’s also funny to me that so many of these “instinctual” things end up as clichés. In some cases, we learn to avoid them simply because they’re indicators that someone hasn’t gone through the hazing. Not all of them are intrinsically bad. I have actually questioned them quite a bit.

      But I did want to point out that as I’ve hopped around to different arts, I’ve noticed there are always these picky no-no’s to separate amateurs from pros. I think it’s like a secret handshake.

      Thanks again for the smart dialogue!

    5. Hey Tyler,

      I am no designer, but I would rather look at Carl’s page than yours. Yours is too dark and your other work all looks the same. I think that Carl was trying to help people with his comments and that you need to eat a bag of dicks and chill the fuck out. Good luck.

    6. @Darrin agreed, my site is a year old and ready for a revamp. The work is definitely all from the same time frame and looks too similar. Time for an overhaul. I’ll see what I can do about the bag of dicks, I’m not sure if they’re in season right now. Not planning on chilling anytime soon, I can chill when I’m old and grey. Thanks.

    7. If you agree with Darrin, why did you show us the website in the first place?

      Wouldn’t it have been better to show us a website you’re proud of? It would at least strengthen the points you amde.

    8. Aside from just being in a bad mood (like I was), I think Tyler was turning my mode of criticism back at me, which is totally fine! I don’t take it personally. Tyler really has a lot more design chops than I do. My site design is simple and clean. My own belief is that websites should get out of the way and just reinforce the content. My latest explanation is that websites are just the spoon. The design of this site was originally meant to be welcoming and happy, not to make a unique artistic statement. Lately, my content has gotten darker and meaner (since my focus hasn’t been on freelance web design), which I think is a funny contrast. Either way, I’ve had no shortage of people coming after me to do work for them. I turn away a lot. So I’d say my design style is serving its purpose, even though Tyler was right on most of his points from a design cliché standpoint. It helped teach me a lesson… my attitude has been really bad lately, and several others have pointed it out.

    9. I think my biggest problem is that I have never had someone to correct all of the aforementioned errors that I make (except the on-stage ones)
      I get so lost in my own self-love for the material that I don’t realize that the product itself looks amateurish simply because of the rough edges and physical mistakes
      After all, it’s the central artistic idea that matters most…..right?
      Presentation shouldn’t be the ultimate determining factor of the merit of a piece and yet, so many artists take crappy one dimensional ideas, hand them to a guy who packages crap for a living and the next thing you know, it is a hit

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