Humor in Design
Humor is a funny thing (puns!). It manifests differently in every person and culture and yet it elicits the same emotional reaction within all of us: laughter and amusement. That is why humor is such an effective tool in communication. Often, we’ll see something clever or funny or “LOL-worthy” and automatically, we have a positive feeling about what we’ve just seen which is why humor is used throughout most of the creative arts.
Humor allows us to connect and share a universal experience in a light and positive manner. For designers and creatives, having humor in your tool-belt is most appreciated if not completely necessary in certain cases. In fact, I think creativity requires a little laughter.
I’ve never really considered myself to be extraordinarily funny but I do recognize the great value of being humorous. Most days, I end up spending most of my time laughing with friends and the people around me. Being light and always ready to laugh elicits positive reactions and endears you to the people around you and is one of the most rewarding things about being alive. As a designer, it’s no surprise that sometimes that’s exactly what you need to produce fresh and relevant work.
Everyone Has a Sense of Humor
I refuse to believe that some people don’t have a sense of humor. Everyone laughs and is amused by something. Even if you’re the driest, most uptight person in the world, you still laugh at whatever makes you laugh. You are still amused by whatever amuses you. Therefore, the job of the designer tasked with finding or creating humor in a design is to tap into what makes that particular situation funny or amusing.
Try sarcasm, irony, irreverence or just plain silliness. All of these things have the ability to connect and engage people pleasantly and lightly. Sometimes even making fun of yourself can be effective.
Think Levity, not Hilarity
Bad jokes or unfunny jokes often occur when someone is trying to say something hilarious and they fail miserably. There’s nothing worse than jokes that go horribly wrong. Anyone who’s been to a standup comedy show knows the feeling in the room when a comedian’s joke falls flat. Everyone in the room gets uncomfortable and silence grips the audience. The best jokes are the ones that come out naturally. Funny is funny. There’s no need to try to be funny.
Instead aim for levity, or lightness. Keep it simple and easy to grasp. Let your audience play with the situation. Sometimes, just hinting at the lighter side of things is enough to be humorous.
Choose Your Audience
Humor varies between audiences. Not all jokes will be funny to everyone. Use that to your advantage. People like the feeling of “getting it.” It binds your audience and fosters connection between them which ultimately is great for the effectiveness of your designs or your creative endeavors.
When you create something with very specific and targeted humor, it creates a sort of inside joke for those who recognize why something is funny. You know the feeling. For instance, these posters done by Gary Nicholson are humorous to typographers and graphic designers but to someone uninitiated in the art of typography, these posters would not be as amusing.
Also, pick your moments. When you can’t find something funny to say, it is best not to try to be funny. Sincerity is just as effective in conveying messages as humor.
I think you’ll agree that humor is one the best things about being human. It homogenizes us as a species since we all laugh or at the very least are capable of finding humor in something. It reminds us that while life sometimes does get serious and sad, there are still a lot of things in this world that we can laugh and be happy about. So use these things in your work. Don’t be afraid to laugh and soon you’ll find everyone is laughing with you. Have a great weekend, everyone!
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