Why Witty Thinking is Important for Graphic Designers?

Visual communication, creativity and wit are tightly connected when it comes to really good design. Humour should be a crucial characteristic for every visual thinker.

If you are just starting in graphic design and visual communication, you are probably looking for rules of good graphic design. These are important, but do not rely on them to become a great designer.

Usually, design education is targeted to provide you with the crucial elements of doing good design such as following grids, taking into account colour, composition, layout etc.. There are many rules in visual communication which can help everyone create a decent looking design. But sometimes or most of the times this is just not enough.

Thinking of really good or great piece of designed visual, whether it is a poster, logo, flyer, book cover etc…, is much more than following some rules.


Visual creativity is the power of design as well as humour and wit.

“Too often we think of creativity just as “art”. But art is not in fact a very high expression of creativity because art can be wonderful without much change in ideas or perception.”states Edward de Bono in his foreword of the “Smile in the mind” book dedicated to witty thinking.

De Bono also says: ”Many, many years ago I stated that humour was by far the most important behaviour of the human brain. People thought I was being provocative. I was not. Humor indicates a self-organizing information system that leads to asymmetric patterns. Humor is the exact model for creativity. In both we access from the far end a pattern that cannot be accessed from the near end. Suddenly it makes sense.”

Understanding creativity is the key to great design, a design which is based on playing with the idea, playing with the content, playing with the visuals. Humor and wit have a crucial role.

Communication design piece cannot solely on logic and principles; it should be based on the way people communicate with each other. Humour and wit are part of everyday communication so they should be reflected in the communication design. Design should be authentic in the sense that ideas represented are personally close to the viewers.

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Wit is this spice that lifts up the design. It also makes people think as an idea presented with humour can create a mind-blowing exercise. People respond better to positive emotions and feelings. Wit can also aid the communication.

You have heard that if you are doing a speech or presentation you should start with a joke. Well, this is true as people are more relaxed after a funny story and they are more likely to listen to you and understand what you are saying.

The same is true about communication design. A witty idea can invoke laugh, a smile or respect and awe. And most importantly it lasts. Try, as an experiment, to think about a graphic design piece. I am completely sure that you will think of something that was amusing and made you smile and laugh.

To illustrate better the use of humour and wit in visual communication, I have selected some lovely examples from brilliant designers to show you why rules and principles are not enough. How idea can be taken to a whole new level and presented in a sophisticated and amusing way.


Chalks pack from a range of children’s paints and drawing materials for W H Smith. The parent can see the product, and the child can see the funny side. The Ian Logan Design Comapny, UK, 1990


Barcode for hardware accessories for Rentsch. Where barcode ideas usually make one comparison, this makes two. Tharp Did it, USA, 1993


Poster for the Design Council exhibition on British airports. Entirely recognizable and almost probable. Minale Tattersfield, UK, 1981


Logo for the Channeling Children’s Anger campaign for the Institute for Mental Health Initiatives. Three little scribbles are as good as a documentary. Shapiro Design Associates, USA, 1987


Milton Glaser designed this poster to coincide with the May 10 1969 International Grape Boycott. Beneath the image of a bunch of grapes, doubling as a deathly skull, is a quote by Cesar Chavez, respected Chicano civil rights leader and labour activist. Don’t Eat Grapes, Milton Glaser, USA, 1969


Poster for the IBM. One of the forefront identities smiles at itself. The designer spotted that God was on his side, putting bees in stripes. Paul Rand, USA, 1981


Poster for a sailing regatta. The designers the wonderful marine qualities of a torn edge. Mendel & Oberer, Germany, 1985


Poster for a concert by the Manchester String Quartet. A double time line. Peter Good Graphic Design, USA, 1989

A poster commissioned by the Napoli 99 Foundation promoting the cultural image of the city. Lettering becomes roman ruin. Pentagram, UK, 1985


Promotion of father’s day at the specialty gift store Brookstone. Not an obvious design either. Pentagram, USA, 1991


Peace poster. The transformation is startling, from the black and heavy ace of spades signalling death to the hesitant innocence of the marks which spell a different message. Rober Brownjohn, USA, 1970


Logo for United Nations luncheon.Bob Gill redefines the problem: logo for an institution that has boring lunches, but which, this time be different. Bob Gill, USA, 1974

For more examples check out the best book on witty thinking – A Smile in the Mind.

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