1. CONFUSE. Create a graphic t-shirt design that forces people to look again. It can be a simple design, but one that is just too silly to not look at one more time, or something so difficult to decipher yet catchy enough that people keep looking at your torso while they speak. The graphic t-shirts that have most caught my attention are those who have large lettering to get you to start reading, but contain a kicker in small letters that you must read from up close to figure out. Treat graphic t-shirts like billboards in the subway: if people don’t somehow feel confused they probably won’t try and figure out what the rest of the tee says. Another way to confuse people is to use a graphic design that just makes no sense. One t shirt I saw showed a triangle trying to escape from between rows of bars – multi-color bars. It just made no sense, but definitely forced me to look at it.
2. FUNKIFY. Make graphic t-shirts that have funk written all over them. Not literally. It is a trend for now, but it is an effective way to making tshirts that are cool. Take a cartoon image – say of an astronaut listening to a boom box – add some colors behind him, with an 80’s touch to it – and you will have a funky-looking graphic tee. Curvy lettering, hot colors, simple designs all can give you a funky feel. Design your graphic t shirt while you listen to some Maceo Parker and that should help too.
3. GO RETRO. Take it back in time with a graphic tee design that reminds people of another epoch. Right now, the 80’s are hot. Until recently, it was the 70’s. What does this mean? Plenty of overuse of multiple color schemes meant to bring out lettering, 3-D effects, rock star band t-shirt designs, and Madonna. American Eagle has been using a lot of retro-looking designs in its shirts, using distressed screens to print some of them so that they have an old look. Their designs are getting old though, now that graphic t-shirts are cooler when they look like they’re from the 80’s.
4. BE IRONIC. Design a tshirt that is simple enough that people can interpret and that is incongruent with the situation. The surrealists were the masters of this. Follow Duchamp’s lead and design a graphic t-shirt that says something that is clearly untrue or that just makes no sense. Retro-irony used to be funny, but is now being used less often. By retro irony, I mean an old advertisement that has a new meaning today. Some graphic t-shirts still have these designs.
5. BE UNCONVENTIONAL. Take a common graphic t-shirt design and do something else with it. Take a design that people are accustomed to – say a rainbow – and make it drip like wet paint. Take unicorns and show them having sex. Just whatever it is, make sure it pops with creative thought. Your tee should send a message that is not lost in translation, that breaks some barriers.
6. BE SILLY. Design a graphic tee that will put a smile on everyone’s face. A bunch of fingers on a hand visit their injured partner the thumb, a bear watching TV in the middle of the forest, telling stupid raisins to stay out of your cookies, and two lemons helping another lemon cut in half, carrying him on a stretcher… (lemon aid). Silly graphic t-shirts get messages across easily and effectively, often without offending, which is a good quality to have. It is all too easy to make offensive graphic t-shirts.
7. KEEP IT SIMPLE. Simplicity in a graphic t shirt can sometimes be the most effective tool to convey a message – that is, if you have one. Graphic tees can be made just to look cool, and not to pass any kind of message at all. A giant circle with splotches of paint around it, or just common vector images that do not really say much more than “I like colors.” Sometimes one or two words will do the job. Being vague is important in graphic t-shirts to draw interest and simplicity is the key to being vague.
8. TALK ABOUT YOURSELF. Graphic t-shirts that ridicule others are easy to design. However, what is more interesting is to ridicule oneself. I have seen some funny variations on the idea. There are many tshirts out there that make drunk jokes about the wearer of the shirt. Of course, you can always wear graphic t-shirts that says something about you without doing so directly. If you wear a skull t shirt, it could signify that you are into gothic.
9. USE 3-D. Three-dimensional graphic t-shirts are part of a return to the 50’s with an extra dose of Warhol. These graphic tees don’t necessarily work if you wear 3-D glasses but sure look like you need to in order to understand them. The main use of this type of graphic tshirt is on gangster-type tees that show explicit scenes that are better left in 3-D.
10. CALL TO ATTENTION. You can get someone to look at your graphic t-shirt in various ways. You can draw their attention with an arrow, because usually that means you are pointing something out around them that they may be able to relate to. You can address them by using “You” in your graphic t-shirts. In any case, it must engage your viewers in some way.