3 Things Memes Teach Us About Effective Photos
Memes can be more than just something funny to share with your friends. They can also be their own little works of art.

Ron Lum

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Memes: Internet photos coupled with words to deliver humor or a message. Although most would describe them as juvenile, silly or just dumb, there is actually a lot we can learn from them in regards to design.

Many memes I enjoy are wonderfully well thought out and the authors seem to have a general idea of how to make effective photos.

Here are three things that memes can teach us about effective photos. Note: These three things may seem obvious to some of you, in which case, simply consider this a reinforcement of what you already know.

Meme fonts come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but one style seems to be the most common and effective – impact font with black stroke.

Words in photos are a common thing because the colors and brightness change throughout the areas of the photo. Creating contrast for the words is important to ensure legibility.


There are many techniques to ensure legibility:

  1. Create a solid color stroke around your letters.
  2. Create a solid background/highlight color behind your letters.
  3. Place your entire text on an area that contrasts it (i.e. dark letters on a light background).


  • Men’s Health: Notice all pf the text is strategically positioned. The text is laid out on the white background. Any text that overlaps on to the model are given a background to help maintain contrast.
  • Vogue: Pink and white text do not contrast well against flesh colors.


Accent colors can be considered a little something here and there that make things pop. Accent colors have high brightness and high saturation levels and are almost always coupled with more neutral colors, low brightness and low saturation for contrast.

Take a look at these two memes (Success Kid and Philosoraptor):



They both share the same layout, but one puts a bright green color on a neutral blue background, while the other is putting a soft green on a background that is far too similar in color, meaning there is no accent effect.

For these reasons, Success Kid has far more success, in terms of design.


  • Miami Dolphins logo: One of the most pretty logos in the NFL is the logo for the Miami Dolphins. The primary color is teal. Orange, according to the color wheel, is a complementary color for teal.
  • Cleveland Browns logo: Brown and orange aren’t an interesting color combination. Brown is actually just orange but darker. Whereas the Miami Dolphins’ orange contrasts beautifully against teal, orange as a primary color with a bit of brown does not make for a pretty combination…unless you’re making photos for a chili booth.


When it comes to human communication, we know a large portion of communication is done through nonverbal means, such as body language, tone of voice and implication. The same goes for graphic messages.

In the every hilarious “Fail” memes, a flagrant photograph of failure is displayed next to some words. The photo only has one word displayed, yet it communicates much more.


“The person who positioned the security camera and monitor has poor foresight, which resulted in the security camera’s vision being completely blocked by the monitor, making it useless. This is a failure on behalf of that person.”


  • Old Spice ad #1: Old Spice is a really old product – it’s something your grandfather or mine might’ve used. The advertising company is promoting the idea that Old Spice is still cool and manly. All of this can be communicated in one photo and one sentence.
  • Old Spice ad #2: Contrary to the first ad, this one neither communicates cool or manly. It communicates only quirkiness. If you read the entire ad, you’ll also see it implies bestiality, too. What. The. Hell.


Despite being silly in nature, effective memes can still teach us a lot about effective photos: words need contrast, accent colors make the photo interesting and a photo can communicate a lot without using many words.
About the Author
Ron Lum
Ron Lum
Ron is a website designer/developer/problem solver living in Hawaii. He previously worked in accounting and education. He likes "Game of Thrones," learning about the Web industry, "League of Legends" and saving money. You can find him on Google+ or his website.


  1. bah the ones one 2 are hilaris!

  2. arnt there like programs online that make the memes for you???

  3. wow… did vogue really have a cover that was designed like that? epic fail