Why Too Much Stream Design Can Be A Bad Thing
Hot take. There is such a thing as too much stream design.
You heard us right. And we see it more often than you’d think.
Cluttered Twitch overlays. Oversaturated branding. Dizzying animations… What went wrong here?
The intentions are good. Streamer X understands that their design is key for: 1. Driving audience engagement, 2. Boosting monetization, and 3. Building brand recognition. They’ve invested loads of time, energy, and cash into their presentation…
But viewers are still tuning out. How can that be?
Well, as is often the case, too much of a good thing can be dangerous. Sadly, these streamers have misunderstood the purpose of stream overlays. Most are building ‘flash’ for the sake of ‘flash’, without a solid brand strategy and game plan.
Without a tactical, moderate hand, all the stream design in the world won’t make a difference. And it might even end up hurting you.
So let’s talk shop. How much is ‘too much’ and how can we avoid the common pitfalls?
Wait, what’s the catch? Why would a design studio warn creators against excess graphic design? Shouldn’t you be encouraging us to spend as much as possible? Damned be the consequences?
That ain’t it chief. We’re not some soulless, mega-corporation like Fiverr. We’re streamers and designers first, just like you. We’ll never let a quick buck get in the way of that.
Listen, we’re not about to turn away business on principle. But we also don’t want you damaging your brand in the process. We’ll do everything we can to drive your channel towards peak performance.
So let’s get into it. What is ‘too much’ stream design, anyways?
Stream Design Excess – What Does It Look Like?
Excess design can take many forms. Over the years, we’ve seen them all. But let’s run through some of the most common situations.
The Attention-Grabber: Distracting Overlays
Think of your favorite creators. Why do you watch their streams? Is it the gameplay? Maybe the IRL chat? Or perhaps it’s the community?
We’re willing to guess that your answer is NOT the overlays. Why? Because content will always be King.
So if content is so important, why would you want to divert viewer attention elsewhere? And yet we see it often – chaotic overlays that distract from gameplay; unnecessary graphics that ruin immersion; flashy animations that cause confusion and migraines.
Streamers with ‘busy’ overlays often think that more equals better. They keep adding new overlays, new widgets, and/or new animations. Many assume that with each new piece, their presentation will continue to grow exponentially. Others may be compensating for inferior content quality.
Regardless, with each new addition, viewers are being pulled out of the in-game action. Their attention begins to shift to the surrounding ‘flash’, and away from the content you’ve worked so hard to perfect. Eventually the channel design takes on a disconnected, Frankenstein atmosphere. One element stacked on the other with little thought of strategy or consequences. The brand begins to feel ‘fake’ and manufactured. View count begins to drop.
The risk is particularly high for esports streamers. Why? Well most viewers are driven to competitive gamers for… well… the gaming. Anything that distracts attention away from that gameplay is a serious threat to your channel success.
It’s why most of the top streamers we work with request minimalist, out-of-the-way designs. They understand the risks of a distracted audience better than most.
99% of the time, your audience should be focused on your content. If you’re going to distract them with your graphics, then it better be for a d*mn good reason.
Down In Front: UI-Blocking Graphics
Ever gone into your game settings and turned off the HUD, just for kicks? Yeah, it’s not fun. It’s a confusing, unstructured, free-for-all mess. There’s a reason the in-game UI interface exists, after all. It relays critical information, which has an enormous impact on game flow and performance.
So how do you think viewers feel when your overlays hide that in-game UI? WeirdChamp.
It’s more common than you may think. Notice those stream alerts that block the ammunition counter? The health meter obscured by the overlay bar? Or that webcam carelessly dropped over half the minimap?
As in the first case, these broadcasters often think that more = better. They’re OK with sacrificing gameplay quality, trusting that their overlay design will compensate. They’ve forgotten that gameplay is King… and handicapped their growth in the process.
Your graphics should exist around the UI, not through or over it. You should always avoid interfering with the in-game HUD, wherever possible. If your viewers are missing half the in-game information, don’t be surprised if they’re tuning out.
Still, it’s shocking how many broadcasters don’t adjust their overlay setup based on the game they’re playing. Sometimes a simple re-size will get the job done. Other times your graphics will need to be repositioned. Still others require something more drastic.
You’ll find some game types are less forgiving than others. MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA 2 house notoriously-complex UI’s, as do MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Diablo. With titles like these, you’ll need to carefully optimize overlay placement and scale.
On the flip side, your typical FPS, RPG, or Battle Royale game features a simpler, more condensed HUD. With titles like Overwatch, Call of Duty, or Fortnite, you have more real estate to work with. And that means more freedom to get creative with your setup.
But wait. There’s more to stream design than just your overlays. What about logos?
The Frankenstein Logo: Mascot Mania
News flash. Many streamers go overboard on their channel logos.
What’s the most common culprit? Overly-complex logos, by a landslide.
What qualifies as an ‘overly-complex logo’? Most often, designs that feature an overabundance of unnecessary details. They often combine mismatched elements, a hodgepodge of ideas, and/or an excess of competing color schemes.
Sometimes it may feel like a mashup of multiple logos in one. Other times you’re not sure where your eyes should be focused. Or perhaps when you scale the piece down you’re left with a blurry, chaotic mess.
It’s a trend our custom design team sees all the time. And most often, the issue starts at the original brief. Let’s use an example…
Streamer X approaches our team for a new mascot. Maybe it’s their first time commissioning a logo. They’re caught up in the excitement of the upcoming design. Creative ideas are bombarding them from left and right.
“Can we go with a monkey?”. Great. “Let’s put a banana in his hand”. Sure thing. “Can we throw in some sunglasses?” OK… “Oh! He should be hanging from a tree branch.” Hmmm… “How about a shirt? A nice Hawaiian tee.” Oh boy… “And fur! We need more detail on the fur.” SMH.
See the problem? They have misinterpreted the purpose of a logo. They don’t understand that the power of logos comes from their simplicity.
You can’t create professional logos by throwing things at walls and seeing what sticks. The best logos are built on a simple, sturdy foundation. Instead of trying to squeeze your entire stream persona into one design, focus on 1 – 3 core brand values – and make sure they shine through in the final logo.
Avoiding The Excess: Tips From Our Pros
So what now? Does any of the above sound like you? If so, you’re not alone.
Here are our best tips to avoid pitfalls like these in the future.
Don’t Design Flash – Solve Problems
To resist the temptations of excess, ask yourself one simple question prior to any new design addition:
“Will this solve a problem for my stream or brand? Or am I just designing ‘flash’ for the sake of ‘flash’?”
As a rule of thumb, each element of your stream presentation should have a unique role and purpose. It should exist to combat an issue you’ve encountered, and it should possess its own goals and benchmarks for success.
- Have gifted subs been low lately? Then it may be worth investing in gifted-sub stream alerts. In this instance, you might set a goal of a 30% increase in gifted-subs.
- Having trouble with brand recognition? Consider commissioning a custom logo, with the goal of boosting return viewers. Notice that the goal here is *not* style points, but brand loyalty.
- Are viewers tuning out during your breaks? A unique intermission screen might keep them around. How about setting a goal of preventing viewer drop-offs of more than 10% during intermissions?
If an element does not solve a problem, then it should be considered excess.
Ask yourself, “What purpose does this graphic serve?” Does it contribute towards a real goal, or is it there for style points alone? Can I track its impact on my channel success, or is it there to look ‘cool’. Am I designing flash for the sake of flash?
Ignore this principle and you could be creating more problems than you solve.
It’s worth pointing out here; there is nothing intrinsically wrong with ‘flash’. We love flash. The problem comes when you’re designing ‘flash’ without a well-thought-out strategy – and without the intention of impacting your business goals.
This concept is one of the most important of stream design, applying to streamers and artists alike. It’s also one of the most challenging to master and overcome.
NEVER sacrifice functionality just to look good.
Less is Often More
Ever heard of the acronym, KISS? “Keep it Simple, Stupid”. It’s an old design principle that is still incredibly relevant today. More often than not, simple presentations are more powerful than complex.
Think of some of the top streamers in the game today. The Forsen, XQC, Summit1G, Sodapoppin types. One thing they all have in common is minimalist overlays. Their stream design is purposefully simple. They recognize that viewers tune in for one thing, and one thing only: their content. The overlays they do have serve very targeted, strategic purposes. Anything superfluous is thrown out.
Yes, the four streamers listed above are exaggerated examples. Personally, we’d argue their designs are overly-simplistic and under-optimized, but the point still stands. These streamers are able to reach monumental success without complex presentations.
They serve as an example to all of us. Less can be more, as long as the ‘less’ is ultra-efficient. Identify the few things that are critical for your stream (the must-haves) and do them really, really well.
Keep it Simple, Stupid.
Run A Brand Analysis
We’ve already stressed the importance of approaching your stream design strategically. We want to avoid applying graphics blindly, and instead work towards supporting business goals. But how do we do that exactly? How do we plan out our brand – while avoiding excess?
Well, an entire essay could be written on this topic, but we’ll give you some starter tips:
- Analyze Your Audience: What type of viewers do your streams attract? This question may help guide your branding style. Are they serious, competitive esports gamers? If so, a cleaner, out-of-the-way overlay layout is probably ideal. Are they vocal memesters? In this case, you have more leeway to experiment and get creative with your design.
- Analyze Your Competition: Who are your main competitors in the streaming scene? What do their stream visuals look like? Are they doing anything different that may be giving them an edge? If they’ve been in the game longer than you, they probably have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Don’t go out there and copy their setup, but it does help to be aware of your competitors and potential trends.
- Analyze Your Goals: This is a big one. What is your primary business goal at the moment? Are you in it for the donations and subs? Many successful creators make a living off high sub counts and generous donos, while viewer count remains comparatively small. Are you in it for the view count and community engagement? Loads of creators stream for the fun and the fame, putting their community over financial ambitions. Perhaps you’re shooting for that big brand deal? Or maybe you’re looking to make it big in esports? We’ll dive deeper into this concept in an upcoming blog post – but for now, know this. Depending on where you fall on the spectrum above, your choice of overlay elements will likely change.
These are just a few of the many questions that will help guide your design choices. Once you truly understand your brand, designing the accompanying visuals becomes much, much easier.
We get it. Cutting back can be really, really hard. Especially if you’ve grown attached to your designs. For some people, training your mind to take a minimalist approach can be incredibly difficult. We’ve been there.
Just remember. Your overlays should always be secondary to your content. Never design flash for the sake of flash. Less is often more. And above all else, never add new graphics just to compensate for a lack of content.
Need a hand? Our team of experts is standing by to support your streaming journey. Wishing you the best of luck in 2020 and beyond.