Holiday Design: Classy, Not Childish

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As you drive down the road on a snowy December day, you find yourself seeing the bright smiling faces of carefully but sloppily made snowmen and the warm colors of soft lights begrudgingly thrown across small porches. The classic imagery associated with the holiday season. Things put together by hand, with love and a sense of dedication to the season. They aren’t perfect, they aren’t professional, and that’s what makes them real and so vital to the season.

There’s something about the holidays that really jives with things that are just off center, a bit askew, and not even within eyeshot of perfection. That mindset exists in all aspects of the holiday, from treats to decorations. In many ways that element makes the season, but sometimes it gives a pass to things that normally would be a no-go.

Particularly in the design world there is a stark divide between kitschy handmade work and excellent, beautiful design. Which is right? Well, both can be. That off-center aesthetic is an enormous part of the holidays. That said, it’s usually not appropriate for companies to take on this aesthetic. So how can you create holiday-themed pieces in a way that is professional and clean without losing the spirit of the holiday?

“The difference between design that looks made for children versus made by children”

There’s a rule designers learn when they work on child-focused design: Create design that looks like it’s made for children, not by children. The world of design for people under 10 offers excellent examples of both design made terribly because of an underestimated audience and work that is cute and approachable without being unprofessional. You can design for children in a way that is appropriate and lovely without resorting to bad design for the sake of “authenticity”.

The same rules can be applied to holiday design. It’s about using the common traits of the holiday without being owned by them.


The Traits of Holiday Design

What are the “hallmarks” of holiday design?

There are 4 traits that come together to create a holiday design. Not all of these need to exist at the same time, but a combination of three or more is a guaranteed sign of holiday design

  • Handmade elements
  • Bright colors and earthy textures
  • Organic shapes
  • Plant- and animal-life

So here’s the question, how do we take these elements and continue them into our designs without falling into the deep, deep well of tackiness that the holidays seem to always offer up? Well, let’s breakdown each of these traits and check out some great examples.



Handdrawn letters and illustrations, calligraphy, cut-outs… Handmade elements are a hallmark of holiday design, and come in a variety of forms. Handmade elements are a great way to convey personability, friendliness, welcome and warmth. Here are a few examples of beautiful cards that use handmade elements in a skillful way, without losing the spirit of the season:

Molly Langland:
Hummingbird Cards:
Jeannie L. Brown:
Neal Von Flue: n/a
Richard Foster: n/a
Barbara Anders:


Bright Colors & Earthy Textures

Happy reds, bright blues, earthy greens; spruce sprigs, bark, sparkling snow, glistening ice. These are the things we associate with the holiday season. This is a rare time in our lives when we bring the earthiness into our homes, through plant life and wooden decorations. Adding these colors and textures immediately signals that this is a holiday design, and adds diversity to your final piece that will allow it to stand out from the crowd.

Elisha Bateman:
YIU Studio:
Jessica Oviedo:
A Pair of Pears:


Organic Shapes

Along with the earthy textures come organic shapes. Swoops and swirls are a common image in the holiday landscape. These shapes create a standard of elegance in holiday design, and offer a more sophisticated alternative to purely handmade pieces. Swooshes are most often used in a typographic format, but sometimes they work well for containing shapes like tags or as a framing device.

Jessica Oviedo:
Willoughby Design:
Cat Coquillette:
Skip to My Lou:
Ross Moody:


Plant- and Animal-Life

Where earthen textures are simply used as a background element, these pieces feature animal and plant life as a primary subject. The great thing about animals and plants as subjects is that it allows for a lot of fun and humor that other styles may not allow.

Nadia Taylor:
Charley Harper:
Willoughby Design:
Kate Art:

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