The Challenges of Designing Zombies
Zombies. Everywhere I looked, I saw the shambling, brain-hungry throngs of the undead slowly and methodically taking over. Was this the end of days or had the world just seemingly decided that zombies were suddenly ‘cool’?
I’m obviously not talking about an actual zombie apocalypse here, but rather the somewhat inexplicable way that the undead seemed to be invading every piece of entertainment media a year or so ago. Novels and “survival guides” about zombies lined bookstore shelves. Remakes of classic zombie movies hit theatres alongside new releases where the shambling undead were replaced by lightning quick, super-zombies. Popular video games allowed you to become a zombie-hunter and do your best to quell the zombie uprising. Not even my local comic shop was safe from the invasion, as my favorite Marvel heroes were suddenly bitten by the zombie craze. Zombies were everywhere.
I get the current fascination with vampires, who have now replaced zombies in the supernatural dominance of entertainment media. Vampires are often portrayed as sexy and cool or as tortured souls that really just want to be loved. Yeah, lame as it may be, I get why vampires are popular with ‘the kids’. But zombies?
Zombies aren’t sexy. It’s kind of hard to come off as sexually appealing when your skin is half rotted away, worms are living where your eyes used to be and you and all your friends are lumbering around calling out for a meal of brains in a monotone, never-ending chorus.
The Best Rises to the Top…Even for the Undead
While I was baffled by the zombie craze, I was not immune to it. I watched my fair share of zombie flicks, read a few of the books and comics and played zombie-hunting games once or twice. It didn’t take long to realize that most of the stuff was pretty similar, but a few entries stood out. What helped them stand out was the fact that, amidst all the sea of undead sameness, they did something different.
Zombies Are Like Websites
Ok, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but just like many of those zombie books, movies, video games, etc. were really all doing the same thing with little to no originality, so are many websites guilty of using popular design trends without doing anything new or unique with them.
How many sites have you seen that use the slanty photo treatment? How about “that wicked worn look”? What about hand-drawn elements? Big text treatments? PNG transparencies showing textured backgrounds? The list goes on and on.
We’ve all seen sites that use these popular treatments. Odds are, we’ve used some of them ourselves and will continue to use others in the future. There is nothing at all wrong with treatments themselves, but how we use them and what new and unique ways we can find to integrate them into website designs is what can set our work apart – and being unafraid to use and innovate with these treatments, despite their popularity, may be something that can set you apart as a designer.
If you're going to do something others have already done, many times over - whether we are talking about a popular web design trend or a story about the walking dead, be sure to bring something new to the table. Otherwise, you'll just be part of the faceless pack looking for some tasty brains.
The Best Zombies
So what zombies stood out from the undead masses? Here’s a few of my favorites.
I love this movie because it found a way to parody the genre without resorting to the slapstick, Scary Movie-style feel of so many film parodies. At its core, Shaun of the Dead is a gore-happy zombie flick through and through – they just found a way to add a level of humor on top of the whole thing that made the movie both fun and unique. Plus, Simon Pegg can do no cinematic wrong in my eyes.
When I heard about this book, which takes Jane Austen’s in-the-public-domain work, Pride and Prejudice, retains almost all of the original text and splices in previously unreleased scenes of zombie mayhem, it sounded so over-the-top insane that I had to check it out. A really fun book that uses the zombie infestation as a sort of backdrop instead of the central theme of the story, which, like the original, still focuses on the manners and society of the time. Only in this version, the Bennet sisters are zombie-killing warriors trained in the ways of the ninja. Wonderful.
A song that tells the tale of a zombified office worker’s quest to reason with his colleague so that he, and his undead cohorts, can “eat his brains.” The tale is nothing new, but the song is so damn catchy, you can’t help but love it. With a refrain, sung by chorus of the undead, that goes “All we want to do is eat your brains”, followed by Mr. Coulton’s coolly rationally “we’re not unreasonable, I mean no one’s gonna eat your eyes”, this is rock and roll - zombie style.