How Design Thinking Shaped Beloved Cartoon Catchphrases

How Design Thinking Shaped Beloved Cartoon Catchphrases
Image © Pixabay

Cartoons are full of quotable lines or catchphrases that have become a crucial part of the watching culture and experience. Catchphrases like Homer Simpson’s “D’oh” and Bugs Bunny’s “What’s up, doc?” have become inseparable from the cartoons in which they are featured. The thing is, these are not random phrases or shouts. Creators craft them carefully using design thinking principles to ensure they are memorable and impactful and embody the characters to whom they belong. Let’s look at how creators use design thinking principles to shape iconic and unforgettable catchphrases.

Understanding the Viewer

A key principle of design thinking is understanding the target audience. It is impossible to create something likeable and memorable if you do not understand your audience. 

With this in mind, creators must think of a catchphrase like a product that needs to resonate with the target audience. Creators must understand their viewers first before crafting lines (products) that fit into their characters’ personalities and the show’s tone, and that stick in their audience’s minds even after its run has ended.

A great example that brings all this together is Bugs Bunny’s catchphrase. Although it can seem like a casual greeting, it reflects a relaxed, trickster personality that the audience associates with the character. It is also something the character would say, which is why it works so well.

Brainstorming Different Ideas

Ideation is crucial when developing a character’s catchphrase. Actors and writers must experiment with several phrases to see which would fit a character best. They can do this in several stages, each trying to get the catchphrase to match the character as best as possible.

Each stage is accompanied by voice actors experimenting with different words, wordplay, phrasing and delivery styles. 

They must also understand that the catchphrase can add layers of personality and comedic timing, and be created to suit different situations. 

In Scooby-Doo, for example, the lovable pup’s “Rikes” catchphrase can indicate surprise, fear, or encountering unknown situations. It can also be a reaction to someone else’s words, actions, or reactions. All these are things writers and voice actors must consider when choosing a catchphrase that can fit all these situations.

Prototyping and Testing the Catchphrase

Writers and voice actors will usually test the different catchphrases they think could be a great fit during voice recordings and script reading sessions. They must consider the purpose of a specific catchphrase in specific situations and the reactions or outcomes they are aiming for. 

For example, they may want it to have comedic timing so they gauge how much laughter it elicits in that situation. They may also gauge its impact on the rest of the script and whether its rhythm fits.

What many creatives and people who have never worked on big projects do not realise is that catchphrases can evolve organically during rewriting and script readings. 

The best example of this is Stewie Griffin’s maniacal laugh that developed during a recording session. It might not be a catchphrase in the traditional sense, but he does it enough times that it becomes associated with him.

Iteration and Refinement

If you watch a cartoon long enough and then go back to the beginning, you will notice that a character’s catchphrase changes over time. The reason is that catchphrases are not static. 

Writers and actors tweak them over time to show a character’s development or make them feel fresh again. Creatives can also change different aspects of a catchphrase to show how the character has changed over time.

Lastly, they can change how it is used. For example, instead of a character using a catchphrase to show surprise, they might begin to use it to show sadness as they become cynical as the show continues. 

An example of this change is Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!”. It started as a frustrated grunt and became an iconic explanation to show embarrassment, humiliation, annoyance, and discomfort at having done something stupid.

It’s More Than Words

While catchphrases are words a character speaks or sounds they make, it goes beyond this. A crucial part is its delivery in different situations and how it works alongside gestures seen on screen or implied through these exclamations. 

Homer Simpson does not hit his forehead and say he is not as smart as everyone else when he does something stupid, but the implied slapping of the forehead when he says his catchphrase paints the picture for us. This is the strength of a spectacular catchphrase.

A catchphrase is the product of a lot of work and the design thinking process. It can serve many purposes, including being funny, making a character memorable, and helping us understand a character and the different situations they are in better. It can also capture their essence and personality, which are things you should notice the next time you hear your beloved cartoon character’s catchphrase.

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