︎Back to Design 1

Fall 2021 ︎︎︎ CUNY Queens College ︎︎︎ (DESN241) Design 1

introduction to discussion:
Cult of the ugly

Ask a toad what is beauty…He will answer that it is a female with two great round eyes coming out of her little head, a large flat mouth, a yellow belly and a brown back.

(Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary, 1794)


This topic is, at its core, a reading of Cult of the Ugly. Love ya, see ya next week. The article is basically Steven Heller talking about work from grad students that was sent to him. This becomes a larger springboard to discuss the “new” vs. the “old” guard, and kind of humorously points out the illusory war between them. I kinda love how dumb this moment is and that apparently this was the stuff that people got the most fired up about in terms of responses and calls to Eye magazine.

I think this stuff also ties into the cliche watercooler or coffee table discussions of graphic design like...What do you think of Helvetica? And the actual underlying issues related to it. My advice is to think about just those things. Do you have an “argument” when people hate on Helvetica? Does it matter to you? Is the “old” (modernist) guard just yelling on their lawn to an imagined enemy who they presumed left poop on their doorstep? Do you have concerns about ever becoming “old” and out of touch?

Required Readings/Viewings

Contextualizing readings, not required but helpful if you have the time

    • Emigre #30, Fallout︎ (This includes interviews with Heller, Jeff Keedy, David Shields & Ed Fella, as well as a contextualizing essay by Rudy Vanderlans. A not that it is hopefully obvious the issue looked nothing like how the text is represented on the website)
    • The 11 Types of Trendy Graphic Design Paul Rand Hated︎This is a digitizing of Confusion and Chaos: the Seduction of Contemporary Graphic Design from AIGA’s The Journal, 1992. Not a direct response but you can see their contempt for then-contemporary design pretty clearly.
    • Long Live Modernism! by Massimo Vignelli︎
    • I believe there is a similar response in one of the Looking Closer’s that is a direct response to Cult of the Ugly but I was not able to find it. It is not dissimilar to the tone here.
    • Massimo Vignelli shitting on post-modernism for forty seconds as a setup to say “Helvetica”

    • Changing Out of Your Typogrpahic Sweatpants by James Edmondson
      (from Typographics 2019)︎

      I think about this talk a lot! It’s great how he frames his direct need to support his family with his practice, how he frames the the three “greatest hits” of 20th Century populist type, and how he super simply states the possible dangers there. This is partly to say you should just watch this, but I think it’s a good look at someone who embraces some version of both “sides” without feeling adversarial to the dialog; also he clearly just fuggin’ loves type.

The discussion will take place in 2 weeks on 12/07/2021. I will distribute a schedule and you will be required to attend at the assigned time.

What are notes?

It is fine to note your initial reactions but please make sure you extrapolate out your ideas into full sentences. For example “Wow that’s crazy!” Is not very helpful, but “The cliffhangar at the end of act 1 really heightened the stakes in the two people not being able to understand each other!” Additionally be ready to discuss said notes.