Trendlist: Postmodernism For A Digital Age?


Trendlist presents itself outwardly as a digital source of information for designers to keep up to date with current trends, though it could also be viewed as a manifestation of digital technology being used to inform designers on what graphic design 'should' look like. It is additionally something that is a kind of by-product of images blogged on sites such as Tumblr, Ffffound and Designspiration, and collated into groups that present aesthetic similarities. Much of the work shown on the site expresses symptoms of postmodern application in relation to graphic design, and display use of deconstruction, pluralism, vernacular and conceptuality, or to use the correct terms; scanned, left, right, up, down, wiggles, stretched and frame.

Using simplistic language, and drawing basic similarities onto work produced in the last 3 or 4 years poses questions such as what is contemporary graphic design informed by? Can anyone become a graphic designer through using websites such as Trendlist and Tumblr if it largely formed by using a set of rules of purely style over any kind of substance? As designers seem to create postmodern work in a very instinctual way, these kinds of observations have become a second nature, and this may be why this kind of website exists. We accept that this is the way design has progressed.


Steven Heller: The Cult Of Ugly Typotheque Online Article

Steven Heller: The Cult Of Ugly: Typotheque Article

"How is ugly to be defined in the current Post-modern climate where existing systems are up for re-evaluation, order is under attack and the forced collision of disparate forms is the rule? For the moment, let us say that ugly design, as opposed to classical design (where adherence to the golden mean and a preference for balance and harmony serve as the foundation for even the most unconventional compositions) is the layering of inharmonious graphic forms in a way that results in confusing messages."

"The layered images, vernacular hybrids, low-resolution reproductions and cacophonous blends of different types and letters at once challenge prevailing aesthetic beliefs and propose alternative paradigms."

"Does the current social and cultural condition involve the kind of upheaval to which critical ugliness is a time-honoured companion? Or in the wake of earlier, more serious experimentation, has ugliness simply been assimilated into popular culture and become a stylish conceit?"

"Ugly design can be a conscious attempt to create and define alternative standards. Like war-paint, the dissonant styles which many contemporary designers have applied to their visual communications are meant to shock an enemy – complacency – as well as to encourage new reading and viewing patterns."

"Extremism gave rise to fashionable ugliness as a form of nihilistic expression."


Eric Hu: Form Upon Platform, Platform Upon Form Online Article

Form Upon Platform, Platform Upon Form

Eric Hu: Form Upon Platform, Platform Upon Form

Immaterial Materiality

"For the sake of establishing a common vocabulary to be used throughout this discussion, a medium is the vague intermediary vessel where it can be either reduced to a surface (e.g. screen) or become a platform (e.g. Instagram) once provided with an additional layer of context. The surface is what actualizes a work of graphic design. A printed poster cannot exist without a physical surface for the work to be displayed, and a website cannot exist without a web browser and server."

- Hu's essay is confusing, and multilayered, however he brings up the relevant point of design viewed on a screen, and working across various platforms, both printed and digital. This is how we design and view design today, and so is this process in itself postmodern? Or post-postmodern? It could mean a new discourse that should be talked about more, and could predict the way contemporary postmodern graphic design is going.

"Content is becoming more mutable, and at the same time, the methods and channels that act as proxies between user and content are becoming more varied and overlapping with each other. Books are viewed on desktops as PDF files, websites contract and expand responsively as they slip through multiple views from laptop to mobile phone. Highly complex infrastructures housing data and information are given ambiguous metaphorical euphemisms such as “the cloud,” that favor accessibility over transparency—when in reality these terms ultimately serve to hinder users from intimately understanding their relationships to these networks. The boundaries between digital and physical manifestations of graphic design are also dissolving."

- We may live in a fast turnover culture where trends dictate how we design, and the the everyday use of technology contributes to this mutual feeling of designing in the slipstream.



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Pretty Ugly Or Plain Ugly: Creative Review Online Article

Pretty Ugly or plain ugly?

'Poster for one of a series of weekly film nights run by artist Wim Lambrecht at college Sint-Lucas Visual Arts Gent from 2007 to 2008. Designed by Raf Vancampenhoudt with Joris Van Aken
Skewed, stretched type, clashing colours, too little or too much spacing - across Europe a new generation of designers and art directors is breaking every rule. But is their work rebellion for rebellion's sake or does it have wider implications for visual communications?

- Design that creates a shock value may be due to our lessening attention spans, where the internet as a culture gives us the opportunity to objectify aesthetic, and where this occurs, so does boredom, as the fast pace of the creative industry online leads us to want to feel something when we view design.

The June issue of CR (out May 23) comes with a health warning. It contains content that readers of a nervous disposition and a love of classical typography may find disturbing. Things are going to get ugly.

Back in 2007, I wrote a piece suggesting that something new and decidedly strange was happening
in graphic design and art direction, based mainly upon the look of two magazines: Super Super (spread shown above) and 032c. In it I referred to an earlier Eye essay by Steven Heller on what he termed the 'Cult of the Ugly'.

- An essay looked at already that comments on this ugliness that seems to pervade design. It was written pre the age of daily internet use, and so this ugliness will have since grown.

Heller was writing about the work coming out of Cranbrook Academy of Art in the 90s, work that deliberately sought to subvert our ideas of 'good design'. What I saw in Super Super and 032c could, I thought, herald a New Ugly aesthetic in response to changes in the way younger readers consumed information online and a desire to, once again, challenge the status quo.

From a series of posters for the Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks by Bureau Mirko Borsche using a mixture of classical serif type (to represent tradition), and the angular bespoke face Andri12000, representing the orchestra's modern spirit and the musicians in evevning dress
Five years later comes the publication of Pretty Ugly, a new book that brings together graphic design, imagemaking and product design which very much delivers on that promise. In the Pretty Ugly, type is skewed, stretched and set at unreadable angles; images are distorted with a will; colours clash resoundingly. Some of it is beautiful, some interesting, some just awful.

"It is a new kind of beauty that isn't based upon pure visual pleasure, it is a beauty based upon context-driven design, being transparent with working methods, tools and materials," claim the book's editors, Martin Lorenz and Lupi Asensio of Barcelona design studio TwoPoints.Net, who came up with the Pretty Ugly term to describe the 'movement' and who are interviewed in the new issue of CR.

CR interviews the editors of Pretty Ugly in the June issue of the magazine

Die Neue K is the free quarterly newspaper of the Royal Academy of Art at Leiden University. Design: Rob van den Nieuwenhuizen ( of Drawswords in Amsterdam) with Mattijs de Wit

Contribution to the My Monkey, My Network group exhibition organised by arts group Le Club des Chevreuils in Nancy, France, designed by Pierre Delmas Bouly and Patrick Lallemand of Lyon-based Superscript, 2008

"There are obvious aesthetic qualities connecting the work," they say, "intentionally 'bad' typography; using system typefaces like Arial, Helvetica or Times; stretching them; having too much or too little letter or line spacing; deforming type on a scanner or a copier. The Pretty Ugly is a movement against the established criteria of what 'good design' is, in order to regain the attention of the audience and explore new territory. Entering the world of 'wrong' freed these designers and made any kind of experiment possible, without worrying about being thought unprofessional. Mistakes turned into virtuosity, a sign of authenticity and humanity. But it isn't a movement that does wrong because it doesn't know better. This is a highly educated generation of designers using their knowledge to break with what they were given as rules. They use intuition as much as intellect in order to enter new territory that is beyond so called 'professionalism'."
Hmmm, so we are into the "if I do it, it's meant to look bad, if you do it, it's just bad" territory, always tricky ground to occupy. Are we, the humble viewers and readers, meant to know the difference? Is there one?

- Why do lo-fi methods seem to attract viewers to certain types of graphic design that looks deliberately cheap or designed by a non-designer? It could be nostalgia for analog, or a simple trend, where designers copy others to follow for supply and demand.

German design studio Vier5 was one of the early pioneers of the Pretty Ugly, particularly in its work for French arts centre CAC Brétigny, including this 2003 poster for a show by Dutch artists, designers and architects Atelier Van Lieshout

Geographically, most of the work featured hails from Belgium, France, Germany and The Netherlands. The latter gives a clue as to the work's intellectual origins too. Lorenz and Asensio say "We would guess that many of the seeds of the Pretty Ugly were sown in the Netherlands around 2000, when 'Default Design' was hot. At the time, the first issues of Jop van Bennekom's Re-Magazine using Times and lo-res images taken from the internet, or the work by Maureen Mooren (at that time working with Daniel van der Velden, who is now at Metahaven) and her husband Armand Mevis (working with Linda van Deursen) were all very influential. Many of the the designers featured in our book studied at the design school Werkplaats Typografie, where Armand Mevis teaches."

Spread from Super Paper, No. 21, July 2011, a publication on Munich nightlife by Studio Mirko Borsche

Perhaps the origins of the work also have something to do with the fact that these countries provide the support for young designers to be experimental - it's a rather different matter if you are leaving college with £20,000 of debt. Commercially viable work, in those circumstances, has its attractions and not too many brands, as yet, are in the market for 3D stretched Arial. Indeed, most of the work in Pretty Ugly is for very small-scale fashion, music or cultural clients, or self-initiated. But as the recent launch of Mevis and van Deursen's Stedelijk Museum identity (below) highlighted (see our story here), it is seeping into the mainstream.

Perhaps even the 2012 Olympics logo was an attempt to pick up on early manifestations of the trend and the intentions behind it? At the time of its launch Wolff Olins creative director Patrick Cox claimed that “Its design is intentionally raw, it doesn’t… ask to be liked very much. It was meant to provoke a response, like the little thorn in the chair that gets you to breathe in, sit up and take notice.”
In the US and UK many young designers have turned toward a retro craft aesthetic and a celebration of archaic print techniques - think of the US gig poster scene, much of the work exhibited at Pick Me Up or the Hipster aesthetic satirised so acutely on this recent Tumblr. In comparison, the mostly Northern European approach of The Pretty Ugly feels much more daring and provocative.
Rather than retreating to the comfort of the past, this work seems calculated to upset as many purist notions as possible. It has great energy and verve, blowing away the cobwebs of the watered-down Modernism-as-style that has dominated our ideas of 'good design' for so long.

But is there anything more to it than empty rebellion? In Heller's original piece, he stated that "Ugliness as its own virtue diminishes all design" but that it is justified if it is as a result of form follows function. If the 'function' here is to kick over the traces and make us re-examine what 'good design' is then maybe it's working.
We live in an age where everything around us is (to an extent) competently designed: groceries, restaurants, magazines, medicines, all researched and marketed to the nth degree. A professional patina applied. Design as service industry. Compared to the buffed and primped identities of most major organisations, the Stedelijk identity feels refreshingly authentic and honest.
But here's the 'Emperor's New Clothes' rub with the Pretty Ugly - if it wasn't by a famous Dutch design studio and for a major institution, would we give it serious consideration? If we saw it on the side of a builder's van would it transform from Pretty Ugly to just plain ugly?

There's something undeniably decadent in a group of highly and expensively educated Western designers producing knowingly 'bad' work. Are young designers, seeing their older peers' work becoming more and more devalued, reacting by saying 'these rules you taught us are not going to earn us a living anyway so let's see what happens when we break them all'? Increasingly we are hearing mumblings about a 'post-design world'. Is The Pretty Ugly a refreshing reinvigoration of a visual communications industry that has become too flabby and comfortable, or the outward sign of a profession in crisis?'