Uglyness or… BEAUTIFUL LETTERS?

Fabiouser's picture

Hello;

The title of this topic is the title of a research that I am making about typefaces and typedesigners that, for some reasons, were lost in the history. Because of their designs or not, some typefaces are called UGLY by graphic designers (and other people), because they not follow the common shapes of regularity. Texts like "Cult of the ugly" are descriptions about the bad taste of this non-commercial flavor.

When I listen the word "non-commercial" I always think in beautiful works; things like Zuzana Licko typefaces, Ed Fella, Jeffery Keedy and others alike. My search led me to things like Calson Italian Grotesque, Jean Allessandrini type experiences, Raffia Initials by Henk Krijger, FF Blocker, "du chiffre" book of Jérôme Peignot, Preissig Antikva and some other examples.
I dont know what you think about this examples, but I love them, and this experiences with type fill me with ideias that I want to put in my research.

What I need [now] is that you fill this topic with this kind of experiences in type that I miss. I know that exist a lot of experiences in history of type design, but I need your help to find them all :). [Past Present and Future (if possible)]

Best Regards
Fábio Santos

hrant's picture

Good topic - very complex.

I'll try to present my opinions, but most of all I'm paying attention.

hhp

Fabiouser's picture

I´m not sure if the title calls attention of others users :)

Fabiouser's picture

To the appetite: typophiles
————————————————————————
Emigre #28.
Interview to Barbara Glauber. Broadcast issue

"E: Heller writes that he thinks a lot of current works is "driven by instinct and obscured by theory, with ugliness its foremost byproduct." He names Keedy and Fella as examples of this.I wonder if at the heart of this whole hubbub about "ugliness" is that it's difficult to understand that some designers sometimes want to reach a smaller audience instead of a larger, more homogenized audience. Or that we might want to push design to the "edge" and hopefully, move the whole practice along?

BG: I know. A lot of people just completely miss the point that there actually can be joy in doing design, pushing the boundaries and exploring visual culture.
New things have to happen somehow and somewhere: otherwise what's the point of going on? If new desing is based in what was considered "good" in the past, what's the point? The models for "goodness" are inevitably going challenged and I'm not saying that this may be for everyone or to everyone's taste. Isn's this—and I think this is something you were asking me—about opening up your realm of influences and inspiration to other sources? I like to draw in my personal history, like comics and Letraset. I've had experiences common to a lot of other people, but not everyone is going to respond to the same things or the same way I do. My work often gets labeled as "cute", but can't work be a playful or funny? To be considered serious does it need to be stripped down, severe and universal? Everything would be so homogeneous.
I love to take "official" language and turn it upside down. Tehre's an expectation inherent in official language. It's not very interesting to look at and it's meant to be read quickly. But say you take an icon has was designed to be read internationally as a symbol for a restaurant, turn it into a bleeding plate and use it as an icon to mark where someone was murdered in a restaurant—now that's interesting to me. I were making stop signs, for instance, I'd do my job, and of course I'd make stop signs that could be read quickly. But I'm not making stop signs. We all know the difference between a stop sign and a poetry book, and we wouldn't design them is the same way. There's an audience and a function for different things. You can't have different interpretations with a stop sign, you must have an instant understanding. But a poetry book you understand within its context.
Heller speaks on behalf of a large chunk of design community who don't want a loose interpretation of design. The meaning doesn't have to be right there, so obvious, it can be open to many interpretations. But they're afraid we want all of design to look like that and it doesn't and it never will. It wouldn't be appropriate to its message.
You know that essay by Joseph Giovanni, "Zero Degree of Graphics" in walker Art Center's Graphic Design in America: A visual Language History? The difference between the function and audiences of Harper's magazine and Metropolis is never acknowledged. Sometimes you look and read, sometimes you just read. Sometimes looks what the "look" says is as important to me as what it says.
Design doesn't have to be so freaking uptight.
Polite design I rail against this stuff; it's so digestible, so slick, so pretty. But Gail, I'm really all talk about all that polite design stuff because there is a polish I myself can't give up. Ed has a name for making work less slick; he calls it "degreasing the wheels of design." I try to not grease my design and at least structurally, I´m working to corrode. I don't want my work to be like those coated pills you swallow—I want to start sticking in people's throats. (cough)"

rs_donsata's picture

Ed Benguiat. Ja...

Fabiouser's picture

Yes; Ed Benguiat have some wonder drawings, but I can't find on web. He have a book on him, that House Industries talk a bit, but I can´t have access to the book to read and find some images. If you have some resources, share them :)

Fabiouser's picture

I found another great example: Joseph Churchward

typerror's picture

I believe it was Gunnar who was quoted in Eye about the Cult of Ugly. As I remember it he called it a visual tourettes syndrome, design that says "f**k you" without really meaning it.

When I co-anchored an AIGA event with Ed in New Orleans I found him to be out-of-touch, ignorant of contemporary talent and self-absorbed in his own little world of rebellion.

Design does not have to be Xanax, but his brand of letter/design concept is beyond my tastes, and devoid of reality. More like puking paint on a canvas.

Prior to the lectures he made the statement at the dinner table that all fonts should be free. I almost cold cocked him and several in the restaurant knew and agreed that this was ignorance on parade.

P.S. It is ugliness! But I guess that is in-your-face contemporary spelling :-)

dezcom's picture

Design for communication is just that. It does not require the added universal beauty to make it communicate. If you look at enlargements small text meant for tough situations like phone books, you will see designed ugliness in the inktraps and cuts needed to make the type work for it's intended purpose. If you look at Grunge types, you will see batterings and beatings that reduce legibility of reading but may increase communication of the intended message if used properly. If you have an ugly message, just maybe, the type might reflect that.

Fabiouser's picture

But I need examples of that "ugliness" :) — like this one from Martin T. Pecina collection

dezcom's picture

One quick Google of "ink Trap" gets you many. Here is a link to Carter's classic Bell Centennial:
http://nicksherman.com/articles/bellCentennial.html

Fabiouser's picture

Really nice point @dezcom!!

typerror's picture

First off, I doubt Pecina was even alive when that was originated.

That was during a period when the pen was celebrated as a genesis tool and not derided, as it is oft times here. It was calligraphic in origin, true to a "regional style" and used correctly, as Chris said above, was very effective. Not to mention innovative on the manipulation/modulation front.

Put it in chronological perspective first, before you call it ugly. 60 or 70 years makes a huge difference in taste.

Fabiouser's picture

I forgot to mention "flickr collection of images"; I really sorry for that.

My research don't have time frontiers, because I want to document everything I find that not follow commercial rules. Because my "editorial" for this project is to find typefaces that not have the celebrity state that "grotesques alike" have. I fell that this typefaces only have some role in some Type Specimen Books, because in their layout, hierarchies were not made. So I want to find this precious "ugly" (the term do not mean really "ugly" type, I put that description because my idea came form Stever Heller's text).

Fabiouser's picture

"grotesques alike" was just an example.
because I know that commercial isn't only "grotesque alike" :)

typerror's picture

But if you are going to speak of Heller's article, Swanson's quotes and the time frame, you have to stick to THAT "Cult of Ugly." And he did mean UGLY! You are taking great liberties with the gist, period of time and point of the article.

Read "A Blip in the Continuum."

typerror's picture

A salient message from beyond :-)

Through typographic means, the designer NOW presents, in one image, both the message and the pictorial idea. Sometimes this playing with type has resulted in the loss of a certain amount of legibility. Herb Lubalin

"Certain amount" is an understatement, especially with Ed Fella and his ilk!

Kevin Paolozzi's picture

Fabiouser – it almost seems like divine intervention that I came across this topic today (as I just registered this morning). I am excited for the discussion your post will promote!

"Cult of the Ugly" was one of the defining texts that inspired me to study at Cranbrook, where I am currently a second year student under the tutelage of Elliott Earls. Though much different than the McCoy-era Cranbrook of the 1980's (Keedy/Fella), the spirit of the academy is much the same in that the work we produce tries to challenge the conventions of contemporary design discourse and explore visual culture. That being said, with the disciplinary fragmentation caused by the internet, it has become increasingly difficult to create something "ugly," as most design seems generally accepted without much discussion or opposition.*

Given the examples in your initial post, I believe that our taste and interest in type design is similar – an interest that has led me to enroll in the Summer Program in Type Design at Cooper Union with Jean François Porchez.

If you haven't already, you should check out Elliott Earls' more recent posters. Though his early typographic works through Emigre have been immortalized in the canon of graphic design history, I think this work demonstrates a contemporary execution of the concepts you seem to be alluding to/are interested in.

*Earlier this year I had the opportunity to meet and dine with Damon Murray of Fuel (UK). We spoke at great length about how design culture has slowly diminished as a result of most designers unwillingness to openly critique the work of their peers. Though seemingly obvious, that particular discussion has resonated with me for a while now; we need more "Cult of the Ugly," and conversely, need more challenging dialogue (see: Andrew Blauvelt's response to Heller, "The Cult(ivation) of Discrimination" in Emigre 31).

Fabiouser's picture

What a input @Kevin Paolozzi. Yes I follow Elliott Earls work because I love his typographic taste [ yes: seems our taste in type design is similar :)]
Cranbrook students projects give me some references, like CalArts Students did; but only in Emigre this projects have some light.

Works like what I already mention, is what I want to put in my research—but I only have access to a few Emigre´s. I found some experiences done by Czech artists and typedesigners that led me to some others references; and that work really need to have some light on.

I already saw the works of this year at Type@Cooper and I think when I have the chance to participate in that experience, I dont miss that.

But what do you think about this experiences in type, and why you like them that way? [I want to know what you think about non-commercial typedesign; type that works in the shadows. Typophiles: Answer that question too!]

Seems you are in the perfect context to share with me some references :)

Thanks for the references.
Best Regards @Kevin Paolozzi

Nick Shinn's picture

…lost in the history…

The experimental digital typography of that era has fallen from fashion, but it is starting to achieve academic recognition: http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2011/01/24/digital-fonts-23-new-f.... It can be found in history.

Some of those new faces, such as Matrix and Template Gothic, were much used at the time, while others, such as Beowolf, were not. So the movement was not inherently “non-commercial”. Microsoft even hired David Carson for an ad campaign.

Kevin Paolozzi's picture

@Nick Shinn: Thanks for the link. I had the pleasure of seeing both that show at the MoMA, and a lecture you gave at York University in Toronto a year or two ago when I was completing my graduate studies in their MDes program. It was very insightful, and now in hindsight, a glimpse into what I hope my future career can offer.

@Fabiouser: But what do you think about this experiences in type, and why you like them that way? [I want to know what you think about non-commercial typedesign; type that works in the shadows.]

If the past is any indication of the future, it is the kind work discussed in this thread that directly affects what is done in a commercial design capacity. Though an unpopular opinion, I believe that the most interesting graphic design is that of which straddles the boundary between "art" and "design" (though, I think of the two terms as being almost entirely synonymous). For instance, the work done by M/M Paris is irrefutably commercial, but maintains an artistic level of visual acuity.

Fabiouser's picture

@ NickSinn Thanks for the link. And to let me know that Microsoft even hired David Carson for an ad campaign.

@ Kevin Paolozzi M/M Paris made some type illustrations on Tate Triennal Book that really deserve a eye on. When you speak in them I remember that book [the foreword text have some column with problems; but the inside illustrations were amazing]. Thanks for remember me that book!

I believe that the most interesting graphic design is that of which straddles the boundary between "art" and "design" — Check

JohnB's picture

Thank you for the great work indeed...

5star's picture

Shown in the above image is the final layout presentation for a advertizing campaign I'm designing for a very prestigious florist. I am communicating with gestural line work and 3D items. In this image it is mirror glass composed in the shape of a human head with wings - basically speaking. Flowers are reflected within the human shape, becoming part of the abstract human shape. Bespoke hand drawn lettering next to be added.

The mirror is a machined element - machines produced it. The graphic lines are human produced. Together there is a 'conversation' taking place and each element compliments the other. This is my own personal style of communicating a sophisticated message, and is from a long long ongoing series I've been working on for quite awhile now.

These letter shapes were done in the same manner for the same reasons.

Graphic design is an art form just as much as any of the fine arts - in my humble opinion anyways. Its just a matter of how raw you want to keep the delivery system intact.

So, back on point ... ugliness is a matter of taste. My work has been called ugly ... its been called a lot of things. But whatever it has been called, I feel it is because it has challenged boundaries. And it is those boundaries which we as designer must challenge to some degree in our time.

As for me, I don't truly understand the constructs of Ugly or Beauty.

Thankfully I'm not that clever.

n.

Fabiouser's picture

Jonathan Barnbrook have some examples of experimental typefaces. Even we put them to work on moving images!

Fabiouser's picture

Now Typophiles;

What do you think that was produce today that follows some experiences like Emigre, David Carson typography, Fuse, Neville Brody typefaces, LetterError…What you think that follows those ideias — and even upgrade them? Because follow an ideia is wonderful, but improve something that was left its another thing.

Nick Shinn's picture

I’ve “upgraded” some of my earlier experimental types to the OpenType format.
For instance, one premise of Fontesque (1994) was to be irregular, and the OpenType format expanded that quality through the possibility of creating pseudo-randomness, with fonts that respond to text.
http://ilovetypography.com/2011/04/01/engaging-contextuality/
Do experiments with contextuality create shocking forms that are perceived as ugly?
No, it’s not the kind of thing that suddenly puts creative power in the hands of outsiders, to overthrow the turgid establishment—that sort of situation doesn’t happen very often.

Fabiouser's picture

I think the world do not make much experimentation [random, and not random]. In some way, that experiences dont have the success that creators may want, the light that they perhaps deserve.

And…judging to 26 comments that this topic only have, people don't care much about this theme.

Sometimes I think we have FULL of commercial [not CommercialTypeFoundry] things, but seems not :)

Fabiouser's picture

[scan]

I have forgot this infographic work in Type Heresy book by Paul Felton.

Don't let this topic Die and go to Heaven!

paragraph's picture

All right, I fess up. I have done some "ugly" typefaces, by means of experimentation. Good lord, what a strange self-promotion! Galette, Tertre, Springsteel and Springsteel Serif come to mind, not to mention some others. I do not know though whether my kind of ugly is what you had in mind. It certainly isn't a sophisticated ugliness :)

Nick Shinn's picture

My philosophy—Functionalist, no doubt—from an article I wrote in 2004 discussing new types such as Lingua:

… Experimental design that follows the principles of What-If? and Because-We-Can! redefines beauty. The most elegant solutions to previously unposed problems are shocking and ugly in their strangeness … As one begins to appreciate the way that new form follows new function, the beauty emerges…

dezcom's picture

If the specific function intended by the font requires ugliness to some viewers, so be it. I have a very ugly looking chuck of stainless steel wire holding my ribcage together.

Fabiouser's picture

My intent with this topic, is not to get a kind of philosophical examples of what I call ugly (beautiful experiences); but, by contrast, practical examples of that: Digital examples or even physical ones.

But @Nick Shinn, that philosophy have a practical example, and that is good! thanks for sharing.

oneweioranother's picture

What do people make of Karloff? I find its form exquisite and delicately beautiful actually. Historically it was considered ugly but I don't think an experienced type designer like Peter Bilak _can_ do an ugly typeface?

And what about typefaces that arise out of inexperience/dilettantism?

dezcom's picture

I like it it!

Nick Shinn's picture

Who said it was ugly?
Perverse, travesty, hard to read, impossible to use, but was it really considered ugly?

Joe Pemberton's picture

I'm really tempted to edit the fix the typo in the title of this post. But it occurs to me that when you write uglyness perhaps you also mean sloppiness.

Karl Stange's picture

I'm really tempted to edit the title of this post. But it occurs to me that when you write uglyness perhaps you also mean sloppiness.

Perhaps it could be renamed in line with Peter Biľak's article on I Love Typography about Beauty & Ugliness in Type Design?

hrant's picture

I like
Bilak.

hhp

Karl Stange's picture

I like
Bilak.

Turning brevity into an artform. I can see the t-shirt now with that in Karloff Negative.

Though rest assured I am not accusing you of being an artist.

Joe Pemberton's picture

Few things are truly ugly. Selfishness is ugliest of all. Is design ugly when it's mired in selfishness, puts self expression over substance?

hrant's picture

Yup. Art.

hhp

dezcom's picture

"... puts self expression over substance?"

Post an example?

riccard0's picture

Is design ugly when it's mired in selfishness, puts self expression over substance?

It simply cease to be design. It becomes decoration, at most.

5star's picture

Is design ugly when it's mired in selfishness, puts self expression over substance?

No.

n.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

When concerning great art, I really believe in the idea that the only thing that matters at all is the end product. Process does not matter. The amount of time it took to create doesn't matter. The masters the artist studied under don't matter. The technique the artist used doesn't matter. The success or failure of the artist in general doesn't matter. The mood the artist was in when they created it doesn't matter. Indeed, to some extent, even the artists intentions don't matter. What is there, at the end, that won't change, but is permanent--that is all that matters, and all that can ever really be judged.

5star's picture

What about originality ... I'm guessing you don't care to much for that either. Kinda like good old Shep the plagiarist...

http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm

The whole concept of what is art has been diluted to such an extant that comments like, 'whatever sells is art', 'art is in the eye of the beholder' etc., etc.. are used in utter servitude. Compare a Newman(Barnett) canvas against a Basquiat against a Pollack against a Hiroshige ...and then rethink your 'opinion'.

Just as all noise is not music ... all painting is not art.

To be sure Ryan, the process is everything.

Sorries.

n.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

If something is original, why wouldn't it's originality be seen in the end product?

hrant's picture

Only intent matters.

hhp

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Only intent matters.

So as long as i intend to be making great art, I will be? Not a chance.

Fabiouser's picture

Why, still this days, the symptom "art vs design" persists?

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