I don't know nearly enough about design and design trends to pretend to have a very valid opinion on this, but I'm fascinated by discussion currently taking place within the design community about the return (?) to "ugly" design. A lot of the debate seems to have been sparked by the unveiling a couple of months ago of the London Olympics logo, but it seems like the issue has legs beyond just that logo.
Here's a point of view from Michael Beirut, writing for the Design Observer:
Behold the style pendulum in the midst of another swing. The fits, literal and otherwise, that attended the unveiling of the London 2012 Olympics logo were a clear signal that ugly was getting ready for a comeback. It only took a day or two for the backlash to the backlash to set in; as the folks at Coudal told us, what we were witnessing were the birth pangs of the New Brutalism. And lest anyone write this moment off as a mere anomaly, Wolff Olins, the design firm that created the 2012 campaign, quickly followed it up with the jammed-together-on-a-stalled-downtown-No. 4-train-at-rush-hour New York City tourism logo, as well as the hey-mom-when-did-you-learn-Photoshop Wacom identity, both of which extend New Brutalism, or (in the case of Wacom) just plain ugliness, to new levels.
This is the redesign of the Wacom logo Beirut references above:
See why it has been called "brutal"?
So what's going on here? Is this some sort of post-irony irony? Wasn't irony buried a few years ago? Or is it a deliberate statement against the overly-designed, perfect aesthetic that has dominated design for the last few years (as Beirut points out). A stab at homogenized, mainstream "nice", conformist design? I hope it's the latter, I really do.
Incidentally, here's what Ben at Noisy Decent Graphics wrote about the much-maligned London Olympics logo:
What we have is the bravest Olympic logo in decades. A logo with an undeniable energy and an anti-establishment feeling that would be refreshing for any brand but is like an intravenous 10,000 volts for an Olympic logo.
"Anti-establishment" and "energy". I can get excited about that.
Parallel trends seem to be running in music and fashion, too. With music in particular (at least the kind of music that I can lay any claim to knowing about, electronic music) there has been a marked return to a raw, underground sound that is purposely unrefined. (In house/club circles, debates rage around Justice). To me, the extreme aesthetic and subsequent polarization is reminiscent of previous cultural underground music movements, where the intention was to shake-up and challenge the status quo (hip-hop, punk, house, rave and so on).
And it's not only music. Personal creative expression and style are referencing a similar fresh approach. Eighties club culture was driven by an amazing creative push towards individuality, of standing outside mainstream culture and defining your own identity. Over the years club culture got as diluted and conformist as everything else, to the point that mega-clubs became shallow clones of each other.
As an antidote, a club recently opened in Toronto (Circa) that many view as a return to the original club cultural vibe of the eighties, one that values creativity, inclusion and underground culture. Outlandish clothes, gay and straight crowds partying together, and a mix of music that includes rock, house, techno, remixes and everything else under the sun. (This review of the Circa club launch does a great job of summarizing:)
Perhaps the singular thing that makes the average Clubland experience so awful is the fraternity-style conformity that seems to define the scene, complete with all the worst stereotypes and a drab, graph paper-patterned uniform. Anybody with an ounce of self-respect or an iota of discerning taste strives instead to avoid the mass-produced, corporate club experience that characterizes a night in one of Richmond or Adelaide's many offerings.
And excuse yet another long quote from an article, but this Times UK article on the "nu rave" fashion movement touches on the same point: club culture and style acting up against the mainstream, and making a statement:
Slocombe says that this is the most interesting fashion movement for years, and is a reaction against depressing realities – as it was in the Eighties, he claims.
Mandi Lennard, a press officer who looks after Gareth Pugh and Henry Holland, adds: “Many people on this scene were brought up believing that the future would be bright and shiny and exciting. It’s the future now and it’s not really like that. They are reinventing it how they thought it would be.”
While Kalmar contends that the look lacks the political agenda of the Eighties underground, it is not without social significance. This could be the beginning of a new phase of antifashion – the goal being to liberate yourself from the bourgeois concept of “good taste”.
Music to my ears!
I really thought that we (or, our culture in general) had lost the ability to generate this kind of tension through art and design. We haven't been seeing too much "fuck the establishment" feelings crop up with much regularity lately. (Or I might just be too old to have noticed, so please prove me wrong in the comments).
And check this out, for a more radical take on fashion counter-culture and resistance to the mainstream:
Love how Ruby Pseudo describes this:
Highly goth, this new movement is a touch ugly and very, very angry but fantastic all the same. No one wants to be copied, least of all the kids leading the world a-fashion-stray... And it's not just the clubs that are witnessing this either, 'Dark Tourism' is the new thing to watch, with attendance figures of places typically associated with death and disaster going up, up, up...
With everything available a mouse-click away (weblogs, wikis, playlists, photos, video and on and on), and everything so overly known, done and commercialized, I was beginning to resign myself to the fact that real anti-mainstream energy was fading, a long-term casualties of our always-on, information-everywhere rich society. That's pretty depressing. Now, I'm not so sure.