Cult of the squiggly
Over-abundant embellishment is spiralling out of control. Time to get out the shears, cries Steven Heller.
[This is an edited extract from Eye no. 72 vol. 18 Summer 2009. To order the fully illustrated print version, click ‘buyEye72’ in the Links column.]
Beware! Vines and tendrils have recently strangled designed surfaces and objects without mercy. Yet unlike almost all our other earthly woes, it has nothing to do with global warming – unless graphic designers are instinctively compensating for the depletion of polar ice caps and degradation of the rainforest ecosystem by planting ornamental graphic vegetation on things. More likely, it is a reaction to the perpetual dominance of sterile Modernism. You could argue that lush forests of typographic embellishment are responses to a basic aesthetic need for – and under-abundance of – decoration in our basic design diet.
The cult of the squiggly, as we’ll call this manifestation, was seeded by a few innovative form-givers, including Marian Bantjes (see Reputations, Eye 72), whose mastery of craft is unworldly, and Seb Lester (seblester.co.uk), whose swirling lettering spirals joyously off the page. But now the trend is everywhere, like the fast-growing climbing vine kudzu, multiplying and spreading in nonsensical uses to a terrifying degree. Think of Jack’s beanstalk run amok, and the bloodthirsty plant, Audrey, from Little Shop Of Horrors having mated with the nightmarish Invasion Of The Body Snatchers pods. We have reached a point now where the time has come to prune the invasive squigglies. But this is not the first time ...