Winter 2005

Editorial Eye 58

The editor summarises the contents of the latest issue of Eye

From time to time a design issue will surface that gets everyone talking: ugly typography, plagiarism, ‘First Things First’, free pitching, default design, branding, the list goes on. But there are other equally compelling subjects that resist discussion. It is as if they exist so much in the visual realm that words have trouble keeping up.

This appears to be the case with ornament, which has infiltrated mainstream graphic design over the past five years. And that’s why I invited Alice Twemlow to carry out an in-depth examination of the phenomenon of contemporary decoration, to look at the way it affects design practice and to seek out the views and work of some leading players. The examples shown here represent some quite divergent views and visual tropes under the heading: ‘The decriminalisation of ornament.’ (pp.18-37)

The headline refers to the famous Adolf Loos declaration that ‘ornament is crime’, so it is instructive to see the extent that designers as different as Non-Format and Marian Bantjes are committed to finding a rapprochement between Modernist ideals and skill-based decoration, a direction also summed up by the ‘deco’ and the ‘rational’ in the title of Denise Gonzales Crisp’s manifesto and ongoing project, The Decorational.

Yet decoration extends into all areas of visual culture. In one corner, the borders are blurring between decoration and illustration, exemplified by eBoy and FL@33; in another, ornament can be seen as a natural extension of type design, with experimental and commercial work that encourages designers to create ornamental patterns using raw, quasi-typographic materials.

And of course you could argue that KAPITZA's Blossomy font, a character set of flowery outlines featured on the cover, is merely a form of illustration by stealth, while Andrea Tinnes’s repeated patterns, featured in two specially prepared pages on this issue’s inside covers, has a familial relationship to the ‘laptop aesthetics’ (see Eye no. 49) of Angela Lorenz and others. It is certainly true that the computer plays a large part in the skill set needed to create twenty-first century ornament. However in a report (Monitor, pp.74-75) about Wolfgang Weingart’s summer course in Basel, Rupert Bassett writes about the ‘sustainable’ nature of design without computers. The article is accompanied by Rupert’s photographs of his fellow students, who variously described the course as ‘life-changing’ and ‘totally awesome’.

Pattern, repetition and dot-matrix typefaces appear in the work of Toffe (aka Christophe Jacquet), whose quirky designs find an optimistic and good-natured energy in the cultural tensions within French society. In the uk, three new custom typefaces by HouseStyle and Jeremy Tankard draw on some typically British traditions and methods established and practised in previous centuries by the Sheffield foundry Stephenson, Blake. Yet more Britishness, of a more surreal quality, is exemplified by the illustrations of George Hardie: gardens, games, picnics and graphic precision. We were thrilled to learn in the past few days that George has been appointed to the rsa’s Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry, along with Richard Hollis (the subject of a Reputations feature in the next issue of Eye.) Our heartfelt congratulations to both of them. jlw

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