Autumn 1993

Need to experiment

Letter from Teal Triggs in Eye 10

It is important to understand that Cranbrook’s Output is part of an ongoing process of communication between students. Collectively, the printed pieces represent not only a process, but the idea of a subcultural discourse. Students in this context are a subcultural group acting as both receivers and producers of visual and verbal coding. Whether or not Output can be positioned successfully in Steven Heller’s criteria for ‘ugly’ is questionable. But the fact is that the form of the communication has definitely followed the intended function.

Output, like many other design school projects, could be classified as an ‘ugly duckling’, but not the ‘ugly’ of fully fledged graphic design. While Cranbrook’s Output may have been shared with members of the wider design community, this does not mean that student work should be criticised using the same criteria established for the work of design professionals. While the former is concerned primarily with the process of subcultural communication, the latter is by necessity following mainstream conventions. The positive growth of the design profession is dependent, among other things, on an awareness of experimental work freed from the constraints of pragmatic criteria.

Finally, I agree with Heller when he proposes that the seductiveness of experimental work emanating from design academies such as Cranbrook often lures designers into adapting the ‘style’. Without an understanding of the underlying tenets, this leads to inappropriate forms of communication. However, I would suggest that this, in and of itself, does not create ‘ugly’ graphics; rather, it highlights the problem which arises when designers do not communicate effectively among themselves and with design academies. Perhaps it is this issues which projects like Output might help to address, thereby disbanding the ‘cult of the ugly’.

Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, Kent, UK

First published in Eye no. 10 vol. 3 1993

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