Steven Heller | Essays

The D Word: Yomar Augusto

Yomar Augusto is a skilled typographer, type designer, and calligrapher. His work is more an afront to design standards than it is a slave to those rigors. To judge from these multi-layered sketches, he is not afraid to combine incongruous graphic forms—either by design or accident. He accepts that there is beauty in clutter and pleasure in the serendipidous forms that emerge from it. 

The lettering work of these pages started like any process for a commercial job, specifically a book cover for a Dutch author. “I kept the sketches and used them as a base for a letterpress workshop at the Center for Book Arts,” he said. Then, after a couple of days printing layer upon layer, “I’ve realised how the sketches became final pieces.” The final is visual proof of what Augusto says about the design process: “Ugly design is something I do everyday, ugly into beautiful … a process. A rough rock that needs to be polished.”

When pressed about the concept of anti-design his response is not as optimistic “I think it is something else; it means going against the system or “brand-ization/globalization” of our lives.” Rather working in this indiscriminate fashion, mixing the unmixable is play and abandon that results in polish.

Comments [3]

This essay caused me to reread Steven Heller's 1993 article Cult of the Ugly (Eye, no. 9 vol. 3). In it, he criticizes "chaos born of found letters layered on top of random patterns and shapes," the "blips, type fragments, random words and other graphic minutiae purposefully given the serendipitous look of a printer’s make-ready," and the "cacophonous blends of different types and letters [that] at once challenge prevailing aesthetic beliefs." Of ugliness more broadly, Heller continues by knocking the "imposed discordance and disharmony, which might be rationalised as personal expression, but not as viable visual communication, and so in the end will be a blip (or tangent) in the continuum of graphic design history." He further states, "When the layered, vernacular look is practised in the extreme, whether with forethought or not, it simply contributes to the perpetuation of bad design." Finally from Cult of the Ugly, "But ugliness as its own virtue – or as a knee-jerk reaction to the status quo – diminishes all design." Because Yomar Augusto "accepts that there is beauty in clutter and pleasure in the serendipidous [sic] forms that emerge from it," Heller excuses the designer's 'ugliness' as a kind of experimental 'happy accident.' If Augusto had intentionally authored the designs to communicate, Heller might have a hard time reconciling his position(s).

S McCarthy Thanks for your close reading of my 1993 essay. Alas, in the ensuing 23 years my opinion about ugliness and beauty have changed. Time and experience will do that. Points of view are influenced by time and place, thought and deed. I hope that my criticism from the early years of the digital revolution would have developed over time. Reconciling the past with the present is not difficult at all. Again, I thank you for a thoughtful response.
Steven Heller

Jane Braxton

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