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The Decriminalization of Ornament

In this article, Alice Twemlow discusses the thoughts of designers who are for the use of ornament. She states “ornament is clearly an integral part of the dominant visual language of the moment.”  Decorative elements can sometimes speak much louder than words and have a much more powerful message.  Throughout the reading, she addresses the questions:  what has happened to allow for this decriminalization of ornament and what is the deeper significance of ornament?  To begin, ornamentation has always been a subject of debate and the development of machines has made this debate more complicated.  In graphic Design, decoration is design taboo.  However, when done well, it is regarded good-taste in the eyes of craftsmen.


Before, some artist saw ornament as a waste of manpower, health, materials and capital. Others think however, that to use ornament, it has to have detailed instructions such as the placement of colors and hues.  In type design, “Goudy designed Kennerley in response to what he described as ‘a real need for types for decorative printing’ and Dwiggins used ornaments to design his book covers.”  In comparison to modern times, I believe it is a revival of style.  Before, much ornamentation required hand rendering. Now computers aid the detail process thus perfecting decoration. It is the intricacy of decoration suggests that more detail is paid to the craft making.  However, like Armin Vit states, the use of ornamentation needs to be used in a balance of obsessive compulsiveness and acute sense of style where the artist knows when to stop.


Another good point to bring up is that of Louise Schouwenberg’s:  “freed from its negative connotations, craftsmanship can be valued for the psychological effect it exerts on its user: it not only refers to a slower pace, but also implants this deceleration, and the implied attention to detail into the product.”  I agree that ornamentation is successful in this regard because it draws one in to look closer at the detail and meaning of a work. It does not mean necessarily that the message of the piece is unclear, but that is has a more significant meaning, something deeper. Finally, it has been mentioned that decoration is something historically gendered as feminine.  I don’t know how I really feel about this because there are male designers that use ornamentation and to use it means it has to appeal to them in someway. However, I can see males rebelling more against decoration more than females because they are more inclined to get straight to the point where as females look for more meaning and deeper context.





In the reading, Quietude by Kenneth Fitzgerald he discusses critical writing as it relates to the design world. In reference to this, Fitzgerald states “No market exists for critical writing.” Quietude goes on to discuss how designers don’t want to take criticism nor do they want to read about it.”

Fitzgerald believes that this is partly because the design world is such a small community, that friends are writing about friends. If designers are too critical of their peers, design community gatherings would be uncomfortable. He writes that because the design community is so small we must stick together and cannot afford to make enemies.

Fitzgerald goes on to talk about how people are prone to listen to “celebrity designers” even if they have nothing important to say. He says sarcastically “Preeminent people who walk into our temple on their own to kneel at the shrine receive our full attention-even when they have little to say.”

I disagree with Fitzgerald’s points in this reading. If there is no market  for critical writing and if he has truly given up on it ever developing in the design field, why does he bother to continue writing?

Secondly, I don’t believe that the design community is as small as Fitzgerald makes it sound in this writing. Even so, as long as you are truly giving constructive criticism no one can be mad, instead they should appreciate it.

I do however agree with Fitzgerald that often times people listen to celebrities simply because they are who they are. I believe that everyone has an opinion and deserves a chance to be heard before they are dismissed simply because of who they are.


In Kenneth FitzGerald article “Quietude”, FitzGerald discusses critical writings of designs and how they have come to a stand still. He talks about how people are no longer writing critically and how there is basically no one writing at all. He goes on to talk about Rick Poynor and his belief “that design is worth of an accessible, expansive, sustained and discerning inquiry”. I agree with this instance that design should be critiqued at its fullest. If we do not take it seriously and see what things we can improve than how will we ever come up with new and better designs.

FtizGerald goes on to discuss how “major publications know what their audience wants – and it’s not criticism”.  He also states “Design has no heritage of or belief in criticism. Design education programs continue to emphasize visual articulation, not verbal or written. The goal is to sell your idea to a client and/or a hypothetical audience. Design in relation to culture and society is rarely confronted. If this is true about publications and the educations system, then isn’t it the fault of our educators, our professors, for not instilling this idea in us from the start? I agree that there is not an emphasis on verbal and written articulations, but is it not our professors opportunity to express the importance of this in our classes and make it a requirement to approach this in the program? I do believe that we are given the opportunity to articulate our critical analysis of each other’s works verbally in critique, but everyone is usually so nice. Isn’t it the duty of the professor to teach us how to properly critique and even make critical comments about ones work? If they do not teach us this, than who will?

After this FitzGerald goes on to discuss how “Design is still a small world. Friends are often writing about friends. Even when writers I respect discuss designers I admire, I wonder what a less connected account might offer. That said, the paucity of critics means that fewer articles would be written if we limited such connections”.  This is true friends are nice to each other when critiquing each other’s work. Peers do not rip into each other one what is wrong and how they could improve the other work, or that is it simply put, bad. Maybe it’s the belief that we should encourage each other that our true feelings about others works do not come out. If we were to critique them to harshly, they may want to give up. What would be wrong with this, one less crappy designer. People should be harsh and let the other person know, how they feel, how else are we going to improve or keep the design world free of crappy designs. I also think it is very important to get critiques from people who are not your peers. These people don’t have a relationship with you they are worried about effecting and so will more easily be able to tell you how they truly feel.

Overall I think its the responsibility of our educators, people in our industry and our peers to make sure our work is properly critiqued. No one should be afraid to take it seriously.


Decriminalizing Ornamentation


In “The Decriminalization of Ornament” the discussion of ornamentation and decoration is brought to life in a more open and positive manner. Ornaments have long been a topic of heated discussion for the last century or so. This article gives both sides of the argument, and makes good points in favor of both sides. It’s a very balanced and informative article.

“Sufficiently suggestive to convey the intended images to the mind, without destroying the unity of the object they are employed to decorate.” Owen Jones

Again, we see Loos referenced through his work in ‘Ornament and Crime’. Loos argued that ornament was a waste of manpower, health, materials and capital. I suppose that during the Modernism movement, this was an accepted viewpoint. After all, it was about stripping out all the unnecessary and lavish ornamentation, and exposing the raw and simple forms beneath. Does ornamentation have a permanent place in the world of graphic design, or is it just the pendulum swinging away from modernism, which will forever sway back and forth? Perhaps it’s not a swing at all, and just an addition to the current system of technical and elegant designs of the current generation. I agree that “amplification, complexity and detail are key to decoration” and “…the computer lets you do that.” Seeing the level of complexity and intricacy in today’s illustrations and brush patterns shows a level of craft that goes beyond merely being decorative and moves into showcasing the technical mastery of the software, or tools that we use.

After last week’s reading and this week’s reading, I’m not convinced one way or the other that decoration is a good or bad thing. I can only give my opinion on the matter. While I was doing an image inventory on my work, I noticed that I don’t use a lot of fancy ornaments or textures, yet I love and admire those who have the time and dedication to create such fancy and beautiful appearances. I’ve been taught by instructors who strived for effective design, and though not outright spoken, the ornamentation and decoration were not looked upon favorably in my experience. However, with the rise of textures and patterns in Photoshop and Illustrator, you can’t ignore the fact that these are prominent within the graphic design world and they are here to stay. This is not saying that they will not wear out their welcome. If it is overused and not given the proper amount of attention to detail, then I think graphic design will again sway back towards the removal of excessive ornament.

Ornamental Design

In ‘The decriminalization of ornament”, by Alice Twemlow, Twemlow discusses the acceptance of the ornament. The ornament seems to be a very popular design element in design history.  It is in constant debate as to whether or not it makes a design better or worse. Owen Jones wrote Grammar of Ornament in order to set out guidelines for designers on how to use ornaments properly. On the other hand, Adolf Loos wrote an article against the use of ornament, called ‘Ornament and Crime’. Loos believes that ornaments are a waste of time and that they represent regression of a nation’s culture. Following this article the ornament was not used for quite a while in design. Lent legitimacy writings by Robert Venturi in the 1960’ and 1970’s made designers rethink their opinion about ornaments, and they were once again accepted in the word of design, however, they were unable to dismiss it’s status as a popular debate in design. Work featured in Margaret Lambert and Enid Marx’s Engilsh Popular and Traditional Arts in 1946showcased ingenious ornamental crafts. Twemlow then goes on to say that the use of ornaments in today’s society is ‘taboo’, stating that ornament design is described as ‘fluff’, ‘candy’ or ‘eight deadly sin’. However, Twemlow believes that in the 2000’s, we saw and increase in the use of ornaments and graphic designers obviously took a liking to them.

My opinion on ornaments it that they are an important element to the design community. When used properly, they can attract an audience and add elegance to a piece. However, there are times when an ornament can be over used or suffocate the design. There is also the problem of placing ornaments where they should not be. I think that ornaments can add great and interesting details to a composition without over powering a piece. With the right restraint, I think that ornamental design can be aesthetically pleasing as well as providing information.

Ornamental Design

The article “The Decriminalization of Ornament” by Alice Twemlow discusses the change in acceptance of ornamental design.  She starts the article buy giving visual detail of a Brooklyn home wares store logo.  The owner had to logo designed in order to “reflect the times” and change so it is always considered in style.  Improvements in Flash technologies over the last couple of years have enabled patterns, decorative details, geometric patterns, and foliage to resurface in the design world.  In the past, ornamental design has had a rough time and has been a subject of debate in design.  In the nineteenth century, ornamental design related to a meaning of decoration ad was only a topic of homes and interior designs.  The change with the development in ornamental design production with machine made designs caused ornamentation to become more affordable and a widely used feature.  It began to appear on textiles, wallpapers, books, and even on items such as cups and plates.  It became a subject of beauty and taste rather than topics of debates.  Alice goes on to discuss the evolution of taming ornamental design during the time of the Great Exhibition in 1891.  She quotes architect Owen Jones in saying “All ornament should be based on geometrical construction” as well as quoting Adolf Loos’s statement “ornament is no longer a natural product of its culture, and therefore represents backwardness or even a degenerative tendency.”  These beliefs led modernism’s teaching and practice.  Ornamental design continued to fall out of interest in architecture, industrial design, and graphic design in the twentieth century.  Even today, ornamentation is considered a mainstream use in graphic design.  Alice describes that today’s interest in ornament as it relates to design is for a sense of fashion.  It has recently begun to reemerge in graphic design to achieve a different and exotic style.  This style can be seen in decorative work created by contemporary designers.  Ornamental design stands out due to its sense of fun, complexity, meaningfulness, and seriousness.  Decorative elements are not quickly created from a variety of choices, however, come directly from content and are created with a deep level of thought.  Armin Vit states, “Heavy ornamentation requires a type of character not found among many people.  It’s a balance of obsessive compulsiveness, an acute sense of style and an understanding of when to stop.”  Alice concludes her article by asking the question of what will give decoration, pattern, and ornamental design more popularity than it currently possesses.  She wonders when people will see its potential with an alternative to orthodox views on design’s role as a problem solver and simplifier.  As Daniel van der Velden states “Playfulness and layers, multiple narratives, embedding history, seeking relations, and also political implications are better expressed in a visual vocabulary less dogmatic and more rich than modernism.” I agree with what Alice had to say in the article.  I believe that ornamental design is a strong style and when added to design can create a very unique piece.  I hope to see it come back and stay a part of design for the future.




I have to wonder what makes Kenneth think that graphic design is at a time where passions are running low. Passion in unmeasurable.  “With heat came light. Design mattered, as it hadn’t before. Or it mattered to me, who have previously dismissed it.”
So he talking about the entire graphic design community or just himself. Is he the one that has lost his passion? I feel that his opening is a misleading statement and a huge generalization of graphic designers as a whole.

I do agree with his statement that ” If aesthetically pleasing product is what graphic design’s all about, things are good. However, the call that cut across all the strata of discourse was that design needed some meaning.” Most of graphic design is about creating something visually pleasing, in hope of getting the consumers eye for their most recent product. It isn’t about meaning and depth as designers. You could say it is somewhat shallow. How as designers could we push the envelope? I’d really like to know.





Kenneth FitzGerald states he has “simply given up  on a critical writing ever developing in the design field.” Since he has said he considers himself a graphic design critic, he must not have given up completely or he wouldn’t have given himself that title. If he is truly a design critic, then how is this possible without any formal design criticism being formed? What structure does he follow? If what he says is true that “design education programs continue to emphasize visual articulation, not verbal or written,” what makes Kenneth qualified to call himself a design critic?

I’m not sure I take away anything from this article other than Kenneth is frustrated with the lack of structure for criticism with graphic design and the lack of passion put into it.