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In the new Gestalten publication ‘Pretty Ugly’, the two editors, Lupi Asensio and Martin Lorenz have been on a comprehensive journey through masses of design portfolios on the lookout for anything with a rebellious urge to be ugly.

Better known as graphic designers, educators, brilliant researchers and owners of, the two inquisitive minds have created a publication that catches and reflects upon an important tendency in contemporary design. Martin has, before he opened together with Lupi, been working for Berlin-based Hort, who are known for their experimenting approach to graphic design as well as spotting fresh tendencies.

Both Lupi and Martin believe, as designers, that it is more important to be a producer of content rather than just to be a communicater of others ideas. For us, this attitude makes them the perfect couple for the Pretty Ugly project, and out of curiosity we sent them some questions about this wierd, new and refreshing way of thinking design. Below you can read more about the process behind the book, their greatest discoveries and how they see themself as part of the new uglyness wave.

▲ Rikke Luna & Matias

Can you tell us a little about the process, how has it been working as the editor on this book?

“Pretty Ugly” is our 13th book as editors. Each book is very different and a great opportunity to learn more about a specific theme. “Pretty Ugly” was an interesting experience because we started with one idea about the movement and ended up with another. The toughest part about doing that book was acctually that there is so much material out there. The first layout, with all the material we received, resulted in over 900 pages and during the selection phase we even encountered more material. It took us weeks to boil down the book to 224 pages.

Would you say that this kind of ‘uglyness’ is a common tendency in contemporary graphic design?

When we were putting the book together, we were aware of the reflections on the movement by Steven Heller, Michael Bierut (Design Observer) and Patrick Burgoyne (Creative Review). The last two articles cited Mike Meiré’s redesign of 032c (2007), a cultural, german magazine, in which he used stretched Helvetica (now it would probably be Arial) in the headlines, something that was done a lot in the 80s, but forgotten since. This simple gesture shocked designers who thought they’d seen everything. Meiré seemed to have found the last sacrilege in graphic design. Over the years the movement evolved into what we call “Pretty Ugly”.

What are the greatest discoveries you have done through your research?

That the movement isn’t just about aesthetics. Of course, there are obvious aesthetic qualities: intentionally ‘bad’ typography; using system typefaces like Arial, Helvetica or Times; stretching them; having too much or too little letter or line spacing; deforming type on a scanner or a copier, etc. but behind the aesthetics there is more than just visual rebellion. We see a shift in the role the designer plays in the communication process. Design has been seen as the vehicle between sender and receiver. An invisible servant of information. Today, the designer has a voice which has become an important part of the communication process. Often we even see attempts to visualize the design process itself in the work.

As a design studio, do you use these kinds of aesthetics yourselves, and why/how?

You tell us. We might have some works that are pretty ugly. ;) …, but to be honest we never really try to do anything trendy. In contrary, if something has become a trend we have lost the interest in it. With each project we try to develop an unique visual language based in the character of the product/firma/institution.

What do you think is interesting about working with uglyness?

Working with uglyness isn’t that interesting, in fact, after doing that book, it is very hard for us to consider something ugly. What is really interesting though is the perception of ugly. In cases of Pretty Ugly it mostly means that something has been created, that society isn’t used to, that it doesn’t understand yet. Something that still has to be “learned”.

Do you have any favorite projects/studios from the book, that you would like to highlight?

As we said earlier, there is too much good material out there. In graphic design you have studios like Superscript2 using amateur photography (p.2) or diagramms that seems to have been taken from PowerPoint (p.29). In photography you have Nacho Alegre, Ana Domínguez and Omar Sosa doing installations with bricks (p.46) or bread (p.56 & p.57), but as well Inês Nepomuceno photographing a still life of an aftermeal situation, making them look like paintings (p.54 & p.55) or Brea Souders intentional “mistakes” in “Seine With Fingers” or “Under My Thumb (Heat)” (p.76). In product design you have Maarten Baas’ “Plastic Chair in Wood” (p.61) and Jerszy Seymour’s “New Order” (p.67) chair, based upon the same cheap plastic chair.

Anything else you would like to add?

The aesthetics will change, but we hope that some of the attitude will survive. We need more brave designers who are able to think out of the box. Mainly for three reasons: First, responsibility. A designer that sees him or herself as a co-author of the message begins to feel responsible for that message. It was easier to hide yourself behind the client’s messages when the designer was invisible. Second, initiative. Becoming a co-author instills entrepreneurship. Instead of waiting for commissioned work, designers nowadays are taking more initiative and inventing their own products or projects. Lastly, flexibility. A movement that understands design as a process is more flexible. It can more easily adapt, adjust and improve.