Interesting Article from the Design Observer on Decorative Illustration

The Curse of the D Word
Steven Heller

Do you make things look nice? Do you spend more time worrying about nuance and aesthetics than substance and meaning? Do you fiddle with style while ignoring the big picture? If your answers are yes, yes, or yes, then you are a decorator.

Being a decorator is not how graphic designers necessarily want to perceive themselves. But what's the big deal? Is anything fundamentally wrong with being a decorator? Although Adolf Loos, an architect, proclaimed ornament as a sin in his essay, Ornament and Crime, an attack on late-nineteenth century Art Nouveau, in truth decoration and ornamentation are no more sinful than purity is supremely virtuous.

Take for example the Psychedelic Style of the late 1960s that was smothered in flamboyant ornamentation (indeed much of it borrowed from Loos' dreaded Art Nouveau). Nonetheless, it was a revolutionary graphic language used as a code for a revolutionary generation — which is exactly the same role Art Nouveau played seventy years earlier with its vituperative rejection of antiquated 19th-century academic verities. Likewise, Psychedelia's immediate predecessor, Push Pin Studios, from the late 1950s through the 1970s, was known for reprising passé decorative conceits. In the context of the times, it was a purposeful and strategic alternative to the purist Swiss Style that evolved into drab Corporate Modernism, which had rejected decoration (and eclectic quirkiness) in favor of bland Helvetica. In their view, content and meaning were not sacrificed but rather illuminated and made more appealing.

Anti-decorative ideological fervor to the contrary, decoration is not inherently good or bad. While frequently applied to conceal faulty merchandise and flawed concepts, it nonetheless can enhance a product when used with integrity — and taste. Decorators do not simply and mindlessly move elements around to achieve an intangible or intuitive goal: rather, they optimize materials at hand to tap into an aesthetic allure that instills a certain kind of pleasure. (more>>)