Features / Writing

The Ugliest Thing I Love: David OReilly critiques the worth of design magazines

First published in Printed Pages Spring 2015

Words by

David OReilly

Illustration by

Serafine Frey

This whole assignment is flawed, or perhaps I am a flawed candidate for it, because there is nothing I can point to and call ugly. To cast something as ugly in the context of aesthetics or morals is to say it shouldn’t exist, that it’s disturbing to our sensibilities and ought to go away. But this ignores the fact that the term beauty would have no meaning without it.

And so, dear reader, for the sake of filling space, the ugliest thing I love is design magazines. Of course, by this I also mean they are the most beautiful thing I hate – which is to say I am constructing an argument that proves how meaningless the argument is – because to truly love something we find ugly is to prove that ugliness cannot exist. Design magazines are founded on the idea that there are new standards of beauty that must be talked about and promoted on a regular basis. They hold no conviction to anything other than what happens to be popular at any one moment, reaching blindly yet confidently towards an ever-shifting notion of perfection – all in the name of being “inspiring”. This is completely anti-inspiring. A magazine’s readership is trained into a system of associating work with names – they will face idea after idea that they cannot create because they’re already someone else’s. Magazines charge money to scream: “Don’t bother making anything”. 

At precisely the same time, design magazines show us the countless permutations of ideas and unending beauty which our culture produces. Their ever-changing standards remind us that there can never be one single ideal of beauty. Everything is allowed. In the broadest scale of time they reveal (perhaps in spite of themselves) the essential truth that innovation in design is not so much the pursuit of beauty as the constant coming-to-terms with what was previously considered ugly. There is no such thing as good design, we tire of it all eventually. My advice, then, is to either burn this now, or wait for its contents to become ugly again.