“Man on the street”: Playgirl van

Playgirl van

Union Square, New York City

This van stopped me in my tracks with its hilariousness. I didn’t care about coming across as a noob, I whipped out my camera for the pink twinkmobile. This is like a popup ad in van form. Oh fauxhawk, your intense squint makes you look really dim. But that’s better than McGreasy over your shoulder.


I notice a lot of interesting trucks around New York City and I’d like to feature them on the blog now that I’m packing my camera. My favorite was a port-a-potty truck that whizzed past me recently on McGuinness Boulevard, Call-A-Head. Their slogan runs, “We’re #1 at picking up #2.” In that business niche, there’s nowhere else to go besides humor. Okay, I’m not going there.

Spotted In McCarren Park: Call-A-Head (gross, but good blog)

In all earnestness, I have a soft spot for what I’ve dubbed “crap design.” I wrote a thesis proposal on the subject (the project ended up in the toilet). I still like the idea though. Here it is, for shits and giggles.

Crap design

It is a truism in design education that you need to learn the rules of good design in order to break them. The meaning behind this cliché feels distant, and isn’t a helpful strategy for becoming a better designer. Basically, it boils down to the thought that if you’re clever and talented, you can do whatever you want. Why does breaking the rules break new ground in some cases and utterly fail in others? What is the secret behind bad designs that work?

Some bad designs leave an indelible impression. Almost everyone who rides the New York City subway system can instantly recall the garish posters advertising Dr. Zizmor, the dermatologist. Irrelevant clip art, poorly-set, dated typography and a gaudy color scheme make looking at this design like watching a trainwreck—something horrible you can’t look away from. It has a far greater impact than countless tasteful yet mediocre designs created by reputable designers. It is a crap design that is somehow brilliant.

According to Paul Rand, an effective logo succeeds based on six criteria: distinctiveness, visibility, adaptability, memorability, universality and timelessness. If these criteria hold true for design in general, I hypothesize that crap design could succeed so overwhelmingly at being distinctive and memorable that it can override failure in the other categories. Crap design could consist of famously ugly or tasteless work by full-fledged designers or fascinating efforts by amateurs. It can arise out of ignorance, but never indifference. It is by definition not run-of-the-mill.

I intend to compile a case study of visual examples that will search out the spectacular in spectacularly bad. Through this process, I hope to generate concrete strategies for designers who wish to make their work more inventive and original (starting with myself!).

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  1. […] yesterday’s photo, this poster demanded a double take. In a surprisingly political statement, Manhattan Mini Storage […]

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