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The Culture of Fugly Ornament Jun 25th, 2006

Paul Rand famously wrote:

The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.

In the context of web and high-technology product design, this observation from Mr. Rand takes on special import. For those that doubt this, please consider the evidence:

eBay. Garish colors, poor composition and a mixture of poorly rendered aliased type in an apparent attempt to make eBay feel homey, like a garage sale. One has to wonder though why you would copy K-Mart when it’s pretty clear people respond to the design mantra of Target.

Yahoo! One would think that Yahoo! would have learned by now that less is more. That is, less stuff vying for your attention, less line noise, fewer gradients. The new home page approach slated to be released soon is barely better.

Google. The poor typographic implementation of Google was designed by engineers, not designers. Now the company and most of its copycats seem to use the success of the engine behind the search results page as some excuse to make everything else equally difficult to read and parse.

Amazon. One of the worst offenders in neglecting to use an effective grid to anchor ones’ ability to scan and read a page. One would think that this is something that would be vital in a site that generally mimics the same sort of use as a sales catalog.

From time to time, crazy proclamations are made that bad design is actually good design when it comes to high-tech products or web sites. That somehow what people want is crap that’s cheap, like a $2 burrito from Taco Bell. It doesn’t matter what damage that kind of product does to a person over the long haul. Nor does it matter that this sort of thinking has been consistently disproven by the success of the likes of Target or Japanese automakers. Apparently, some people believe it’s what customers want so why not just give it to them?

Somehow, not only is it acceptable to produce work that most children wouldn’t be proud to display on the family refrigerator, it’s actually expected because some usability guru who seems to know little about the actual craft of good design — as evidenced by his own web site — wears the “Kiss me, I’m ugly” badge like it’s some sort of lottery prize at a Star Trek convention. (Hint: Those people are dressed in Klingon costumes. They don’t mean it literally.)

Further, the MySpace guys are gajillionaires. So who are we to tell them they’re wrong when it comes to how poorly MySpace is designed? MySpace is a success even though it has allowed common people to create the ugliest, most atrocious designs to have ever existed in all of human history.

So good design doesn’t matter, right?

Do I really need to answer that question?

To think that bad design is actually good design and that good design is not that important in every day life is the epitome of the worst kind of cynical thinking in the web and high-technology industry. Let’s put it this way: Do you think the MySpace guys rushed out and bought used Pontiac Aztecs with all that cash they made? Sure, and aggressive, unregulated fossil fuel consumption hasn’t created a looming environmental disaster that can be ignored.

I recognize that not everyone can play at the professional level. That there are some students who are A+ students on some subjects and others who are just Bs and Cs. That there are people like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods who seem to have some unexplainable God given talent to be… well… Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods of course.

But that’s not a good excuse, nor is it a reason to think anyone should be allowed to get away with crap design because in some alternate reality created by a focus group that’s what the people want. To be clear, if you have the word “designer” printed somewhere on your business card, then yes, I am talking directly to you.

I fully expect your average Jane or Joe Public to have not a lick of understanding about what it takes to make good design. I’m not so shallow as to expect everyone to be a professional designer. I say this in the same way I would hope that software engineers don’t expect me to be able to write elegant pixel processing algorithms that optimize the anti-aliasing of edges on an outline font while providing precise serif hinting in less than fifty lines of code.

However, I do expect more out the designers that have now flooded the tech industry and work on high profile products that actually make good money.

You guys can do better.

During the early days of the desktop publishing revolution, the world was carpet bombed by some of the most hideous examples of typographic and graphic design that could ever have been imagined. Make no mistake, yours truly contributed his fair share, and still does from time to time. But after the giddy high of being able to typeset your department’s newsletter using San Francisco wore off, things got back to brass tacks. The professionals came back and took over the tools from the technologists. Within a decade, magazines, newspapers and corporate marketing materials became arguably more refined and better designed than they were in quite some time. Possibly even better after the Dark Age of Graphic Design (1988 through 1998) ran its course, which some could legitimately argue was worse than Disco Fever.

So here we are in the web and high-tech product space. It’s been more than a good ten years since that fateful day Netscape arrived back in 1995. Have things gotten better?

Did I already mention MySpace?

Paul Rand stated the problem with regard to bad design in clear, simple language. We live in a culture of fugly. A result of modern day technology that has gotten much too far ahead of the design curve while making far too much money from feeding the masses those $2 burritos. If you doubt this point, take a drive down to your local mall and simply meander through it. There can be no question that the public has no choice but to tolerate bad design because if they couldn’t, they would probably have to commit suicide from the pain and anguish of just stepping outside of their home.

What Rand left out though, no matter how well implied, was an explicit warning that bad design begets more bad design. Especially when the decision is left to a public conditioned to prefer whatever it is that they are currently living with. The problem then exists when bad design becomes accepted by designers as business as usual.

The more things like eBay, Yahoo!, Google and Amazon succeed in spite of the fact that the design of their products and web sites contain the most basic of graphic and interaction design errors — errors, by the way, that would get a junior level programmer fired on the spot for writing the functional equivalent in code — the more we’ll see something like MySpace, which only ups the ante on just how horrific things can get. The more the guys at 37signals keep using excessively large type and garish color schemes to create the visual aesthetic of a successful product like Basecamp, the more other people will copycat them in a never ending competition to see who can make their product look and behave like the best damned Tonka toy ever made in the history of Tonka toys.

Watch out guys! Technorati sees your excessively large type with its blunt color palette and raises you an abusive use of rounded rectangles. Your move.

If you are a designer, accepting or ignoring bad design is as irresponsible as ignoring the mounting evidence that significant amounts of industrial pollution is radically changing the environment we live in.

At some point, the temperature outside reaches 114 degrees in April and your grandchildren’s children read in their classroom eBooks about all the accounts of how some people thought driving a Hummer was the cool thing to do. They express shock that some people actually thought mankind had little impact on the ecosystem of the planet. They’ll simply frown and not understand how it was possible for people to think like that in the first place.

I’ll admit it. When I read my history books back in high school, I often wondered how people in the time of Columbus could be so crazy as to think that the world was actually flat. I mean, to even begin to believe in such a crazy notion? Absurd!

Then I think back on how I felt when I woke up on November 3rd, 2004, realizing I was living in the same country where people actually voted for George W. Bush.


That was a cheap shot. I’m sorry. My apologies to all those who voted for George Bush. I’m so sorry, in fact, that I invite all of you to head on over to MySpace and partake in a page dedicated to our current POTUS to make up for it.




Standards rant

Repeat after me Separator Standards do not block, impede or otherwise hinder innovation. Businessmen, engineers or product managers who only care about how they want to implement technology or only care about their own bottom line are the ones doing the real damage in the larger economic picture.

Design by Fire strives to be as standards compliant as humanly possible in spite of the fact that those in charge of developing the technology, the browsers and the operating systems can't seem to to code to the W3C specification with 100% compliance.

However, even though I'm a firm believer in standards, I'm beyond sick and tired of trying to figure out what works and what does not work according to the W3C specification. So while I make every attempt to do the right thing, occasionally I'll just do what I have to get the thing working. In other words, if you run any Design by Fire URI through a code validator and find invalid markup or css, please don't bother sending me an email.

With that little rant out of the way, here are some good articles about the benefits of web standards.

And of course, there's Zeldman's Designing with Web Standards, which is easily one of the best reads from both a practical and technical point of view on the subject.

All of these sources discuss simplification of code, rapid development, smaller file sizes, faster download times, better accessibility for a larger set of users, easier code maintenance and platform scalability - all benefits of standards at a technological level. There's also some ROI discussion on using standards.

Really Simple Syndication is still a pain in the ass

Here's the RSS feed.

RSS Feed
Design by Fire RSS Feed

You should know the drill by now.

Andrei Michael Herasimchuk

Updated 2010 Separator The quick and dirty summary is that I am largely considered one of the first official interface designers hired by Adobe Systems. That is, the first one hired to do nothing but interface design across the professional product line. I worked personally on the interfaces for Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign.


One of these days, I'll convince Adobe's legal eagles to let me write a book about all that I have been through while working on those products. I just doubt they'll agree to it in my lifetime. Until, then you'll have to be satisfied with the History of Photoshop, an article written by a long-time friend of mine, Jeff Schewe.


Director, Design Team bullet Twitter
March 2011 - Present

Sr. Director of Product Design
Applications bullet Yahoo!
September 2009 - March 2011

Chief Design Officer, Co-Founder bullet Involution Studios
July 2004 - September 2009

Project Lead, Adobe Lightroom bullet Adobe Systems
December 2002 - June 2004

Director, User Interface bullet ePeople
April 2001 - December 2002

Director, User Interface bullet Impresse
January 2000 - April 2001

Director, User Interface bullet Mambo.com
August 1999 - January 2000

Senior User Interface Designer bullet Adobe Systems
August 1995 - July 1999

Co-Founding Member, Director bullet Specular Int'l
June 1990 - August 1995


Having the opportunity to work on Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom has given me a chance to explore photography in way I would not have had access to otherwise. You can find samples of all my personal work on this web site, and unless otherwise noted, everything here is photographed by me.

For a short period of time, I was exploring a screenwriting career. I had a script optioned by Hyde Park Entertainment (a division of MGM), a studio that has since gone under. I even had an agent in Beverly Hills for a short period of time.

I enjoy playing poker on the side and find the game infinitely fascinating. I have made the final table in a few bigger tournaments. One at The Hall of Fame Poker Classic and the other at the Bay 101 Open, but no World Series of Poker bracelet for me yet. I have had the opportunity to play against some world-class poker professionals and have gotten crushed by them.

In my off time I play bass guitar and far too many video games.

Publications and Awards

Industry Awards bullet 1995-2000
Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign have won far too many awards than is possible to list here.

The History of Photoshop bullet February 2000
An article written by Jeff Schewe for Photo Electronic Imaging Magazine. This covers the history and development of Photoshop. A copy of this article can be found here in PDF format. You can also find another copy on Jeff's web site, Schewe Photography.

Design Graphics, Cover Story bullet June 1999, Issue 46
This article covered the work I did on the redesign of the professional product line while at Adobe.

Collage with Photoshop bullet 1994
This book features 14 digital artists using Photoshop and Specular Collage. I'm only mentioned in the prologue, but the book was created to promote Collage and what digital artists were doing with it at the time. I'm still fairly proud about the book and the work produced inside of it.


Amherst College bullet 1989 to 1990
Left Amherst College to start Specular Int'l

The Hill School bullet 1984 to 1988
College preperatory school.


andrei@designbyfire.com bullet To avoid getting tagged by my spam filter, be sure to create a meaningful subject line.

Colophon and other details

Design by Fire v4.0 Separator A quick overview of the design and implementation of DxF for those who care about such details.

Browser Support

If you are viewing Design by Fire in either Firefox or Safari, congratulations! You are experiencing Design by Fire in the manner it was intended. If you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 or less, you have my sympathies as you are getting a version slightly less dynamic. The reason for that is due to Microsoft's lack of support for the CSS property "position: fixed;" plus a few other things.

Get Firefox

Bottom line, Internet Explorer promises to fix these things in version 7, so in the meantime you can either download the beta for IE7 or switch to Firefox.


If you have purchased the Adobe Creative Suite, you should have Helvetica Neue installed in your font library. If so, then you are reading Design by Fire as it was intended to be read. For everyone else, you are either seeing Lucida Grande or Arial.


Clearly, Helvetica Neue is far superior.

As for the logotype of Design by Fire, it's set using the classic Bodoni typeface, complete with ligature for that extra flourish.

Content Management System

This version of Design by Fire is managed using WordPress. So long MovableType.

Copyright Information

Design by Fire is ©copyright by Andrei Michael Herasimchuk. All rights reserved.

You may not use any material, articles, logos, essays, technical illustrations, photos or any content from this site without expressed written permission.

Design articles

This page intentionally left blank Bullet Oct 31st, 2008

Keeping up with the Joneses Bullet Aug 16th, 2007

Introducing Spivot Bullet Mar 5th, 2007

The unfortunate death of Helvetica Bullet Oct 23rd, 2006

An Open letter to John Warnock Bullet Aug 28th, 2006

Convenient Lessons from An Inconvenient Truth Bullet Aug 2nd, 2006

The kids aren’t alright Bullet Jul 17th, 2006

The Culture of Fugly Bullet Jun 25th, 2006

Please make me think! Are high-tech usability priorities backwards? Bullet Oct 10th, 2004

Rebranding the World Wide Web Consortium Bullet Sep 30th, 2004

You say toe – may – toe, I say [expletive] that Bullet Aug 17th, 2004

Gurus v. Bloggers, Round 2 Bullet Jun 20th, 2004

Design Eye for the Usability Guy Bullet May 18th, 2004

Et tu, Brute? Bullet May 6th, 2004

I would RTFM if there was an FM to FR Bullet Apr 30th, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part III Bullet Apr 27th, 2004

Gurus v. Bloggers, Round 1 Bullet Apr 9th, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part II Bullet Mar 31st, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part I Bullet Mar 29th, 2004

Redesigning Google’s search results page Bullet Jan 25th, 2004

Lifestyle articles

Welcome to the new school, same as the old school. Bullet Jun 19th, 2006

Bubble Boy at the Bay 101 Shooting Star Bullet Mar 1st, 2004

Beginner’s Tips for Poker Bullet Jan 31st, 2004

Crucial mistakes against Scotty Nguyen Bullet Dec 10th, 2003

Photography articles

Santorini in black and white Bullet Jun 17th, 2004

Santorini in red Bullet Jun 9th, 2004

Santorini in blue Bullet Jun 8th, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part III Bullet Apr 27th, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part II Bullet Mar 31st, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part I Bullet Mar 29th, 2004

Party like it’s 1999 Bullet Jan 10th, 2004

An Oakland Rave Bullet Jan 10th, 2004

Random favorites from the shoebox Bullet Jan 10th, 2004

Portraits of Donna and Alexa Bullet Jan 10th, 2004

Politics archive

How terrorism works Bullet Sep 10th, 2004