The Anti-Ante: On Brands & 'Bad' Design


At one time or another, graphic designers have rebelled against the rules of ‘good’ design. Layout, grids, colour and typography have all had a solid two fingers stuck up at them at one point or another. Jonathan Barnbrook, Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister and Morag Myerscough all thrive on design that leans to an anti-design aesthetic. As a result, their work is more recognisable, more memorable and more unique – three attributes that seem perfect for branding.

Why don't we see more of it?


For starters, where anti-design scores marks for recognition, recall and standout, it lacks credibility, safety and trust.  No one wants to put their money in a bank that looks like a punk rock band. So the power of anti-design continues to go untapped, even by companies genuinely ripping up the rule book in industries like energy, telco, retail or taxis.

Just look at the start-up industry. Even companies radically changing the way we buy, behave, travel and work eschew anti-design for a utilitarian, modernist approach. They’re firmly rooted in the functional and approachable – arguably as they should be. But this creates a paradox where companies that act nothing like their competitors end up looking exactly like them.

So the question remains… Can anti-design play a role in branding? The answer gets clearer when we look at where it has been successful before.

Historically, anti-design is associated with cultural movements, opt-out sentiments and political activism. Like Barney Bubbles and Jamie Reid’s visual design for the 70s punk anarchist movement that defined a generation. Manhattan design and the MTV logo doing the same for New Wave in the 80s. Or David Carson with Raygun Magazine’s illegible editorial that reflected our fear of a digital future. 

We're living through tumultuous times again. For brands offering genuine change, a rare opportunity is appearing. Our challenge is to convince the right clients, at the right time, that a bit of anti might just raise the ante.


By Richard Davies, Associate Creative Director at Re| Sydney.