Clip Art Nation

Posted in graphic design, Life Sucks by DCroy on 2 October 2010

Most people have got to go out of their way to find truly bad examples of their particular industries. But bad graphic design is everywhere. It’s a constant and inescapable assault of horribleness, as though a nuclear bomb filled not with nuclear junk but Microsoft Word clip art exploded and now everything is covered with radioactively shitty graphics.

License Plate Design is Total Bullshit

Case in point: License plates. This collage of specialty plate graphics will make your eyes vomit, then the vomit coming out of your eyes will itself cry tears of rage. Seriously.

Plates from

My Country 'Tis of Thee...

The kids come in for special abuse. For some reason, the only possible way to represent childhood or resilience or the future or anything relating to children is with bad computery crayon drawings done by adults that aren’t fooling anybody into thinking kids drew any of it. I’ve seen kid drawings and they don’t suck that bad.

Also handprints for some reason.

Or, of course, with a photo of a white baby. Choose life for the white babies.

White babies

Child Abuse

But wait. There’s more. Unfortunately.

Just Love 'Em?

The worst offender, state-wise, however, has got to be Florida. Congratulations, Florida – you’re the worst at yet another thing. Look at that shitty lighthouse. Look at that shitty cyclist. Try not to think too hard about what the blue frowny-face means on the anti-abortion license plate (no good can come of such ruminations, trust me). And just marvel at the abyss that is that fucking NASCAR car.

Yet another "Choose Life." Great job, the South.

The point is not just to make fun of this stuff.

The question for me is not just why we don’t hire designers and illustrators to do design and illustration work at the state level (though that is a gigantic-ass question); it’s also, why we not just put up with, but embrace, this shit. And I say shit, not because it’s cheesy or representative or kitschy (although it is all of those). But shit because it’s so badly done. We had awesomely cheesy and kitschy and figurative illustrations in the ’50’s, and they’re treasured now. This junk is just junk and will never be anything but junk.

Support the arts. By never ever hiring an artist.

The irony of this last image is just too rich for me. “The Arts?” Do we even know what that is anymore, when a receptionist at the DMV with some time on her hands and the Microsoft Clip Art palette open can cobble together something acceptable enough to get through whatever committees approve these clip art abominations? I’m guessing we don’t.

A better question to ask is why the professional organizations aren’t doing more to get good designers into these jobs. One can only hope that no one was paid for this shit, but even if that’s the case, we’re not getting our money’s worth. This is just visual pollution. And it’s worse than nothing at all because of its cumulative effect. Our environment is, largely, designed stuff (billboards, license plates, cars, architecture). When our environment is one of clip art junk, we’re living in junk.

How about this crazy suggestion: hire some graphic designers – because contrary to the rumors of our Champagne-soaked lifestyles of ease, some of us were hit pretty hard by the recession that hit every single other person in the country pretty hard. Designers could use the jobs, and everyone could use a break from this clip art onslaught.

For Christ's Sake.


11 Responses

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  1. Stephen Coles said, on 16 October 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Dave, you should be paid for this.

  2. David Croy said, on 17 October 2010 at 9:36 am

    Nah – the bile you get for free!

  3. Vieves said, on 21 October 2010 at 8:25 am

    The bigger tragedy is that it wasn’t even as arbitrary as a receptionist at the DMV with time on her hands and a decision-by-committee; more likely a substantial amount of time and deliberation and even competition went into most of these designs and the resulting designs were chosen as superlative. i.e. good design can’t win this kind of competition because the audience either can’t recognize it or doesn’t find it accessible or literal enough.

  4. […] Los Angeles designer David Croy, a treat: American license plate design. In this post, we’re treated to the worst in institutional clip art by unqualified committee—all […]

  5. […] Croy on the sad state of license plate design: The question for me is not just why we don’t hire designers and illustrators to do design and […]

  6. JESSICA DEFINE said, on 27 October 2010 at 12:37 pm

    OMG SO FUNNY… Our new plates in the state of Texas are vomit on vomit, is it some sort of contest for elementary children to compete in a contest to design license plates?

    Although in Texas we are quite luck for our personalized plates industry… I’m anxiously awaiting the day when I say fuck it and pay for one of these gems!

  7. PlateResearcher said, on 12 November 2010 at 6:42 am

    “…or anything relating to children is with bad computery crayon drawings done by adults that aren’t fooling anybody into thinking kids drew any of it. I’ve seen kid drawings and they don’t suck that bad.”

    Actually… the Nevada Arts plate all in crayon ….”This is the only special plate designed by a child, Nevada 5th grader Beth Finta. Beth was a student at Harvey Dondero Elementary School in Las Vegas when she designed this colorful plate of Nevada scenery. Beth’s design was chosen from over 800 entries representing 11 Nevada counties to depict the richness of art we enjoy in Nevada.”

    But thank you for this info and thoughts as I am researching this stuff!

    • David Croy said, on 12 November 2010 at 7:54 am

      You know, I debated including that one because I kind of like it.

      Even so, there is an aspect of Nevada’s plate that still works with my thesis that we’re complete aesthetic illiterates: we can only safely choose a child to design public art because at bottom, a child created it. Children are incapable of competence*, much less controversy, so we know that whatever a kid does will be “safe.” Safe, as in, un-criticizable because even if you hate the artwork, how are you going to criticize a child?

      What bothers me about this use of children’s art is that, first, it reinforces the notion that art is playtime, a pursuit suitable for children only. Art is work. Most artists are thoughtful, dedicated people who work as hard at creativity as anyone else does at whatever they do. This plate says that artists and children are roughly equivalent.

      And second, I detest the idea of all those other children “losing” in an artwork competition. One kid won – great. All the other ones lost. And chances are they’ve now stopped working at doing art.

      So even though I kinda like the plate, I kinda hate it, too.

      * You can’t sue children.

  8. Sigh. Urban Outfitters. Dogshit. Sigh. « said, on 30 November 2010 at 1:50 pm

    […] so we’ve got Urban Outfitters, as junky as a license plate, but rather than low-grade bureaucratic shit, it’s now got a conceptual imprimatur as the […]

  9. Kat said, on 2 June 2011 at 3:52 pm

    I actually love the California arts plate — and lo and behold! It was designed by a REAL ARTIST! California pulls through for once!

    “The Arts plate was designed by renowned California artist Wayne Thiebaud in 1994, and its sales currently account for two-thirds of the states public arts funding. Drivers use the new plate to replace their regular plate. Like all specialty plates, the California Arts Council plate has an extra fee, which directly supports the Arts Council.”

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