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my precioussssssss

“it’s awfully precious.”

okay, what does that mean, exactly? “preciousness” is a term i hear abused just about as much as a few of some of speak up’s own nearly meaning-free favorites (vernacular, communicator, window-dresser). i almost never hear it in a context that makes any sense.

whenever the term’s used in a negative context, it seems to mean that the visual devices applied to a piece took a rilly long time for the designer to craft and that any change to those devices would drive one to breast-beating and bellowing.

when used in a positive context, it seems to mean that the designer’s thought about visual device as a form of unspoken communication, and is therefore truly designing instead of simply slapping type (or whatever) on a surface.

i never know what someone’s trying to say when my work’s called “precious.” it seems to be a word charged entirely with the author’s opinion and free of real definition. so which of you smarty-pants wants to help track down the origin of this term and its original meaning? i haven’t a clue. discuss.

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PUBLISHED ON Mar.03.2004 BY Patric King
marian’s comment is:

“it’s awfully precious.”

If this were said to me about a design I would take it to mean "fussy." Delicate and detailed in an unwanted way.

"it's really precious"

on the other hand would mean "delightful." Delicate and detailed in a way that makes the viewer want to keep it and protect it. It could also mean "sweet" or "cute," which is enough to make me recoil in alarm.

On Mar.03.2004 at 01:09 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

To me, the use of "precious" would describe an extreme attention to detail within a design, as if certain pieces — like page folios — could be extracted from the design and succeed as beautiful forms on their own. I think in some instances it can be lumped together with the other slightly ambiguous phrase "very designed". Well, duh. I've only heard that expressed in a negative sense, suggesting the creative effort is perhaps a little too visible.

i never know what someone’s trying to say when my work’s called “precious.”

I find this amusing, because, "House of Pretty" notwithstanding, I'm not sure I'd ever describe your work as "precious". Take that in the positive way.

On Mar.03.2004 at 02:15 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Funny question pk. In the good sense I tend to use beautiful rather than precious (precious just sounds like a rich woman's french poodle's name) but with the same intention I think. To me, something precious/beautiful would be a logo, brochure, annual, whatever that is done with extreme care, all details are carefully considered and executed, the balance (another broad term) is just right. I also associate it with elegant (yet another broad term) designs, but not necessarily. Type treatments play a huge role in my definition of it, as well as photography — I don't think I would define anything with an illustration precious (unless it was done by Marian, whose illustrations I do define as precious/beautiful [hope I'm not embarrasing you Marian]).

pk, in your case, I do think of precious when I see some of your 3d work, specially those that have little sparkles or fairy dust included. They just carry that feeling.

On the other extreme, it can be used to define corny, gold-leafed, hallmark-style design. In which case I wouldn't take it as a compliment.

On Mar.03.2004 at 02:22 PM
rebecca’s comment is:

i rarely use precious with positive connotations when referring to design. and in the negative sense i would define it as over-wrought, self-referential, possibly hallmark-ish, but more like goofy mid-thirties legal name changes to things like 'turtle moon love' or 'pixie dust fire'.

having said that i do realize that my blog is called rosebaby ;-) but it started an inside joke because i was wearing a color of lipstick called rosebaby. i prefer to think of it as vaguely snarky, not precious.

On Mar.03.2004 at 02:58 PM
Brook’s comment is:

i see it as being something of value. not monetary value...but something that i want to keep, something that feels like it would be a waste to toss it out. it's going in that box of preciousness, as soon as i am forced to take if off my desk.

and if you are doing something for a client, let's say an invitation. you would want it to be precious so that they taped it to their calendar or monitor. if you were sending out resumes and portfolio samplers, you had better be shooting for something that is going to get prime location on that creative director's desk.

On Mar.03.2004 at 02:58 PM
rebecca gimenez’s comment is:

Uh oh. If you're precious, then I'm downright cloying.

On Mar.03.2004 at 03:01 PM
KM’s comment is:


\Pre"cious\, a. Particular; fastidious; overnice; overrefined. Of great value or worth; very valuable; highly esteemed; dear; beloved; as, precious recollections.

From the latin word 'pretiosus' 'pretium' : price, value, reward.

On Mar.03.2004 at 03:21 PM
bryony’s comment is:

To me, something precious is that which has sentimental value (for client or designer) and is well crafted, thought out and produced. Something in which you can feel the love and tender caring of those involved.

On Mar.03.2004 at 03:22 PM
Greg’s comment is:

If someone called my work precious, one of my first reactions would be to feel that they thought I was being too protective of one of the elements of the work.

On Mar.03.2004 at 03:38 PM
pk’s comment is:


let's leave my work out of this one. sorry. that was meant only as an example, not so much part o' the topic.

as you were, troops.

On Mar.03.2004 at 03:44 PM
pk’s comment is:

i should probably clarify my original question a bit. it first popped into my head when we were doing the communicator versus windowdresser argument a week or two ago. at that point, "windowdresser" was being used in the pejorative, which gave me pause. that day i'd been on michigan avenue in chicago driving by the gucci store. the windows there were some of the better examples of design i'd seen in a few days, so it got me to wondering when exactly beauty creation began to be regarded in a negative light. that got stuck in the back of my head.

this past weekend, while su and i were teaching at ncsu, tony brock showed us a book a student had done. it included some devices which could probably be construed as ornamental at first glance, but on a deeper read were actually extensions of the concept. tony told us the piece had been disregarded as being "precious" on a first read because of those devices. that first read led the student to be disqualified from a jury for an internship. in direct opposition, the piece which won the jury the next year was much more mannered, using a sort of faux-charting visual vocabulary. it was decidedly more precious to me in that the content of the piece had been ritualistically combed over and segregated as opposed to clarified, which its appearance suggested. the opposition struck me.

that led me to wonder where many of the terms we use in day-to-day critical thinking came from. so i started trying to track down the origin of the term "precious" in particular, since it'd been the topic of contention, and i simply couldn't find anything. is this something left over from an earlier school of thought, perhaps one more rationally based?

i wonder because a lot of the work i find around these days which strikes me as an accurate mirror of popular culture seems more decorative in nature—yet some of it is described as "precious" or sometimes even "twee."

On Mar.03.2004 at 05:12 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

Perhaps you hit it exactly with your point about certain things being viewed as ornamental and not instrumental and in service to the concept. Many times design is put down because it seems too much an extension of the personality that created it instead of it being an extension of the concept it is trying to sell. A designer audience is more apt to welcome a mannered, ornamental design as a cool and beautiful example of creative talent, while consumers might just see it as pretentious and too arty for their lifestyle.

On Mar.03.2004 at 05:21 PM
Daniel’s comment is:

"Precious" was a term one of my first art directors used to describe something that had been overdesigned, overwrought, and communicated nothing relevant, except to say, "look how well designed I am!"

On Mar.03.2004 at 06:44 PM
Dan’s comment is:

If I were to use "precious" in a sentence, it would end with "for me to poop on."

On Mar.03.2004 at 07:47 PM
Teal’s comment is:

It may not be necessarily an 'ornamentation' issue.

A lot of times it is used to express satisfaction, or disdain, for sentiment. It is, thus, often more of a qualifier about emotion. But not raw emotions typically.

So a question might be, does a piece elicit sentiment, affection, tenderness? And is it doing so 'honestly', or is it using cliches to tug on the emotions?

The idea of a 'treasure' as KM noted, is a part of the meaning context. But for some reason, in current times it connotes small. The word seems to have been dimunuated, perhaps as a symbol of bygone eras when people had big treasures, like the crown jewels.

On Mar.03.2004 at 08:23 PM
Zoelle’s comment is:

(precious just sounds like a rich woman's french poodle's name)

I agree with you Armin. I think of it more in the context of "Well, isn't that precious." -- spoken in a Church Lady tone.

I would perceive the word to be condescending if said by a masculine male.

For the most part I think it carries the same weight as "nice" in regard to design.

On Mar.04.2004 at 12:13 PM
Diana’s comment is:

Once I was at a car show and saw a perfectly restored GTO that the owner was showing off as his "baby" although he didn't restore it. I made the comment to a friend that it's all so precious! My friend, a show car owner himself, said, our cars ARE precious to us. He didn't get the negative connotation I had intended. This car was an extension of him, his ego. I guess that's what got me about it. He very flagrantly had decided his was best and that made him "special". So I guess in that instance I was saying that precious is applied to an object that has no special meaning except what is ascribed to it by it's owner, or author. It transcends the ordinary in the author's mind.

As an illustrator, I am sure I have done this myself, so go figure why it bothered me that day.

On Mar.04.2004 at 01:21 PM
Rob’s comment is:

The only 'work' I've created that's ever been called precious are my two kids, and more specifically my five-year old daughter. At this risk of sounding sexist, I don't think one can easily apply that label to a rambunctious almost two-year old Alpha male.

So, essentially I don't really see anything positive in the use of the word "precious" unless, as others have mentioned, we enter the realm of ornamental work that seeks a more femine appeal.

On Mar.04.2004 at 05:56 PM
carolina’s comment is:

precious in english - too sugared up maybe, or just crafted with such attention to detail that conceptual clarity suffers.

prezioes in german - almost architectural in detail, with a tendency to obsession...

i would like to add another word to this list that to me is more insulting than precious.


On Mar.04.2004 at 10:41 PM