HOW TO DESIGN AN UGLY NECKLACE: The Ultimate Designer’s Challenge / You Be The Judge

Warren Feld
20 min readOct 25, 2020

It’s not easy to do Ugly! Your mind and eye won’t let you go there. We are prewired with an anxiety response to help us avoid things that might harm us. So, it turns out, it is easier to design a beautiful piece of jewelry than an ugly one. Designing an ugly necklace, then, presents the designer with the ultimate challenge. To achieve a truly hideous result means making the hard design choices, putting ourselves in situations and forcing us to make the kinds of choices we’re unfamiliar with, and taking us inside ourselves to places that we are somewhat scared about, and where we do not want to go. The International Ugly Necklace Contest, first announced in 2002, and held 10 times since then, was one of the programs we launched as a way to reaffirm our beliefs in a design-oriented, theory-based, professional craft education curriculum. This article discusses the idea of “Ugly”, and provides some clues to designers about achieving it.

At the end of the article, you are given the chance to review and judge three of the submissions to The Ugly Necklace Contest — How Ugly Are They? You decide.

HOW TO DESIGN AN UGLY NECKLAC: The Ultimate Designer’s Challenge

Can you put together a well-designed and functional, yet UGLY, necklace? What kinds of things might you do if you were trying to design a necklace that is ugly, hideous, unsatisfying and what have you?

It’s Not Easy To Do Ugly!

Your mind and eye won’t let you go there. As research into color and design has shown, your eye and brain compensate for imbalances in color or in the positioning of pieces and objects — they try to correct and harmonize them.

You are pre-wired with an innate fear and anxiety response to subconsciously avoid anything that is disorienting, disturbing or distracting. You are genetically predisposed to avoid things that might hurt you or kill you, like snakes and spiders.

Moreover, necklaces are arranged in a circle. The circle shape itself errs on the side of beauty, and anything arranged, ordered or organized, such as the component parts of a necklace, will err on the side of beauty.

Because of all this, beauty is the norm. It is easier to design a beautiful necklace than an ugly one! How about that! Any jewelry designer…

Warren Feld

Beading and jewelry making have been wonderful adventures, from custom work, production work, and teaching. *Design is about the ability to make smart choices.