Please Remain Seated

November 23rd, 2014 by Sean
Bjorn Aronson, 1956

Bjorn Aronson, 1956

Lester Beall, 1937

Lester Beall, 1937

I was cleaning out my garage yesterday and a neighbor stopped by to say hello. The door of my garage leads into my rumpus room (yes it’s knotty pine, no we don’t play bridge in there). There are several Disneyland attraction posters in the rumpus room and she saw them on the wall. “Oh, I love your posters,” she said, “I mean I really, really love them.” I thanked her and then worried she might come back with a weapon.

This happens anytime anyone sees them. Even hardened academic post-modern/critical theory obsessed designer types like them. “Hmm, that isn’t bad, I guess,” they say.

Why is that? First, they are remarkably well designed. Second, they’re big and people like big things. Third, they remind the viewer of a good experience. And finally, they tap into the common iconography of travel and adventure.

So, let’s start with the influences. The Disneyland Hotel poster (above) borrows arrows from Beall’s Rural Electrification poster, and geometric shapes from Russian Constructivism.

Clearly the WPA National Parks posters informed the design of many of the Disneyland attraction posters. The illustration style is representational. Larger than life scale defines the space. Dramatic lighting and bold colors dominate. The Grand Canyon Diorama poster is a close cousin to the See America poster.

Early American modernism, ala Lester Beall and Joseph Binder, is related with stylistic elements such as arrows and the use of implied perspective created with scale. The Skyway poster’s perspective employs the same device of extreme scale as the Binder Air Corps U.S. Army poster.

The idea of a strong foreground combined with a distant vista links the Frontierland and The National Parks WPA poster. The color choices in both examples veer from the expected, a sunny blue sky or water, to more dramatic options such as an orange sky on the WPA poster and ochre water on the Frontierland poster. Flat color and simple shapes define a silkscreened process in both examples.

Most important, however, is the inclusion of narrative. The posters promise a story. They exhibit bobsledding with super tan people, dangling from a thin wire on a gondola, or braving wild animals through the Grand Canyon Diorama. Each poster conveys a sense of time, place, and typically makes the viewer part of the action.

Yes, this has been an adventure through a serious dissertation on Disneyland attraction posters. But there is no cause for alarm. We have concluded this post, and future posts will return to less words.

Paul Hartley, 1958

Paul Hartley, 1958

WPA, 1938

WPA, 1938

Bjorn Aronson, 1955

Bjorn Aronson, 1955

WPA, 1938

WPA, 1938

Bjorn Aronson, 1955

Bjorn Aronson, 1955

Lucien Bernhard, 1916

Lucien Bernhard, 1916

Pau Hartley, 1959

Pau Hartley, 1959

Herbert Matter, 1936

Herbert Matter, 1936

Bjorn Aronson, 1956

Bjorn Aronson, 1956

Joseph Binder 1941

Joseph Binder 19

Paul Hartley, 1961

Paul Hartley, 1961

Max Huber, 1948

Max Huber, 1948

Ken Chapman, 1967

Ken Chapman, 1967

Man Ray, 1938

Man Ray, 1938

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The History of Joy

November 18th, 2014 by Sean
Jean Carlu, 1929

Jean Carlu, 1929

As some of you know, my most recent course on Lynda.com launched yesterday. This one, Fundamentals of Graphic Design History, was incredibly fun to make. I was challenged to create a course that would provide the basics of design history and make it interesting. I could have gone down the track of, “This is a poster by Jean Carlu in 1929. It has an umbrella. Next slide.” But I’m interested in why Jean Carlu made this poster, what was happening culturally, and why it works.

I assume most people think about history as a horrible task, tainted by boring lectures on the War of 1812 in high school. So, how could I make this subject relevant and communicate my passion for the subject. No I don’t jump up and down and get overly excited. I simply laid out the facts. The more you see, the larger your visual vocabulary adds to your design skills. It’s as if writers were told to not bother reading Dickens or Twain. “Oh don’t bother with those, they’re old. Just read wikipedia. That’s good enough for a writing education.”

There’s also the joy factor. We all share that same feeling of pleasure when we see something wonderful or discover a new idea. So I designed the course to explain what was happening politically and culturally and how that led to the choices made in design. Why did the Bauhaus designers reject decoration? Why did the Fillmore posters refer to Alice in Wonderland? Why did the Nazis barge into Jan Tschichold’s apartment and arrest him and his wife?

Of course there is another version, the Vanity Fair course, that has all the secrets and juicy rumors. But that will need to wait until I’m older or can make up stuff and not get caught.

Michael Vanderbyl, 2009

Michael Vanderbyl, 2009

Deborah Sussman, 1984

Deborah Sussman, 1984

Liedenthal, 1967

Liedenthal, 1967

George Tscherny, 1959

George Tscherny, 1959

Jan Tschichold, 1930

Jan Tschichold, 1930

Iwao Yamawki, 1932

Iwao Yamawki, 1932

Alfonse Mucha, 1894

Alfonse Mucha, 1894

Books on Fire

October 25th, 2014 by Sean
FHK Henrion The Complete Designer

FHK Henrion The Complete Designer

I am quite proud of my most recent project, to build a bookcase in my office at home. It still needs some trim work, but the books are in and nothing has collapsed. The most surprising aspect of the project was how many books I had. Who knew? These are only the design books, there are other bookcases in the house with more. I had quite a few duplicates that I tried donating to the Art Center library, but they didn’t need them. I didn’t want to throw the books away. I considered burning them in the driveway and telling my neighbors they were evil books: Catcher in the Rye, etc.. But I left them in a box on the curb, and they were gone in an hour.

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from buying more. One of my favorite publishers is Unit Editions. It’s a collaboration between Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook in London. They focus on books with incredibly high quality and remarkable content. Rather than producing 25,000 copies of a book about business cards on cheap paper, Unit Editions publishers smaller quantities that will last for generations.

When I hear people ramble on about sustainable practices and how they used recycled paper for their brochure I nod approvingly. But, in the end, isn’t the truly sustainable action to create an artifact that will be used, saved, and not thrown in the trash?

As Lou Danziger told us as students, “Stop buying drugs. Buy books instead.” Very good advice, although as a student, I was spending my money on Cup o’ Noodles not drugs.

After

After

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Total Design and its pioneering role in graphic design

Total Design and its pioneering role in graphic design

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

FHK Henrion The Complete Designer

FHK Henrion The Complete Designer

Herb Lubalin American Graphic Designer

Herb Lubalin American Graphic Designer

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90) Restless typographer

Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90) Restless typographer

Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90) Restless typographer

Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90)
Restless typographer

Essays: Scratching the Surface Adrian Shaughnessy

Essays: Scratching the Surface
Adrian Shaughnessy

Ken Garland  Structure and Substance

Ken Garland
Structure and Substance

Ken Garland  Structure and Substance

Ken Garland
Structure and Substance

Supernew Supergraphics

Supernew Supergraphics

Type Only

Type Only

Obsessed

October 21st, 2014 by Sean
Ken Briggs, Left, 1950s

Ken Briggs, Left, 1950s

 

Recently, a young designer met with me and talked about obsession. “I’m worried it’s wrong, but I get obsessed about something and can’t stop,” she said. She wasn’t talking about Justin Bieber or heroin. She gave the example of string art. “I can’t stop looking for it online and want to learn how to do it.” Who doesn’t?” was my reply.

I don’t know where she heard that being obsessed was bad. Sure, if you’re stalking someone and build a shrine with sacrifices for them you may have a problem. But I’ve been working on my OCD family tree for years and never tire of it. Paula Scher makes wonderful paintings of maps. Marian Bantjes works with pattern. Massimo Vignelli couldn’t get enough Bodoni. Being obsessed is part of the job.

Ken Briggs was a British designer responsible for many of the beautiful posters for the National Theatre in London. Clearly, Briggs was obsessed with the New Typography, inspired after seeing a copy of Josef Müller Brockmann’s Neue Grafik. The posters relentlessly use Helvetica, golden section proportions and grids. But, Briggs took the rigid rules and tweaked them with surprising color choices and offbeat photographic solutions. He added a dry British wit to a sterile approach.

Briggs didn’t do this once, or for a couple of months. He did it over and over and over. And thank God for that obsession. The lesson here, obsession makes perfection.

 

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The Post about this Blog

October 19th, 2014 by Sean
Sean Adams, Burning Settlers Cabin, 2014

Sean Adams, Burning Settlers Cabin, 2014

 

One of the tenets of post-modernism is self-referential expression. This post, then is the post-modern one. This is a post about this blog.

When burningsettlerscabin first launched, I designed a nice Victorian logo for the masthead. It worked well with the minimal layout and I had fun making it. After awhile, I grew tired of that version. And its started to feel vertiginously close to hipster design. So I made a new one. This became an on-going hobby. The point of this blog is as shallow as it gets. If I’m interested in something or find an inspirational artifact or solution, I write about it. It’s that simple. If I want to, I write. If I don’t feel like it, I don’t. I know this is absolutely the most wrong thing one can do with all the rules of social media. But, I have so many other rules in life: typographic, social manners, organizing linen closets, age appropriate clothing, and the list goes on.

The masthead follows the same logic. If I feel like making a new one, I do. If it’s heinously hideous but I like it, I use it. So, in response to the requests to post one or the other mastheads here they are.

While some have said burningsettlerscabin is their “lite” (yes, spelled that way) version of Design Observer, consider this: In this post, self-referentiality [and the epistemological skepticism it implies] is central to postmodernism and takes its typological and typographic cue from the self-referential, though not mutually exclusive, aesthetics of nostalgia, irony, and satire.

See, the settlers at the cabin are way smart.

 

 

 

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