Archive for the ‘People’ Category

A Designer Walks into a Bar…

Sunday, May 17th, 2015
Herbert Leupin, Ford poster, 1954

Herbert Leupin, Ford poster, 1954

I have a friend, a well-known designer, who laments that he never gets to do work that is “fun”. His work is serious and beautifully crafted with a deep connection to French structuralism and Freudian theory. I, on the other hand, lament that my work will only be seen as “fun”, not “serious”. Of course the reality is that nothing is that black and white. His work has light and playful elements, mine can be conceptual and multi-layered.

Herbert Leupin (1916–1999) (yes, another Herbert; it was a popular designer name) was disregarded and ignored as an “advertising poster artist”. How could the work be taken seriously when it has a giraffe? Today, his posters are sought after by serious collectors. At first glance, they are funny and light. They exist to sell beer, Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and pens. He wasn’t concerned about the theoretical underpinnings. And they are masterful and joyful.

He does what I endeavour to teach: see things in the world that can be seen entirely differently with the slightest move: a shoe becomes a car, a glass of beer enjoys a day at the beach, letterforms become carbonated bubbles. The imagery is light and carefree. And, as Shakespearean stage actor Edmund Kean said, “dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

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Nur Arbeit

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015
Hans Hillman, poster, Le Gai Savoir, 1969

Hans Hillman, poster, Le Gai Savoir, 1969

Hans Hillman

Hans Hillman

Designers are disturbed. We are entirely obsessive compulsive over a ligature or perfect shade of warm red. We take chaos and order it into digestible portions. But we also like the big, big picture. We tell our clients that we are following a clear set of steps and phases on a project to provide a sense of clarity and comfort. But, creativity is messy. They don’t want to hear, “Well, I’ll do the research, formulate a strategy, and then maybe I’ll think of a good idea in the shower. Or maybe not. Maybe it won’t happen for two weeks. I might change my mind, or have no logical rational reason for it.”

Hans Hillman liked surprise. He was more interested in the process of working, because that is where everything is undecided and you have the chance to surprise yourself. He was simple in his philosophy: nur Arbeit. Just work. Get to work and surprise yourself. Let amazing things happen. His film posters are testament to this. They are unpredictable and startling.

Hillman also had a rare sense of modesty. He admitted to working alone most of the time, hiring someone to help if needed. He made clear that his film posters were intended for a small audience interested in that film, not major movies. His studio was “One big room, and one small room.” It sounds perfect.

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Godard
EinFrau delacruz cardillac

Breasts and Penises in Public

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
The Farnese Hercules, Lysippos, 216 A.D.

The Farnese Hercules, Lysippos, 216 A.D.

Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix, Antonio Canova, 1805

Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix, Antonio Canova, 1805

The Dying Gaul, 220 B.C.

The Dying Gaul, 220 B.C.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647

As I mentioned yesterday, I took many photos of nude statues and beautiful ceilings. I didn’t stalk Italy lasciviously photographing naked statues. They’re just all nude already. It’s incredible to see breasts and penises in public. Nobody is running toward them with coverings. I didn’t see any parents hysterically covering their children’s eyes. I was going to say society didn’t crumble, but wait, the Roman Empire did collapse. While some argue that all that nudity and loose morals caused the collapse, I’m pretty sure there were other larger geographic and political issues.

How can something made of marble look like folded silk? The bed that Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix rests upon must be soft. The folds of fabric on the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa are filled with energy. As the angel plunges the arrow into her heart, she said, “The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”

Who can’t love the scratching dog, the odd octopus in the Fountain of Neptune, The Dying Gaul, and Artemis Ephesia’s complicated dress that appears to have lots of breasts?

Of course these all work because the proportions are flawless. The anatomy is impossible for actual human beings. These statues are not representations of human beings, but of superheroes. There was a short period in the history of Greek sculpture when the bodies were perfectly realistic. They matched actual human beings exactly. But nobody liked them. It’s creepy to see a statue that is too real.

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Sweet

Friday, February 13th, 2015
Ladislav Sutnar, 1940s

Ladislav Sutnar, 1940s

Ladislav Sutnar, 1940s

Ladislav Sutnar, 1940s

In 1996, I was asked to design the materials for the first AIGA Business Conference. I hate going to a conference and trying to deal with a batch of printed matter, the schedule, maps, and directories. Other people told me they would rather not stick pins in their shirt with a name badge. As I love plastics, I found a little plastic pouch at the Plastic Mart in Santa Monica. I believe it was to hold labels in hospitals. I used this, punched two holes in the top, and used IV tubing to hang the pouch from my neck. Now I could design all the materials, including the name tag, to fit inside the pouch. Easy peasy.

My hospital pouch idea

My hospital pouch idea

A couple of months after the conference I saw someone on the street with the same kind of pouch, but for a plumbing contest. Of course today, they are everywhere. Am I bitter that my pouch concept was adopted by every conference and theme park? Yes. But, I can be please that I’m saving shirts from pin holes every day.

On the other end of the spectrum from my flammable pouch concept to great thinking is Ladislav Sutnar. Sutnar’s most lasting contribution to our lives is one of the most ubiquitous design elements in the world, the parenthesis around an area code: (310) 555-1234. He solved this problem working with Bell System in the 1950s. Sutnar was adamant that design be functional. Good information design was a critical element of our complex and technological world. He maintained that there was no place for anything but useful and high-minded design.

He followed this philosophy: “Good visual design is serious in purpose. Its aim is not to attain popular success by going back to the nostalgia of the past, or by sinking to the infantile level of a mythical public taste. It aspires to uplift the public to an expert design level. To inspire improvement and progress demands that the designer perform to the fullest limits of his ability. The designer must think first, work later.”—Ladislav Sutnar

This didn’t translate to boring. As religious as Sutnar was about functionalism, his work often displays a sense of vitality and play. Yet it still imparts the information clearly. Rather than adopting a dull and rigid approach that was as exciting as a bus schedule, he allows the shapes and forms to interact with the typography.

He was probably bitter about his area code solution too.

2194 2197 2196 21955322 50102200

Styles of Radical Will

Sunday, January 18th, 2015
Gene Frederico, moving announcement

Gene Frederico, moving announcement

Some designers take great pride at being an a-hole. I was speaking with a designer I’d never met before, and he boasted for quite awhile about his take no prisoners attitude. He told me a story about yelling at a young designer at his firm during a client presentation until she cried. He loved to invite freshly graduated designers for an interview and then tear their work apart piece by piece.

While this sounds like an interesting reality show, the result is simply hurt and terrified designers. It doesn’t make anyone better. Unless someone shows up with a heroin needle stuck in their arm, there really is no reason for berating until tears in design. The profession is hard enough without that.

I’d rather take my cue from Gene Frederico. Frederico was one of America’s most revered art directors for decades until he died in 1999. He was passionate about good design, and certainly never let anyone slide by with less than their best. Yet, he took time to see young designers and critique his or her work in a constructive way. Most designers at his level could simply pass this task along to someone else.

Frederico’s work is witty, fresh, and bold. It never feels overwrought or desperate. He used typography as illustration. Frederico named A.M. Cassandre’s poster, S.S. Amsterdam, as a great influence on his career. His work meets Cassandre’s high standards of flawless shape and form, but takes it one step further, always adding that smart and unexpected concept. His moving announcement, that depicts everyone moving, is a perfect example of his dry humor and incredible skill. To paraphrase a song by the Burning Sensations, Gene Frederico Was Never Called an Ass-hole.

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AM Cassandre

AM Cassandre