Archive for the ‘Who’ Category

The Friendly Swiss

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Herbert Matter, Swiss travel poster, 1932

Herbert Matter, Swiss travel poster, 1932

There are two sayings in Hollywood that I like: “The ass you kick on the way up is the one you kiss on the way down,” and “Blame others, take credit, deny everything.” I know quite a few people that live by the motto of blame, credit, etc., and ignore the ass kicking advice. I’ve known fine designers who, after the first taste of fame, became heinous and awful divas making demands and driving kind conference organizers to tears. And I know fine designers who have been famous for years and are the first to wrestle credit away from others. My friend, John Bielenberg, suggested I start a magazine or blog that is like Vanity Fair of the design world, telling all the stories. That sounds fun, but I’d like to keep at least the few friends I still have.

Conversely, I am endlessly amazed at the down to earth, generous nature of some of the industries legends. 90% of them are just good people, willing to help others, devote time, and always have a funny story at dinner. From what I understand, Herbert Matter was one of the least pompous designers in the field. I’ve never heard anything that paints him as difficult or negative. From all accounts, he was a true mensch. You wouldn’t expect that from his work. It’s so brilliant and confident that the author would have all the right in the world to be a jerk. But, it’s proof that either we as designers are, on the whole, pretty darned good. Or we’re nitwits and falling behind while other in different professions claw, stab, and blackmail their way to the top.

Don’t be alarmed, three “Herbert” stories in a row does not mean the next one will be about Herbert Hoover.

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Friday, July 4th, 2014


Herbert Bayer, Die Neue Linie, March 1937

Herbert Bayer, Die Neue Linie, March 1937

Many of you have written and asked, “Sean, do you have any more Herbert Bayer stuff to share?” Of course I do. Who knew there were so many Bayer fans? I thought nobody had any concept of anything pre-Brady Bunch, so this is a wonderful discovery. I don’t have any snapshots or scandalous photos of Herb doing some wacky thing during Octoberfest, but I’ve got type. For your holiday weekend enjoyment, here are some of Bayer’s typeface designs.

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Stationery: spelled with an “e” for envelope

Monday, June 30th, 2014
Herbert Bayer, Letterhead Design, 1932

Herbert Bayer, Letterhead Design, 1932


My friend, Kathy McCoy, recently asked if I had any Herbert Bayer images from his Colorado days. She checked with Lou Danziger who pointed out that we were the caretakers of his monumental slide archive of graphic design. After I pulled everything together, it was obvious that Bayer designed a lot of stationery, and I mean a lot.

The world is screaming insanely, “Print is dead, print is dead, the end is near!”  People may not be using letterhead for a casual note that can work on email, but they still use it in more formal situations. The good part of this is that clients want the best stationery with the options, not the down and dirty cheapest one. Now it really matters.

Bayer designed most of these at the Bauhaus and before he emigrated to the United States. The letterheads are all asymmetrical, use the golden section as a guide, and are designed for functionality. Since Modernism demanded that functional should be paramount, this makes sense.

When I design a letterhead I like to help the user also; add a short rule to delineate the fold, put a bullet where the date is typed, and guides that identify the margin.

Bayer takes this a little more seriously by identifying the location of every type of information. I’m certain that nobody tried to use too small of a margin or fail to line the date up with the type. I get the sense that this would have been a pretty serious infraction and all hell would break loose in the halls of the Bauhaus.


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Rough and Ready

Thursday, June 5th, 2014
Stan Bitters

Stan Bitters

The concept behind wabi-sabi is to find beauty in transience and imperfection. I love this concept although I have difficulty following it. When I find myself scrubbing the top of the flat files with Comet and a rough brush, or using an x-acto knife to clean crevices in a lamp, I know I am in trouble. I’d like to let the imperfections on the lamp to be just fine.

I once scrubbed all the enamel off my grandparents’ kitchen sink because it still had little off white spots. That was when my family should have called for an intervention: “Sean, I love you, but you are ruining your life and ours by this incessant scrubbing of sinks,” or, “I refuse to acknowledge you or support this awful habit until you stop and put the canned air and Windex down. You are sick and need help.”

The point here, is that I love the nubby and organic. But I can’t seem to let it be just that. Stan Bitters’ work is elegant and warm, pointing to a natural world of texture and smell. The ceramic work isn’t hyper glossy or smooth as a baby’s bottom, and I like that. The colors are rich and unexpected. The evidence of a human hand is exposed on each creation. Perhaps I need to get some clay, a kiln, and some glazes and lock myself in a room until I can live with the bump on the rim of a vase.

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Alla buona derrata, pensaci su.

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
Max Huber, Stile Industria 28, 1960

Max Huber, Stile Industria 28, 1960

I like Switzerland. It’s hellishly expensive and a beer costs $20, but as they say, the trains run on time and the design is nice. Once  in awhile a young designer will ask me, “Don’t you think everything would be better if there were standards for all signage and information. Maybe everything could be in Univers?” But, that would end up recreating Switzerland. I like the weird hand-drawn signs on my neighborhood botanica, and the awful use of Hobo at the Boho Café.

Max Huber managed to marry the elegance and simplicity of Swiss modernism with the vibrancy and expression of play. He was born in Switzerland, then emigrated to Italy. The Italian spirit of la vita e bella (life is beautiful) wove its way into Huber’s Swiss grids and black and red color palette. His work has joy, exuberance, and a touch of chaos. Like a day in Rome. The colors are vibrant, pure, and aggressive.

I didn’t know Max Huber. He died in 1992. But I imagine a dinner with him to be filled with too much wine, wonderful stories, and risqué jokes. I like Herbert Bayer too, but I don’t think dinner with him would have been as fun.


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