Archive for the ‘Who’ Category

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Friday, February 7th, 2014
Jennifer Morla, photo: Jock McDonald

Jennifer Morla, photo: Jock McDonald

I was in Las Vegas yesterday doing a speaking engagement for AIGA Las Vegas and Mohawk. The term “design rock star” was thrown about quite a bit. While this might seem flattering, it’s remarkably unsettling. I’m just me, kind of a bozo. A “design rock star” is someone like Jennifer Morla. Since we’re on a roll with powerful women designers in San Francisco, Jennifer must be included. She is from the generation that followed Marget Larsen and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. She began her career when San Francisco was a field of Michael’s (Vanderbyl, Cronin, Mabry, Manwaring, Schwab…). See no girls here. Jennifer entered the scene and stood as tall (sort of) as the dudes.

Jennifer made and continues to make work that could only be made in San Francisco. It is playful and light, Victorian and sleek, dark and complex. Like San Francisco, the work is a study in contradictions. A DWR catalogue has organic imagery of a bird set, not in a forest, but on a minimal modernist white background. Jennifer’s felt screen uses forms that would typically be constructed with materials such as lace, but are re-presented with a utilitarian textile. The Mexican Museum recasts Frida Kahlo as a large set of photo-mechanical halftone dots, denying the painterly or sentimental representation typical of Kahlo. Each project slams one form against another creating work that is always unexpected and wonderful.

I can’t say that envy is a big part of my emotional composition. I know that everyone has their own wacky shit going on even if the exterior looks perfect. And like every designer, I have the sensation of joy and discovery when I find a designed item that I wish I’d done. However, when Jennifer showed me her solution for the Clorox 100 Anniversary book, I was jealous. I was envious that she did something so remarkable and simple using the Clorox plastic material as the cover, and I would never have thought of that. And I was really envious that she owned that artifact. I wanted to have it for myself. This is pretty positive proof that a solution is great. I regret my sinful thoughts of envy, but excuse myself as it was caused by the extraordinary. And she has the most magnificent laugh.

 

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Reject the Small

Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, Sea Ranch

Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, Sea Ranch

After my last post about Marget Larsen, Michael Vanderbyl reminded me about the remarkable Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. Solomon was another woman working in San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s. And, again, another incredible talent who left the field too early. In Solomon’s case, she left graphic design in 1977 to pursue a career as a fine artist.  This was predicated by the choices and options that were available to a working woman designer with children at that time.

As Solomon points out in a recent interview in Creative Review“Now that I happily live alone with my dog I have time to think, and I realise that I was always so frantically busy making money to live, taking care of my daughters and worrying about men, that I never had time to think, least of all about my work. At my office I just drew up the first design I visualised so that I could leave to pick up Chloe or Nellie from school, shop for dinner, cook and clean, play wife and do all the stuff that working mothers do.”

Reading this description without seeing the work would point to delicate and polite typographic solutions, not Solomon’s aggressive and bold aesthetic. This work has balls. It is unapologetic, confident, and in your face. It transforms architecture and space. When she left the field, Solomon wanted to unlearn the Swiss modernism she was taught. Put this in the context of work in the 60s and 70s; precise, refined, and modernist design spoke to the idea of expertise. Raw, hand-made, and “bad” work was counter-culture, rejecting the idea of expertise and authority.

What Solomon created, was indeed counter-culture. While it relied on modernist forms, it pushed them past the limitations of rigorous Swiss typography and commanded attention.

 

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Swirly Love Fest

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
type on a Warner Bros. album sleeve

type on a Warner Bros. album sleeve

I’ve been told by leading strategists about millennials and what they want. According to marketing experts these people (born between 1980 and 2000) have no interest in artifacts, individual design heroes, or anything not about social causes. I am polite, and listen to this as long as I can before saying, “Okay, that’s bullshit.” Sorry for the profanity, but it is. I spend an enormous amount of time with this generation of young designers. I’ll generalize here. They love making things, finding incredible artifacts, and detailing the craft to perfection. They have design heroes and ask for any suggestions for other designers they should know. They work in teams, but have their own distinct vision and value the individual. They care about doing good and want to make this integral to their choices, but they have huge loans and recognize they need to make a living. In comparison to my generation who primarily wanted to get drunk and skateboard, they are remarkable people.

So for today’s entries, there is no collaborative strategic focus. No post-it notes were taped to a board to create these. The designer didn’t document the process and stop when it was time to make something. These are examples of swirly love.

 

Tom Carnase, logo

Tom Carnase, logo

AdamsMorioka, logo

Sean Adams, presentation slide

Herb Lubalin, logo

Herb Lubalin, logo

Aubrey Beardsey, 1893

Aubrey Beardsey, 1893

Wes Wilson, 1966

Wes Wilson, 1966

Tom Carnase, logo

Tom Carnase, logo

Tom Carnase, logo

Tom Carnase, logo

Herbert Matter, 1951

Herbert Matter, 1951

Un Año De Amor

Monday, July 29th, 2013
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Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Signage is serious. People may not find a restroom in time. They may get lost and miss the Gap. If you are a signage designer you must be serious. You must make big, black, monolithic directories that include serious information. There is no room for fun. None. Don’t even think about color. Helvetica, red and black dammit!

Urban signage is hard. There are multiple committees made up of government officials who previously worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The signs need to be clear in a complex and changing environment. They need to withstand weather, vandalism, climbing children, and birds. These are the factors that lead to the 2001: A Space Odyssey black monolith directories.

Lance Wyman’s system for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics are what every Olympics tries to outdo, and nobody has come close (sorry to my friends who have designed some of these. they’re swell, but not 1968 Mexico City). But, today I want to talk about Wyman’s program for the Mexico City Metro from 1969. This solution achieves all the difficult  goals, but maintains a sense of exuberance and joy. The program reflects a Mexican color palette and sensibility. And it looks like it was fun to design. How can a subway system with orange, pink, teal, and avocado green not be magnificent? I would ride the Los Angeles Metro all the time if it had icons of grasshoppers, sailing ships, and a duck for a station.

Wyman’s work is a beacon of optimism in a dull, drab, and serious world.

 

 

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Stamp, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Stamp, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Tipo font, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Tipo font, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Station icons, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Station icons, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

 

Gute Geschenke

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Nicole Jacek, Sarah Staton catalog, 2009

 

I often tell others who are frustrated or angry with a co-worker or client, “People tell themselves stories to get through the day. Let them. Everyone wants to feel important.” Typically this works and helps alleviate an anger management issue. Now, this may seem typically optimistic and hopeful from me. Unfortunately, I worry about saying things like this lately. Last month Noreen and Nicole (Jacek) had dinner in New York with a good friend of mine (or so I thought). During the course of the evening someone suggested I emcee an AIGA conference (no I don’t want to). My “friend” said, “I love Sean, he’s always so happy and cheery, but he’s so simple.” This makes me seem like Forrest Gump. Granted the plaid shirts aren’t helping my image, but I’m not a doddering simpleton wandering the streets catching butterflies with a grin plastered on my face. Nicole came to my rescue and kindly stated, “You’re wrong. Sean could slice and dice you and you wouldn’t know you were bleeding.” I love her.

Last night I went to an AIGA/Art Center event, Nomads, Heretics, and Do-Gooders, with Nicole Jacek, Nik Hafermaas, and Matthew Manos. Nik Hafermaas reminded me, “If you want to be a designer, you have to know the world and be willing to leave your comfort zone,” Nicole Jacek gave me a publication I’ve often considered stealing, a beautiful catalog for artist, Sarah Staton. She also wisely stated, “Working in design is more than a job. As designers we get to be explorers or psychologists and it is amazing.” That one statement is so clear and remarkable, and reminded me that this is not about the endless emails about signage fabrication or cracking stock, it’s an adventure and can be whatever we want it to be.

Nicole Jacek, Sarah Staton catalog, 2009

Nicole Jacek, Sarah Staton catalog, 2009

Nicole Jacek, Sarah Staton catalog, detail, 2009

Nicole Jacek, Sarah Staton catalog, 2009

Nicole Jacek, Sarah Staton catalog, 2009

Nicole Jacek, Sarah Staton invitation, 2009