Archive for the ‘Stuff’ Category

The Pleasure of Small Problems

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015
Sean Adams, Soviet Dialogues poster, 2015

Sean Adams, Soviet Dialogues poster, 2015

Last week, I finished a poster for Dialogues: Poster Art of the Soviet Union. I could do anything I wanted. I chose to stay away from 45 degree angles and Constructivist typography. They just didn’t go well with Khrushchev‘s testicle quote. I had a great time working on it, and hope it is useful for the event. But is it graphic design?

For a long time, the battle cry of design has been “problem solving.” Well, what isn’t? Create an urban signage system to help revitalize mid-Manhattan. Yep, problem solved. Design an information guide and website to help in an environmental disaster, check. Make an identity system and collateral for a homeless shelter, uh huh. But the problem with narrowing the focus of design onto only a tiny aspect is the inherent exclusion of anything that is deemed as not serious problem solving. If there isn’t a multi-page case study, with dense research, clear results, and a sans serif font, then it’s not design.

But where does that leave the work that is, frankly, just amazing without a giant purpose? Using the metric of justifying all design by the density of the issue negates most of the work that moved the profession forward. That Paul Rand Apparel Arts Magazine cover with the propeller, really? That had a deep purpose and widespread effect on the garment industry? No, so it’s out. The same goes for Saul Bass’ beautiful poster for The Music Center, Alexey Brodovitch’s Ballet book, and a long list of work that shaped me as a designer.

I’ll stick with not defining graphic design. It uses words, symbols, and images to communicate. Some of it solves problems that are big, some solve the problem of making me happy for a moment. That’s good for me. Leaving this open allows for work that may be simply ridiculously wonderful.

Paul Rand, Apparel Arts magazine

Paul Rand, Apparel Arts magazine

Saul Bass, The Music Center

Saul Bass, The Music Center

Alexey Brodovitch, Ballet book

Alexey Brodovitch, Ballet book

Alexey Brodovitch, Ballet book

Alexey Brodovitch, Ballet book

Colin Forbes, Metrics  poster

Colin Forbes, Metrics poster

Paul Rand, Container Corporation of America

Paul Rand, Container Corporation of America

Leo Lionni, AIGA Award

Leo Lionni, AIGA Award

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The Settlers Return

Friday, December 19th, 2014

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Hey Hey Crochet

Sunday, December 14th, 2014
Why? In the name of all that is holy, why!?

Why? In the name of all that is holy, why!?

People often ask me to explain how I choose colors on a project. “You’re so good with color,” they say, “What is your process?” My process is to liberally take color palettes from anywhere. Some call it stealing, I consider it appropriation.

I have a collection of crocheted hangars my grandmother made. I don’t use them because I’m too OCD and all the hangars in the house must be the exact same white plastic or wood version. But I do love the crochet hangars. The colors are wonderful. So I made a color palette out of them. It’s not high design. It’s not a careful exploration of values and tones ala Johannes Itten. It’s a palette from 1970s yarn.

I’m impressed at how many of these my grandmother, Oma, made. She was an avid crocheter and made many afghans, hats, and sweaters. I don’t understand the afghans. Since they are made with big crochet holes, they don’t really keep anyone warm. And as much as I admire Oma’s fortitude and talent, I was never a big fan of receiving a crocheted sweater. They aren’t really hip in the 6th grade.

It could have been worse, 1970s crocheted clothing is far worse than any bad gift you will ever receive. The next time you complain because Aunt Bess gave you hideous patterned sweater, be thankful it isn’t a rust and mauve crochet caftan.

Me, my sister with a crochet hat, and my brother with a crochet sweater. Pink, rust, turquoise? uh, ok.

Me, my sister with a crochet hat, and my brother with a crochet sweater. Pink, rust, turquoise? uh, ok.

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Palette
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Wear a quilt as a dress

Wear a quilt as a dress

1970 vintage fashion man vita su marte crochet 2

Belted sweaters for men are never a good gift concept

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Does that dress look suspiciously like a plant hanger?

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Wow

When More is Not Enough

Friday, December 5th, 2014
Lingscars.com

Lingscars.com

You know how teachers are always saying, “I love teaching, the students teach me as much as I teach them.”? It’s true. Yes, in a high-falutin’ idealistic way, but usually in odd and unexpected knowledge. This week, I learned that raping an old person is called “grape” after “grandparent rape”. I learned that I could turn off that annoying double click isolate feature in Illustrator. And I learned the worse thing a young man can say to a woman is, “Make me a sandwich.” I don’t know why. I’d be happy to make someone a sandwich, it doesn’t seem that egregious.

The absolute most exciting piece of information was lingscars.com.. Nicole Jacek pointed me to this site ages ago, but I lost it. My students in Type Design 5 found it for me. I’m sure I’m behind the curve on this one. Everyone already probably knows about it, but humor a square designer who spends time looking at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection. Lingscars.com is the most incredible website ever designed. It has everything from singing people, a Darth Vader mask, a walking chicken, and flight attendants doing a safety demo. If that isn’t enough, the code is genius.

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Please Remain Seated

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014
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