Archive for November, 2009

México Lindo y Querido

Monday, November 30th, 2009
Design magazine, September 1968

Design magazine, September 1968

I love Mexico City. On my last visit, I was speaking at a conference and had remarkable hosts who took us to the best restaurants, out of the way shops, Museo Estudio Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo’s house, La Casa Azul, and Teotihuacan. It is easily one of my favorite speaking engagement experiences. Somehow, I expected Mexico City to look like photos taken during the 1968 Olympics. As wonderful as the trip was, I hoped to find some remnant of that graphic program. However, it was no longer 1968, and the Olympics were over.

Mexico City knew that it couldn’t compete with the architecture and budget of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. So, they turned to Lance Wyman and Peter Murdoch to design a graphic program that would act as a visual fiesta. The logo is a mix of 1960s Op Art and Huichol idioms. The color palette makes no apologies and is clearly a party and a half. The forms are integrated to create a system that is joyful and exuberant. It is so easy to be earnest and take design too seriously. This system is a serious program with gravity, but it never loses a sense of delight.

1968 Mexico City Olympics, Lance Wyman

1968 Mexico City Olympics, Lance Wyman

1968 Mexico City Olympics stamps

1968 Mexico City Olympics stamps

1968 Mexico City Olympics, information kiosk

1968 Mexico City Olympics, information kiosk

1968 Mexico City Olympics

1968 Mexico City Olympics

1968 Mexico City Olympics poster

1968 Mexico City Olympics poster

1968 Mexico City Olympics poster

1968 Mexico City Olympics poster

1968 Mexico City Olympics traveling exhibit

1968 Mexico City Olympics traveling exhibit

1968 Mexico City Olympics groovy dresses

1968 Mexico City Olympics groovy dresses

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Making Something Wonderful from Nothing

Friday, November 27th, 2009
The amazing MJB peacock, LaPrele Adams, 1965

The amazing MJB peacock, LaPrele Adams, 1965

My grandparents passed away two years ago, and I think about them every day. Of course, at Thanksgiving, we still honor them in some way. My grandmother was like me. She was unable to sit still, and was constantly doing something productive. She had a remarkable talent visually and put that talent to good use, making amazing objects. Being a product of her time and place, she didn’t consider being a designer, which is unfortunate. Her sense of color was unique and always worked.

This peacock is one of two. My brother, Ian, has the other one at his house. At first glance, it seems like a nice piece of metal sculpture from the mid 1960s. That’s what it is. But it’s more. My grandmother made it from MJB coffee tins. The damned thing has tons of sharp edges, and I always cut myself when I move it. So I don’t know how she managed to cut and twist the coffee cans to make this without slicing off a finger. This goes far beyond felt animals with sequins.

I had a well-known editor of a major design magazine at my house for a dinner party a few years ago. When she saw my grandmother’s peacock on the wall, she looked at it condescendingly, and said, “Sean, what a remarkable collection of kitsch you have.” She has not been invited back.

detail

detail

detail

detail

MJB cofee tin

MJB coffee tin

Russell and LaPrele Adams, 50th Anniversary, 1989

Russell and LaPrele Adams, 50th Anniversary, 1989

Secret Love

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009
1963 Cadillac

1963 Cadillac

My family never had a Cadillac. My grandparents always had a beige or brown Mercedes, and the Wagoneer, “Old Blue,” at the ranch. My father stuck with the Mercedes thing except for a detour in the late 1960s and the requisite VW bus. Other friends’ families had Cadillacs. I coveted them and was deeply jealous. The Mercedes was nice and staid, and said, “Please. We’re not flashy.” But a yellow Cadillac said, “What the hell, let’s have drinks and get into trouble.” When you’re 13, this sounds far better. Now the unfortunate part of this is that by the time I could buy a Cadillac they were, forgive me, ugly. For awhile I considered buying a vintage one and researched every year and make. Like most of us, I’ve been conditioned too well. It sounds like a swell plan, but when the time came to head to the vintage car auction, I thought, “well, they really are kind of flashy.”

For me, 1964 was the pinnacle year. The fins were still in place, but had lost the trashy factor of the 1959 model. The profile is clean and almost a perfect rectangle. It’s sleek and clean. It’s probably a good thing that I’m not the CEO at GM. If I were, I’d be retooling and pumping out 1964 Cadillac Eldorados. If they worked like a new car and had all the features we now want, like seat belts, who wouldn’t want one? And if they were all over the road, I wouldn’t feel too flashy in mine.

1964 Cadillac Eldorado

1964 Cadillac Eldorado

1962 Cadillac Eldorado

1962 Cadillac Eldorado

1960 Cadillac Eldorado

1960 Cadillac Eldorado

1959 Cadillac, too flashy

1959 Cadillac, too flashy

When Bad Type Happens to Good People

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
Monotype Bembo, a good font

The good Bembo G

I may have suspect taste in some things. My food tastes are rather plebian, I’m not so keen on subtle beiges, and I have no issue with Melmac. But I am a type snob. I try to be open minded, but I’m rigid and uptight. I mentioned at the AIGA Conference in Memphis, “Pretend there is no such thing as a bold serif and life will be better.” Ok, back off, I’m not including slab serifs. And for those who disagree, I don’t think Claude Garamond spent years in the middle of the 16th century slaving over the letterforms, hoping that someone would make them fat someday. For the same reason, ITC Garamond isn’t at the top of my list. Type should not be cute. I advise my students to stay away from anything too hip and groovy. These fonts that are all the rage will be like senior class photo from high school and your hair style. “What in God’s name was I thinking?” you’ll ask years later.

When I first started working as a designer I was at The New York Public Library. Many of my projects were for Library trustees or donors. We know money doesn’t buy good taste, and this is especially true with typography. Tiffany (the typeface, not the store) seemed to be all the rage on the upper east side of Manhattan in the mid 1980s. I don’t know why, but it was a disease. I would present an invitation or book design set in Bembo, and someone would pull out something with Tiffany and suggest we use it because it was “classy”. I learned the best response was to explain that these kinds of typefaces were like green shag carpeting. Good people really don’t use that.

The Scholar Adventurer, NYPL, 1987, Sean Adams, good Bembo

The Scholar Adventurer, NYPL, 1987, Sean Adams, good Bembo

The Scholar Adventurer, NYPL, Sean Adams, more Bembo

The Scholar Adventurer, NYPL, Sean Adams, more Bembo

Bembo, Stinehour Press sample

Bembo, Stinehour Press sample

Garamond, Stinehour Press sample: this is what Garamond should look like

Garamond, Stinehour Press sample: this is what Garamond should look like

ITC Garamond Bold, very bad, like short sleeve dress shirts, pretend it doesn't exist

ITC Garamond Bold, very bad, like short sleeve dress shirts, pretend it doesn't exist

Do you want your type to look like this?

Do you want your type to look like this?

Tony Danza has the answers

Monday, November 23rd, 2009
I have no idea what this is about or means

I have no idea what this is about or means

Like most designers, I like going to other cities and observing the interesting vernacular typography of a region. I take my camera and intend to photograph the odd hand-painted signs in whatever city I’m visiting. I notice the closed sign at a barber shop in Omaha, or a truck with a hand-painted cow in Tulsa, or the sign on the side of a barbeque restaurant in Charlotte. When I am on the plane flying home, I find that I forgot to shoot these, and usually have only one or two images. They are not images of the interesting typography, but are usually the odd sign posted on a wall or in a window. I’d love to tie them together with an intellectual theme such as non-designer accidental design, or typographic mismanagement, but I can’t. They are just things I found that I liked.

On a wall in Philadelphia

On a wall in Philadelphia

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh. Tony Danza?

Pittsburgh. Tony Danza?