Archive for May, 2010

The World is a Circle

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Yusaku Kamekura, Tokyo Olympics, 1964


Last week, we started working with a new client who demanded that Noreen be at every meeting. Now, I’m used to this. When I come into a meeting and throw a chair, or urinate in the corner, clients are disturbed. In reality, we’re both quite polite and friendly. The only time I ever became angry during a meeting was 15 years ago, when a young architect stopped me and said, “I’d like to give you some basic rules about composition.” To which, I replied, “I don’t know how to respond to that… Noreen?”

Initially, some clients do a little racial profiling. Noreen is Asian and a woman, so she must be mysterious, exotic, and deeply creative. I’m a WASP and a man, so I must be logical, dull, and handle the bookkeeping. At AdamsMorioka, our roles are well defined; Noreen is in charge of all client relations, I’m in charge of creative. This doesn’t mean that we don’t voice opinions, or have debates about creative or business issues. In the end, I have final call on a creative issue; Noreen has final call on a client issue.

We do, however, have divergent cultural backgrounds, and this makes the work better. We often design the poster when we do a speaking engagement. I’ve had the most fun designing posters that speak to this juxtaposition of Asian and Western influences. I designed a poster for a DSVC lecture takes one of my favorite posters by Yusaku Kamekura and re-purposes it. I know the difference between an homage and piracy. I credit Kamekura on the poster.

Yusaku Kamekura is one of the “first generation” of great Japanese designers. In 1951 he helped establish the Japan Advertising Arts Club, and took part in the ‘Graphic ’55’ exhibition with Paul Rand and other international designers. In 1978, he became chairman of the Japan Graphic Designers Association. This is a big deal. Noreen mentions often that she’d like to be invited by JAGDA to be a member (note to JGDA members reading this). His posters merge Swiss modernism with a Japanese aesthetic and usage of space. The primary 1964 Tokyo Olympics poster is magnificent in its simplicity.  Kamekura uses the golden section and repeating circles to create harmony. On the surface, nothing could be more obvious: Japanese flag and Olympic rings. “And?” you may be asking, “So what? That’s too easy.” This is similar to someone looking at a Picasso and saying, “I could have drawn that.”  My response, “But you didn’t.”

AdamsMorioka, DSVC, 2001

Yusaku Kamekura, Tokyo Olympics, 1964

Yusaku Kamekura, Tokyo Olympics, 1964

Yusaku Kamekura, Nikon Mikron Binoculars, 1955

Yusaku Kamekura, Graphic ‘55 Exhibition, 1955

Yusaku Kamekura, Nikon SP, 1957

Yusaku Kamekura, Atomic Energy for Peaceful Industry, 1956

When Gray is Good

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Milner Gray, Gilbey's Rum label


One of my favorite possessions is a Graphis magazine, No. 69 from 1956. We’ve opened it so often that it’s falling apart. I tried taping it back together since this is something you do when you get old. But now the cover has fallen off of it. There is a rather dull feature on calendars, but an incredible profile on Milner Gray. Gray (1899-1997) was a British designer who founded the Society of Industrial Artists and the Design Research Unit (not to be confused with Ellen Lupton’s Design Writing Research). His work is primarily in the realm of packaging design, although he did identity and environmental design for the 1951 Festival of Britain. Gray takes heraldry and traditional forms and treats them with a modernist bent. Simple shapes are combined with flourishes and Victorian typography. There is a contradictory sense of minimalism and ornamentation.

Unfortunately, Gray is one of those remarkable designers who have been sadly neglected in print or online. Someday, I’d like to write a book about all of these unsung heroes who changed the profession quietly.

Milner Gray, coronation mug, 1956

Milner Gray, Hartley's canned fruit

Milner Gray, Ilford packaging

Milner Gray, Austin Reed

Milner Gray, Gilbey's Invalid Port for shut-ins

Milner Gray, Jamaica Rum

Milner Gray, Pyrex packaging

Milner Gray, Old Ale label

Milner Gray, Rowland's

Milner Gray, Gilbey's Rum label

Milner Gray, Gilbey's Port label

Plastic Soul

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Most people think of Tupperware as a slippery, greasy vessel that is used for grape juice or leftover chili. I think it is a miraculous and wonderful achievement of civilized man. It doesn’t break when you drop it in the sink. It has beautiful colors. The shape is graceful and useful. It makes a burping sound if you close the lid properly. Granted, Tupperware did take a tragic turn in the 1990s and fell into the thinking that everyone loved maroon, almond, and teal. Now they seem to be returning to their roots and making classic forms again.

Polyethylene was a new plastic developed for wartime use. Earl Tupper used this to make a range of household materials. Originally, he sold the product in hardware stores, but nobody understood it. Working with Brownie Wise, he switched the sales to Tupperware parties. This filled a need for a population of stay at home mothers loving in the suburbs. They were isolated in new towns that had been potato farms; Tupperware parties brought them together and were hugely successful. By 1958, Earl Tupper sold the company for $16,000,000.00. That was a lot of money in 1958.

We can only hope that Tupperware will do the right thing, and reject the “hip” colors of today, and return to the classic forms, pastels, and earth tones. Face it, if you could buy the original pastel Wonderlier line, you would.

Tupperware Wonderlier

Tupperware pastels

Tupperware party, 1960

Tupperware Wonderlier

Tupperware ad, mid 1960s

original Tupperware logo

Tupperware earth tones, mid 1970s

Tupperware earth tones, mid 1970s

Tupperware's tragic mid-1990s approach

A dream come true, TFA Retro, St. Louis

This is the Day, Your Life Will Surely Change.

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

1984 Olympics poster

You’ve been reading some old letters —

You smile and think how much you’ve changed.

All the money in the world

Couldn’t buy back those days.

These are some of the lyrics to This Is The Day by The The. I was thinking about this as I was cleaning out the flat files at home and came across some of my student work. Unfortunately, I found that I haven’t changed. I might be a little smarter and definitely have a bigger waist size, but damn if those colors and the whole attitude looks the same. This means either I have a strong and consistent vision, or I have one idea that I keep banging out repeatedly.

I made these projects in 1986, my last year at CalArts. Yes, they have little new wave in them, but that was what you did in 1986. I rather like the Olympics poster, but the Neo Youth project is scary. I remember it was a proposal for a monument to Los Angeles. This was the idea: L.A. is obsessed with youth. It needs a monument, rather than building a big statue, create an organization of young people who would travel around town and help people. The more good work they did, the more medals they would get. This would take the place of the latest Guess jeans as a status symbol since everyone between 14-18 would be in uniform.

Yes, you may be saying, this sounds quite a bit like Nazi Youth, Young Pioneers of China, or the USSR’s Communist Youth Organization (Komsomol). I may be rather dense at times, but this was part of the concept. If being young were a religion in Los Angeles, go all the way. Of course, now I realize that I was wrong; the uniforms were probably too trendy.

French Structuralism poster, Roland Barthes and leg

Gang of 4 record cover

Neo Youth book cover, 24"x36"

Neo Youth book poster design, 24"x36"

Neo Youth book headquarters across from Beverly Center, 24"x36"

Neo Youth book day uniforms, 24"x36"

Neo Youth evening uniforms, 24"x36"

Sad Men

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Exciting and abundant warehouse facility

The 1950s and 1960s are called the “Golden Age” of advertising. America was filled with new products that had been developed to fight World War 2, people had money in their pockets, and the baby boom created the need for housing, appliances, cars, and anything one might need to raise a family. These products needed to be sold. Advertising was the way to create that desire to own that washing machine, Cadillac, or new sofa.

I show some of the classic ads in my first term class at Art Center. They are well crafted, beautifully composed, and smart. I don’t show the ads that I really like. These would point a group down the wrong path. I like the bad ads. The corny ones are fine, and I enjoy the funny atom bomb/gum ad as much as the next guy. The ads that are depressing and contradict the message are wonderful. Rather than enticing the viewer into a product, they say, “Life is sad and banal. Nothing will ever be good.” My favorite is an ad for Nevada Warehouse Corporation. Nothing says breadth of experience, and abundance like a sad scattering of products on a black background. And I can’t wait to head over to Gray Reid’s to buy my dungarees next to the emergency room.

I can't wait to buy matches from this company

Why show product when your building says "hospital"?

Why use a t-square? They're overrated.