Archive for September, 2010

Nobody Ever Called Pablo Picasso an A-hole

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Pablo Picasso, Exposition Vallauris, 1958

Most good designers know that the best logos are the simplest ones. Of course, it’s difficult to account for a long and arduous process of strategy, typographic studies, hundreds of icons, and system elements, and countless meetings when the result is a simple logo. Simple is hard. Desperation is not pretty on a date, or in design. But, it’s no fun to hear someone say, “That’s it? That took six months and cost ‘X’ amount of dollars?”

This is the same as looking at a Picasso and saying, “I could have done that,” or “my six year old child could have done that.” But, apparently, you or your child didn’t do that, and he did. That’s why he’s Picasso.

One of my pet peeves, including people who don’t use turn signals, is faux handwritten type. If it’s meant to be handwritten, I’d like to see something that was, surprisingly, written by hand. Those fonts that imitate handwriting have been put on earth by Satan to tempt people into laziness. Picasso’s posters should serve as the best example of this. His handwritten copy is light, playful, and energetic. If these posters were typeset in Felt Tip (no offense to the Felt Tip people), they would be flat and dull. And don’t even think about these typeset in Leonardo; you will never close your eyes again and not think about that tragedy. You will wake up in a cold sweat screaming most nights.

Pablo Picasso, Sala Gaspar, 1968

Pablo Picasso, Toros en Vallarius, 1957

Pablo Picasso, Galerie 65-Cannes, 1957

Pablo Picasso, Congres National, 1961

Pablo Picasso, the Don Quixote poster everyone has

Pablo Picasso, the Petit Fleur poster everyone also has

Just Say No to Snarky

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Sean Adams, Columbia College, not being snarky

Last week I went to Chicago to speak at the Cusp Conference. Pat and Greg Samata, Dave Mason, and Kevin Krueger of smbolic are the organizers and couldn’t have been more gracious, or accommodating. I’ve known Pat and Greg for 15 years and they have always been a huge inspiration to me. Some of the presenters made me rethink some basic issues. It was an amazing experience.

During a break, I sat down with a well-known character in the design world (to be named when I write the book, when I’m old). For 15 minutes, he told me about his enormous success, invention of everything, and impatience with everyone else in the world. He said nothing positive about anything else. He finished with a fine story about slamming other speakers at a different conference.

Now, I may be old fashioned, but I’ve spent a career with designers who embody generosity. From Saul Bass, Michael Vanderbyl, Paula Scher, Dana Arnett, Michael Bierut, Jennifer Morla, and a long, long list (also to be included in the book), the example has always been to give back, reinforce others and be kind. I think the days of unkind and snarky designers are over. To paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, “whenever we tear at the fabric of the lives which another designer has painfully and clumsily woven for himself, whenever we do this, then the whole profession is degraded.” I would propose that the next time another designer is patronizing or unkind to you, you say this, “You sir, are no gentleman,” unless it’s a woman, in which case, “You, madam, are no lady.” You may slap them with your gloves, if you are inclined to a duel. Unless it’s me, then remember I’m easily confused.

Young at Heart, but not with Clothing, Please

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley in Infamous, another good suit choice

One of my least favorite things about living in Los Angeles is the problem of age inappropriate dressing. Last week I was at dinner at Jar (best filet in Los Angeles) and a table of young Hollywood starlet types was at a big table behind me. They all had the same light blonde, shoulder length hair, and tight short skirts. Now if you’ve seen Clueless you know what I mean when I say it was a real Monet moment. From the distance of the door everything looked good, but as I got closer to their table, whoa, it all fell apart. They were, in fact, not young starlets but older Hollywood wives who had visited the plastic surgeon far too often.

I have never considered doing a reality show. People are always telling me, “You and Noreen should have your own reality show. I bet it would be hilarious.” It wouldn’t be. It would be very dull moments of people working on their computers with occasional profane outbursts. I would like to do a reality show, though, where I help people who dress age inappropriately with makeovers. We would shop at Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Chanel, and other sensible brands.

Now don’t get caught up with this being “Preppy” or any other such nonsense. This is just plain good sense that would make the world a nicer place to live.

There are many benefits of growing older: you can yell at people, you sleep less, and you can wear certain clothing items previously inappropriate. These are some of my rules:

1.     Men may wear seersucker before the age of 12, or after 45. Between those ages makes one look foolish.

2.     Men may wear white bucks in the summer, or all year after age 45.

3.     Madras jackets work if a man is over 45, but younger people look like a horses ass in them.

4.     Men can wear bow ties over 45, unless you are a southern politician or Ivy League professor, in which case any age is appropriate.

5.     Ponytails are wrong, wrong, and wrong for anyone over 45.

6.     There is nothing wrong with a sensible bob haircut for women over 45.

7.     Skinny jeans are wrong for anyone, especially people over 45.

More specific rules are listed below. But the point is to stop the madness. When you see an elderly person on the street in tight jeans and a groovy t-shirt, stop them and ask if you can help them to the nearest age appropriate store. Unfortunately, I don’t think my reality show idea will work. As Terry Stone told me, “So you would take mature people and make them look old?” Uh, yeah.

Seersucker only before age 12, or after 45

Unless you’re Pat Boone, be cautious with white bucks

Madras jackets only after age 45

Bow ties if a southern Senator, Ivy League professor or over 45

What can be said?

I’m not a fan of monarchy, but this hat is appropriate.

Like John Adams, I am not a monarchist, but this outfit is good

This hat is good, also

Mrs. Bush and an acceptable suit and pearls

A crest on a blue blazer after 45, and only if it’s school or family, still dubious

Classic Chanel suit, mid 1950s

If at the beach, Lily Pulitzer is OK

Avocados and Watermelon

Friday, September 17th, 2010

watermelon/coral, baby blue, butter yellow, and fuschia— what's better?

This year, we signed a new lease on the office. Last year was so crappy that Noreen and I decided a mini-overhaul was due. We had the office repainted and replaced the green carpet that looked like a dental office. We’ve lived with the same pastel colors for 17 years, and it seemed like the right time to evolve. For me that meant leaving behind the world of 1955 and moving forward to 1967. Mary Blair’s color palette for How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying has always been a favorite of mine. So this became our jumping off point.

I was pleased that we were evolving into a more sophisticated palette until the building management reported back that they loved it because it looked like a Mexican restaurant. Fine by me, if we could get a liquor license I would gladly begin to serve Margaritas. I’m sure it would be more profitable than being a design firm. Hey, there’s an idea here. I’ll talk to Noreen about this tomorrow.

the view from my desk

a butterscotch wall and the grey carpet and Kris

avocado green and baby blue, welcome to our nightmare

baby blue and a poster shrine

a peek into the avocado green kitchen (it's too messy to show)

Noreen's own little corner

They say it's too bright.

How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Mary Blair color

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Mary Blair color

No More Waitin’ for the Robert E. Lee

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Paul Smith, Rand Mcnally advertising, 1957

One of my bizarre obsessions is riverboats. I don’t particularly want to take a ride on a new casino riverboat in St. Louis, but I’d be fine taking a riverboat cruise in 1850 up the Mississippi. I’ve found a repeating motif of riverboats in illustrations between 1950 and 1960. They were used on ads for pharmaceutical products, handkerchiefs, posters, and wallpaper. If the riverboat craze happened in 1940 it would make sense. Gone With the Wind was released in 1939, and all things antebellum south were the cat’s pajamas. Perhaps the 1950s trend with riverboats had something to do with the nostalgia for a simpler time when atomic warfare was a constant worry.

Maybe that’s my issue too. Noreen keeps telling me, “Sean, it’s not 1955. The Soviet Union is not planning a strike. You can stop digging that bomb shelter.” Or, maybe I just like the way these riverboats look. Like Mark Twain said, “Riverboats look like floating wedding cakes.” In the past few months I’ve been able to use riverboats on two projects. I made one for my lecture poster for AIGA Orange County, and I used a wonderful painting of another riverboat in the latest Mohawk Via promotion (to be released soon).

Verband Schweizerische Konsumvereine, Basel, 1957

Maria Bieri, 1954

Robert Schneeberg, CBS, 1955

Muller-Blase, 1954

C. Piatti, 1955

Travel Monthly, 1954

Sean Adams, Mohawk Via promotion spread, 2010

Sean Adams, AIGA OC, 2010