The Salacious Lives of Others

I'm in the middle of looking at the first cut of my new course on, Foundations of Graphic Design History, the Arts and Crafts Movement. We did this course because the Graphic Design History course was surprisingly successful. Many people asked for deeper dives into different subjects.

When I started the Arts and Crafts course, I expected beautiful typography, textiles, pattern, and architecture. Yes, that's all in there. But, I didn't expect the Vanity Fair version of the subject. In smarter hands, the course would have stayed on the serious track with simple names, dates, and insights. But, there was so much drama.

John Edward Millais, left

John Ruskin

John Edward Millais, Ophelia

Euphemia Chalmers Ruskin

Charles Dickens

For example, the writer, John Ruskin, was great friends with the painter, John Edward Millais, and supporter of the pre-Raphaelite movement. This ended after they took a trip together with Ruskin's wife, Euphemia, to Scotland. Euphemia and Millais began an affair. Ruskin then spent the rest of his life savagely attacking Millais publicly whenever possible.

Charles Dickens got in on the fun too, calling Millais’s painting “the lowest depths of what is mean, odious, repulsive and revolting”. 

Elbert Hubbard

May Morris

Roycroft Press

The Lusitania

Then there's Elbert Hubbard, who founded Roycroft Press in Aurora, New York. The founder of the Arts and Crafts movement was William Morris. Morris' daughter May visited the United States in the early 20th century, but refused to see Hubbard. She called him, "That obnoxious imitator of my father." Harsh. Soon after, Hubbard died when a German U-Boat sunk the Lusitania.

Frank Lloyd Wright


The Headlines

And finally, the most dramatic was Frank Lloyd Wright's tragedy. After many years of marriage, Wright left his wife and children and ran off with a client's wife. Wright and Mamah Bothwick Cheney fled to Europe together. They returned to Wisconsin where Wright built Taliesen. In 1914 while Wright was away, a servant poured gasoline on the floor and lit a fire. When Mamah and six others ran from the house, he waited outside and killed them with an axe.

Sure, there is a huge amount of incredible work and the beginning of a profession. And, yes, we are in a parallel time dealing with new technologies and the loss of craft. But someone needs to write a television mini-series. On of the artists or designers must have said, at least once, "Which one of you bitches is my mother?"

"Which one of you bitches is my mother?" Lace, 1984

Talking about Blunt Talk on Blunt Talk

Several months ago, my good friend Tristram Shapeero asked me if I'd like to design the identity for the UBS Network. Now the great thing about this is that UBS Network doesn't exist. It's the fictional network on Blunt Talk a new series on Starz, created by Jonathan AmesSeth MacFarlane and Tristram. The series follows Walter Blunt, played by Patrick Stewart, who moves to Los Angeles with the intentions of conquering American nightly cable news with his program, Blunt Talk.


The network name, UBS, is an homage to the network in the 1976 movie, Network ("I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore.") This was the first thing I thought about when I received the script, but I tend to hang on to lots of pointless facts. Fortunately, when I sat down with Jonathan, he said this was entirely intentional.

The design solution for the identity is derived from a stained glass window on the Howard Beale Show in the Network movie. If that isn't meta enough, I designed a fictional history of the network from 1935–2015 based on a fragmentary shot of the UBS logo behind Faye Dunaway. The fictional history of the network is built into the set as a corporate wall. 

But one issue keeps me awake at night. The show on Starz is called Blunt Talk. The show on Blunt Talk on the UBS Network is "Blunt Talk". Should my "Blunt Talk" logo be the same logo for the real world Blunt Talk? See, confusing, but fun like a mobius strip. 

They Always Come Back

It's hard to goof up a project that has a great subject, say a collection of Edward Stieglitz photographs or catalogue for MOMA. Sure you could mess it up by setting the entire thing in Curlz, but that rarely happens. So I recently decided that a project about something boring would be a better challenge for students. Make something amazing from something dull or disturbing. 

At the beginning of each term, I go to the used bookstore in North Hollywood and buy the most unsexy books I can find. Yes I get odd looks when I bring my stack of books to the counter. Last time I had 15 books on various subjects: The Book of Cats, Star Trek Compendium, John Nash and Game Theory, The Films of Judy Garland, NASCAR, MTV Video Music Awards 1992, and Puppy Potty Training Made Easy.

My favorite was The Art of Sensual Massage published in 1972. I forgot it in the back of my friend Erica's car, which proved awkward when her teenage son and a friend discovered it. It's a slice of time. The first thing I noticed, after the terrifying type, was how "natural" everyone was. Hair care in many body areas seems "casual". Then there is the decor. I want that room: a Mucha poster, spider plant, ferns, macrame, and rattan chair. There is even a chess set and candles.

The book is actually pretty good, except for the "Massaging Children" section. This seems wrong. I might be prudish, but I believe being massaged by your naked mother may cause later emotional issues. This is the copy: Children enjoy massage most at the end of the day when they're tired and slowed down. If your child jumps up in the middle of a stroke let it go. They always come back.

Of course you would wait until they're too tired to fight back. They jump up because they are desperate to get away. And they always come back due to Stockholm Syndrome.

The Art of Sensual Massage, 1972

The doll under the poster. Why?

The chess set and candles

Pirate bird and massage

This is wrong. Yes, I'm uptight.

This is Stockholm Syndrome

Building Pages

I was asked recently in an interview what magazines I look at for inspiration. I hate questions like that. The truth is, beside Print with Debbie Millman involved, I spend most of my time going through old issues of Architectural Forum, CA, and Graphis. And I mean old. Not last year, but 1955. I also have a large collection of Better Homes and Gardens from 1950-1965 that I enjoy. These make me sad sometimes because I see products that I want to buy, like a turquoise stove, but I can't.

Nostalgia aside, the covers of Architectural Forum are by far the most amazing. It was one of the best architecture magazines until it's demise in 1974. 

It isn't surprising that the incredible Will Burtin was a creative director. His work with Scope magazine is classic and changed editorial design. 

I love these covers because they presume the audience is smart. They are abstract and rely on symbols. They don't have glossy photos of a living room corner with uplighting. They aren't screaming "I'm rich, I'm rich. Look at my fancy house." or "I'm avant-garde, I'm hip." They are confident and beautiful. They do, however, suffer from the same issue as my other old magazines. I need that pink intercom system on page 55.

Another great article on Architectural Forum at Codex99 

Is History Dead

There are some people who take design a little too seriously. Years ago, I knew a designer who refused to speak to me or look at me in the eye. Yes, it's understandable when you get to know me, but this was about design philosophy. I preferred clean, simple, and honest design with optimism. He was a self-identified post-modernist who saw the world as distopian and wanted to reflect that in his work. That was fine by me, I loved his work. It just wasn't what I did.

Even last week at the Paul Rand event I did at Design Within Reach, someone walked up to Louise Sandhaus and me, looked at both of us, turned from me, and said to Louise, "I'm happy to see YOU." Puhleeze. It's not like we're on a reality show.

P. Scott Makela was a post-modernist, genius, and all around nice guy. He never was anything but a good and generous friend. He did work that was different than mine, and that's what makes the field so exciting. He was one of the first people to give me encouragement early in my career. 

I was helping a designer on a project last week based on the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards. It gave me a chance to look back at some of Scott's remarkable work. The typography in Michael and Janet Jackson's Scream video is beautiful, crisp, and launched a digital revolution in font design. 

Scott's work with Laurie Haycock Makela, his wife, changed the profession. It stretched everyone's idea of digital possibilities, and it's damned beautiful.