Archive for December, 2010

Wrap Up Your Troubles

Monday, December 27th, 2010

The most beautiful wrapping paper ever designed, 1968

I’m sure everyone has different holiday gift traditions. Whether it’s Christmas or Chanukah, gifts are wrapped, and as they are opened, we watch for expressions of happiness. In our house, everyone patiently took turns unwrapping a gift. This was followed by any of the following statements, “It’s perfect. Thank you so much,” or “You have such a talent for finding the exact right thing,” or “Of course this multi-colored sweater is what the other boys are wearing. Thank you.” I once went to a friend’s house when they opened gifts and it was a mad free-for-all. After our civilized and polite Christmas mornings, this was like anarchy. If you’ve seen those old silent movies about ancient Rome with the orgies, then you know what I mean.

We’re also careful about unwrapping. I haven’t solved the problem of asking someone outside of the family to be more careful, and give me back the wrapping paper. It’s not about being cheap; it’s about the paper. Here is the issue: if I buy ugly new paper, I don’t care if it’s destroyed. But my friends and family deserve the good stuff, the vintage paper. So I am doomed to watch in terror with a frozen smile as a child tears through the delicate paisley paper from 1968.

The happy village paper, 1950s

Another favorite from 1967

Fancy ornaments, 1964

Scary Santa, multiple personality disorder

a clever idea for gift cards; cut apart used Christmas cards

Tootsie Wootsie Hoochee Koochee

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Title card, Meet me in St. Louis, 1944

the house, Meet me in St. Louis, 1944

I can’t say I really dig Christmas movies. The whole Elf, Tim Allen Santa thing just makes me cranky. I will, however, watch Meet Me in St. Louis. It’s not particularly Christmas themed, but it has nifty titles, technicolor, and a happy turn of the century setting. I don’t quite understand the plot. It’s a family, and the world’s fair, St. Louis, and a possible move to New York. This is the part that I don’t understand: The father gets a better job in New York, so the family needs to move. But everyone is so whiny and spoiled that he decides to forgo this amazing opportunity and stay in St. Louis.

That’s not going to end well. They’re all happy at the end of the movie, but a few years later when teenage rebellion kicks in there are going to be screaming matches. “I gave up the biggest chance of my life for you girls!” says the father, “F#*k You! F#*kface” screams the teenage daughter. The titles are nice though.

End credits, Meet me in St. Louis, 1944

Title card, Meet me in St. Louis, 1944

The Great Wall(s)

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Dawn Kim, Knott's Berry Farm rebranding poster, detail

This term, Nik Hafermaas, the chair of the graphic design program at Art Center, asked me to help curate the gallery. It seemed like an easy job. How hard could it be to choose some posters and hang them evenly spaced apart? The reality was more complicated, in a good way. In the end, I was faced with an enormous wealth of incredible projects. My first impulse was to put everything in the gallery. That, unfortunately, would lead to an episode of Hoarders. I didn’t want to be faced with a professional organizer, television crew, unhappy movers, and weeping family members while I tried to climb over mountains of design projects.

Let me define “incredible projects.” These aren’t the perfectly made and tasteful wine labels, or nice and tight simple logos. These are the projects that go beyond the assignment and ask fundamental questions about culture, how we read symbols, and what we make. And they are perfectly made. The high point of the gallery task was seeing the work and being endlessly energized and inspired. The low point was not being able to fit everything in our space. I need design a solution that allows for more projects and doesn’t point to a psychological disorder.

Below is one of my favorite projects from last term, Dawn Kim’s map poster for Knotts Berry Farm. First, it’s beautiful, like a Jackson Pollock painting. Dawn’s poster is so dense and multi-layered. It isn’t collage to solve a problem of filling space. It’s frenetic energy and possibility of discovery does the job of redefining the Knott’s experience beautifully. I would gladly show more great projects from the gallery if my students sent me their pdfs. Hint, here, guys.

Art Center gallery wall

Art Center gallery wall

Art Center gallery wall

Dawn Kim, Knott's Berry Farm rebranding poster

Dawn Kim, Knott's Berry Farm rebranding poster, detail

A Generous and Compassionate Country

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

For the last couple of days, I’ve been putting together the gallery space at Art Center. But that’s another story. I stopped the insane measuring and rearranging to go down to the theater and see’s new documentary on Doyald Young. Yes, I put completion of the gallery before graduation at risk. But, there was no question. Doyald, Lynda Weinman, a great film: uh, yeah I’m going to that.

It’s a challenge to make what we do seem interesting to civilians. Hmm, I have a choice of watching car chases and steamy love scenes, or a documentary on someone who works with letterforms. Typically, the 3d explosions win. In this instance though, the letterform film is the right choice. I could carry on about Doyald for hours: he’s one of my great friends and mentors, has a salty sense of humor and the best jokes, is an inspiration to teach and truly help young designers, and, yes, talented as heck. But you can find all of that on the AIGA Medalist page, except the dirty joke part.

At Saturday’s commencement ceremony, he will receive Art Center’s Alumnus of the Year Award for his dedicated work as an educator and lifetime of legendary work in typography, logotypes and alphabets. At Saturday’s commencement, he’ll receive an honorary degree from Art Center, where he studied Advertising in the ’50s, and where he has taught lettering and logotype design in the Graphic Design Department for decades.

This is what made the evening so remarkable: the 2010 graduating class was in the theater also. While Doyald made a few closing remarks, they looked on with mixtures of awe, delight, gratitude, and excitement. In school, they learn how to make beautiful form and combine this with conceptual thinking. This short time in the theater is, perhaps, one of he most valuable hours of their education. This generation of designers is shown first-hand, what it means to be a “good” designer with dignity and magnanimity by one of the great masters. Fifty years from now, when they sit where Doyald is now, they will know that talent is nothing compared to kindness and generosity.

AIGA 2009 Medalist Gala video

Marian Bantjes, Sean Adams, Doyald's big "S" at his house

Doyald Young, The Art of Steel Die Engraving

Doyald Young, Young Gallant


Coats and Cars

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Madeline Kahn's Louis Vuitton car, High Anxiety

Sonia Delauney and her hilarious Citroen

Unlike many men, I am able to think about more than one thing at a time. Well, not really at the same time, but one thought quickly follows another. Unfortunately, my dual thinking ability frequently puts the wrong things together. For example, I was explaining Sonia Delauney’s work recently, and I immediately jumped to Madeline Kahn’s car in High Anxiety. If you haven’t seen High Anxiety, Madeline Kahn’s Cadillac matches her Louis Vuitton jumpsuit. The car is covered in the same Louis Vuitton pattern. Of course it’s a sight gag. But why was Sonia Delauney’s matching coat and Citroen not funny? I know it’s not supposed to be funny because I was asked to stop laughing in Modern Art when I saw the Delauney Citroen at school.

Perhaps Delauney planned her matching coat and car as a sight gag, also. She expected great outbursts of laughter and applause, but was met with serious contemplation and intellectual deconstruction. We all need to feel the sorrow and tragedy of Delauney’s failed career as a comedian.