I advise people to do their own projects if they are feeling stifled at work. Arnold Varga did just that. Working as an art director in Pittsburgh in the 1960s, he produced a wonderful range of ads on a freelance basis. His ads for department stores Cox, and James Horne Co. are fresh and witty. They somehow skirt the issue of showing a dress with a big “Sale” sticker. Varga worked steadily as a small agency until he retired in 1970. When asked about his work, he replied, “It’s informative. It’s honest. It doesn’t hurt the eye when you look at it.” It don’t get better that that.
Archive for March, 2011
Years ago, I did an interview about designing your own stationery system. “You don’t need to demonstrate everything you can do at once,” I said, “I believe this is the place for restraint.” Clearly, I ignored my own advice. I now have a stationery system that does everything but take you out for dinner, and then to bed. But, c’est la vie. Life’s too short to waste it on restraint.
Liz Farrelly recently released a new book, Designers’ Identities. When Liz originally asked me to contribute to the book, I expected to have my package returned with a big “NO” written across it. We don’t have a cool name that would work for a band. We don’t use lots of tiny type in a swirl. I was pleasantly surprised to find the book rich with pretty darned good work. There are some amazingly beautiful solutions and very few that are trying too hard (like ours).
I have fallen in love with Richard Ardagh’s Elephant Graveyard.co.uk. This is one I wish I’d done. Christopher Simmons has the most incredible envelope ever. Stefan Bucher has sparkly stickers that I need badly. There is an entire page of the amazing Rick Valicenti’s promotions. Rinzen in Melbourne has an array of stickers everyone should use. To top this off, the book, as expected from Liz, is well written and curated, and beautifully printed.
And just to prove we’re not all happy and candy, we just redesigned our stationery—in black. See, we’re serious too.
I was at a photo shoot a couple of weeks ago that involved photographing middle-school kids. One girl, with freckles and pigtails, was wearing a Wonder Woman shirt. I was concerned about rights issues so I asked her who made her shirt. It must have seemed creepy to have a silver-haired man in his 40s asking a 14 year old where she bought her shirt. I was pulled aside and asked to let others ask the questions. Who knew?
If that seemed suggestive, then how can you explain Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather? Ticklefeather? Is that code, or a marital aid? And she’s lucky. The sexual overtones (and I mean overtones) aside, I love Mrs. Ticklefeather. Her best friend is a Puffin (once again, suggestive) and she has lots of Victorian furniture and porcelain dogs. I’ve never quite grasped the entire story. It seems that her Puffin friend disappears and is almost beheaded. Eventually he returns and they play on a Greek urn together. It’s a simple story that has overtones and subtexts. There’s a movie in here somewhere.
I spend too much time at LAX. But I have a system that works fairly well. I arrive 90 minutes before my flight. I go through security, head to the Admirals Club, and set up my computer and get to work. It all works very nicely. What I like best about LAX, however, isn’t the body revealing scanners, or the Crispy Chicken Crispers at Chilis. Down on the bottom level, in the long corridors connecting the gates to the exit and baggage claim is the most wonderful tile in Los Angeles. Why nobody has determined it to be “old” and torn it out is a miracle. It’s been there as long as I remember. I’ve tried taking photos of the tile in sequence to make one long photo, but TSA has stopped me. I don’t know why they think it’s dangerous to photograph tile. The next time you pass through LAX, go downstairs and check out the tile. It’s worth visiting Los Angeles just to see that, then turn around and fly home.
Last week, I heard several people use these terms when talking about design: experience design, service design, transformational concept architecture, and holistic branding think-tank. My first thought was, “Wow, those people are smart. I’m really out of it.” When people sitting next to me on an airplane ask what I do, I say, “I’m a graphic designer.” Boy, I now know I missed the boat. But if I tell someone I’m a transformational branding and service architect, they’ll look at me as if I started speaking in Hungarian.
Years ago, when the whole “think-tank, branding, experience strategy” thing started, Noreen said, in her usual delicate way, “That’s bullshit. We’ve always done that. That’s just good design.” Frankly, I don’t care what people call themselves. I’d be fine if everyone thought “platypus” was a good descriptor. As long as we still speak honestly and work to help our clients, not just spend their money on meetings, I’m fine.
Now I need to come clean and admit that I love artifacts. I like making wonderful items, I like owning great design, and I like finding incredible things. This can be a poster, or book, or website, or exhibition. I’m not picky about medium, I’m a design slut. Right now I’m sitting in the Art Center Library, where I spend my lunch break, finding rare treasures. It would be far groovier to dismiss my fetish for things I can see, but that would be a lie. I may be hopelessly out of touch and falling behind, but I can’t stop celebrating remarkable work and the designers who create it. I still believe each of us has a unique life experience and rare gift to shape that experience into an incredible vision that should be seen and loved. Sorry for the preachy thing.