Archive for April, 2011

Cruel Story of Youth

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Andrew Chen, facebook pedophile poster

Communication Design 1 is the class at Art Center that is a student’s introduction into ideas, idea making, and the power of images. It’s also a hard class to teach. And sometimes other teachers have a snobby attitude, “Oh, those lower level classes. Well, I would never teach one of those.”  Now I know how people felt when my family members would say, “Bless her soul, what a sense of style. Of course, I could never wear something like that.”

I remember my first class in college. It was with a great designer, Milt Zolotow. First, I couldn’t believe I was in the same room with Milt. Secondly, he was standing right next to the words, “Fuck You,” that someone has scribbled on the wall. Now I am in the same spot, standing in front of people on the first day of their first class. I make sure there are not swear words on the wall next to me. The hard part of CD1 is helping students realize great concepts when they may not have the technical skills yet. But, when they pull it all together, the results are spectacular.

The final project is designed to push their limits and force some introspection, rather than simply making nice jam labels. The assignment is to design a poster for a fictional conference that is about dangerous ideas. The students determine what idea is dangerous for them. The best results come from someone taking a risk. The solutions that fail are usually safe and nice, and that’s all. I’d rather someone tackles a really difficult issue and go down in flames, than do something “nice.” For months I hammer on “less is more,” “make it clear,” “why is that there?” “What does it mean?” and “No bold serifs.” Then I throw a curve ball and ask someone who is twenty years old to tell everyone his or her deepest issues. That’s the fun in teaching.

Pamela Abolian, Wedding Shower Game

Jacqueline Jiang, chicken cage poster

Katrina Hercules, TSA Airport search poster

Natalie Liu, Eating Disorder body image poster

Yorel Porcile, Immigration issues poster


Higher Education

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Michelle Cho, LAX identity poster

My first teaching assignment was at Art Center in 1992. Yes, I am that old. At times, I felt like I was banging my head against a concrete wall, but for the last several years, it’s my favorite part of my job. Of course, there are still times when I’d like to throw a chair, but as someone who is there to encourage, inspire, and educate, that would be bad.

Last term’s Communication Design 4 class was a particularly exciting group. Yes, there was the typical range of students: amazing and dedicated, just fine, and stoners (I’m sure everyone is on the pot). This group was heavily slanted toward the amazing side. The class is about research, strategy, identity, systems, and application across multiple media. Thank God I didn’t have to take this in school. It’s hard. I did assignments like a coffee table book version of The Preppy Handbook.

Hanlu Cao made an incredible identity for China Broadcasting based on a changeable Chinese tangram. Shana Torok’s system for MOCA is a circus of energy and ideas. Ellen Flaherty took Bombay Gin and gave it a fresh life. Some of the programs challenged the idea of identity, like Michelle Cho’s poster for a new LAX system. And some were fantastic, stable, and beautiful old school logos like Bo Yeoung Han’s Fuji id. I love Lily Gregorian’s poster for LAX with Betty White and the slogan “Deal with it.” And Paul Hoppe’s identity for the sausage restaurant Wurstkuche, with a logo made from cut paper is genius..

But, nobody should get a fat head. I still felt like throwing chairs when an assignment was late, or my instructions were not followed explicity.

Michelle Cho, LAX identity system

Shana Torok, MOCA identity poster

Shana Torok, MOCA identity system

Hanlu Cao, China Broadcasting logo

Hanlu Cao, China Broadcasting motion sequence

Bo Yeoung Han, Fuji film logo

Bo Yeoung Han, Fuji film campaign

Bo Yeoung Han, Fuji film identity system

Sasha Salehi, Macy's identity poster

Ellen Flaherty, Bombay Gin mobile application

Ellen Flaherty, Bombay Gin identity system

Scott West, Chateau Marmont web application

Scott West, Chateau Marmont identity system

Lily Gregorian, LAX identity poster

Paul Hoppe, Wurstkuche identity poster

Paul Hoppe, Wurstkuche identity system

Mash-up o’ Crap

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Technicolor envelope, 1972

I have a big plastic bin labeled “Favorite Things”. This bin is filled with; you guessed it, our favorite things. Every few months I go through the bin and weed out the garbage. It seems that the Favorite Things bin can become a dumping ground for any item that has no home. If you came into the office and found the bin, you would probably say, “Whoa, what a bunch of crap.” I imagine Michael Bierut’s Favorite Things bin filled with beautiful items designed by Massimo Vignelli, Paula Scher, and Woody Pirtle. Bill Drenttel and Jessica Helfand’s box has rare books by Paul Klee, Alvin Lustig, and Paul Rand. Michael Vanderbyl must have a box filled with a magnificent collection of classic black and white photography.

Our bin, as you can imagine, is filled with Dixie Cups, a piece of wallpaper with a repeat pattern of antique cars, 1972 maps of Berlin from a European Bus company, and other worthless artifacts. Today, I will begin the slow reveal of the items. Today’s mash-up of crap is a 1964 travel pack of Kleenex Tissues, a Technicolor brand envelope, a lovely package of napkin/guest towels, and a Dinah’s Fried Chicken menu. Don’t say you can’t find the height of western culture here at the cabin.

package of guest napkins, 1968

travel pack of Kleenex Tissues, 1964

Dinah's Fried Chicken menu, Glendale

Screaming at the Car Wash

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Help me! Help me! Buy Candy!

Do it Now! You're going to die! Your family is in danger!!

Your car is a ticking time bomb! Sell it now!

There are a few constants that clients share. First, they have tight budgets and not much time. Of course, what kind of fool would say, “I’ve got tons of cash and all the time in the world.” Second, they always give the wrong assignment. This is because clients can only suggest a solution they have seen before. In reality, a 4” x 9” brochure is not the best answer for every project. And finally, they want every message to be important.

The problem for us, as designers, is to work within budget and time constraints, solve the bigger issue, not just the symptom, and determine which messages take priority. I know this last point seems easy, but even I, after a ton o’ years doing this, find myself besieged and confused when told that every message on the page is more important than the next. Falling into this trap leads to the kind of design typically seen at the car wash. I know some people will say, “That’s a vernacular idiom that demands appropriation.” Okay, but to me these ads scream,” Look here! No, over here! No this is more important!” So how can you avert this fall into disgrace?

I have a simple rule about typographic hierarchy. We can prioritize information in many ways by changing the following:

Only one, really only one

What I do is to pick one of these, and only one. For example, if I’m using 12 point Univers 75 and I need to highlight the headline, I change the size to 24 point. But that’s it. I don’t change the font, style, weight, and color. Now if that’s still not enough, I might be crazy and add color. When I explain this to a client, I pull out one of the car wash ads as an example of hierarchical chaos. And I reassure them that every message is important, and people respond best to being spoken to in a reasonable tone, not like, “LOOK HERE YOU STUPID SOB!!!”

When every message is equally important

Restrained type, AdamsMorioka, California Community Foundation

It’s a Small World

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

DDB, Volkswagen ad, 1968

When I was in school, I was taught this: if you want to sell the cake, show the cake. And, then I was told to break that rule when needed. A great example of this is the comparison of an Edsel ad and a classic DDB Volkswagen ad. The Edsel ad, while trying hard, is, well, stupid. It shows the Edsel, tells us some nice information, and begs us to buy one. The 1961 Volkswagen ad confidently sends the message that “you’re cool enough to get it.” It’s the same tactic that Starbucks uses when it makes cups with only an icon, or creates a faux language for the sizes of the cups. This lets us feel that we’re part of a special group, and we “get it” because we know what venti (Gigantic and will make you shake) means.

I’ve heard people argue about “intelligent design” and evolution. The Volkswagen ads prove that evolution is not true. If it were, then car ads would now be even better. But alas, they look more like the Edsel ad than VW. I don’t really understand the “intelligent design” idea. The Volkswagen ads are intelligent and they are designed. This must what they mean when they talk about intelligent design.

Showing the cake: Edsel ad, 1958

DDB, Volkswagen ad, 1960s

DDB, Volkswagen ad, 1960s

DDB, Volkswagen ad, 1960s

DDB, Volkswagen ad, 1960s

DDB, Volkswagen ad, 1960s

DDB, Volkswagen ad, 1960s

DDB, Volkswagen ad, 1960s

DDB, Volkswagen ad, 1960s