Archive for June, 2011

The Shape of Air

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

A.M. Cassandre, Dole Pineapple ad, 1938

There are not too many things in life that make me angry. I like to think I am fairly even. Those of you close to me can stop snickering. But, there are a couple of things that make me furious. I want to slug someone when I’m doing a lecture at school, and he or she is texting or working on the computer. I know they aren’t taking notes; they’re shopping or chatting with friends.  I hate people who drive with the seat so far forward that they are two inches from the steering wheel, and think 15 mph is too fast. And I really get mad when I suggest that a student takes time to look at the work of someone, and they don’t, and their project still sucks the next week.

When anyone is having trouble with shapes, I send them to look at A.M. Cassandre’s work. When I was in school, Lou Danziger did the same for me. I did take time to look and it was one of those epiphanic moments in life. A.M.Cassandre worked in Paris from the early 1920s until his death in 1968. His work took elements of Cubism, Futurism, Art Deco, and Bauhaus Modernism and molded them into a unique form. The posters look effortless and fluid, but they are held together with rigor and structure. He had a remarkable sense of scale. The small flock of birds at the waterline on the Normandie poster creates a heroic scale. His Dole Pineapple posters are as sensual as a Georgia O’Keefe painting. It is his sense of shape that is genius. Liquid and solid, effortless and exact, the shapes create harmony and balance. So, if I suggest looking at Cassandre, the subtext is “Your shapes are awful.”

Images from the Louis Danziger Collection

A.M. Cassandre, poster for SS Normandie, 1935

A.M. Cassandre, Dole Pineapple ad, 1938

A.M. Cassandre, poster for Pathé Records, 1932

A.M. Cassandre, poster for SS Statendam, 1928

A.M. Cassandre, poster for Dutch Industrial Exhibition, 1928

A.M. Cassandre, poster for Etoile du Nord, 1927

A.M. Cassandre, poster for Nord Express, 1927

A.M. Cassandre, grid structure for Nord Express, 1927

The Sunset Years

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Sunset Magazine, 1970

I was flying to New York a recently, and one of the designers at AdamsMorioka gave me a DVD she thought I’d enjoy. I can’t recall the name, but it was a 1960s movie about a women’s motorcycle gang. It was funny in the way really terrible films, like Showgirls, are. Everything was fine until the rape scene in the women’s prison. It took me a couple of minutes to recognize that everyone around me on the plane was looking at my computer in horror. I had accidentally been watching soft-core porn in the American Airlines Business Class cabin. Bad form. I turned it off, and wondered if it was illegal to watch porn on an airplane.

Reading material is potentially as dangerous. The person next to me is always pretending to stretch so they can see what I’m reading. I should bring Devil Worship: Simple Satanic Rituals, but they are usually history books like Accommodating Revolutions: Virginia’s Northern Neck in an Era of Transformations, 1760-1810. Other passengers have groovy magazines like Dwell, or Wallpaper. I don’t understand these. There are lots of people living barefoot in houses with plywood cabinets. I bring Sunset magazine.

I love Sunset. If you live in the American west and enjoy gardening, you get Sunset. I love the how to projects, and the affordable, and sensible good taste. But, I especially love the logo. For a time, Sunset took a slight detour, but under Mia Daminato they’ve returned to the classic script. Too often recently, organizations abandon a beautiful mark in favor of something with chrome and highlights. Sunset’s decision to return to the 1937 logo is smart and brave. I also like that the covers have used beautiful photos of Lake Tahoe, or a picnic. Nobody is offended when I pull Sunset magazine out of my bag on an airplane. That’s better than leaving an issue of Juggs on a plane (true story via my sister-in-law, an American Airlines flight attendant).

Sunset Magazine, 1978

Sunset Entryways, 1950s

Sunset Magazine, 1940

Sunset Magazine, 1939

Sunset Magazine, 1943

Sunset Magazine, 1949

Sunset Magazine, 1937

Sunset Barbecue Cook Book, 1950s

Sunset Mosaics, 1950s

Sunset Magazine, 1938

When Little Things Hurt

Monday, June 27th, 2011

1955 BMW Isetta

Noreen has a Smart Car. It’s surprisingly large on the inside, but terrifyingly small outside. I’ve heard that it is safe because it will behave like a ping-pong ball in an accident. That doesn’t sound safe to me. Noreen enjoys it, but I suspect she likes being morally superior to me.  I drive a giant car. Yes, I know, I’m bad. I’m evil. I’m going to hell. Got it.

If the Smart Car is like a ping-pong ball, the BMW Isetta was a death bubble. It’s cute as all get out, but that front door that opened forward is scary. You have a minor rear end collision with the car in front of you. The door won’t open out and the car blows up. You drive into a lake. It’s impossible to get leverage to open the front door. You drown. A Volkswagen beetle gently bumps into you. You slam into a wall. There are no airbags or seatbelts. Bad.

Nevertheless, the BMW Isetta looks wonderful. In 1955, BMW needed a profitable car. The BMW 502 was three times the standard wage in Germany, so not a big seller.

The Italian scooter manufacturer Iso was producing the Isetta (literally, “little Iso”). It looked like a tiny mobile egg. The entire front end of the car hinged outwards to open. Oddly, the driver and passenger were expected to escape through the canvas sunroof in the midst of an accident. It wasn’t too speedy. The Isetta took over 30 seconds to reach 30mph. BMW took over the manufacturing rights and launched the Isetta in 1955. The Isetta fit a tight post-war European economy. It got 60 mpg, and BMW increased the top speed to 50 mph. It was small and could fit on Europe’s smaller streets.

In 1964, BMW ceased production. Europe’s economy had recovered, and there was a need for larger cars. Now that everyone has a hankering for small electric cars, perhaps it’s time to bring it back. This time without the opening in front of the passenger, and a giant steering wheel death column.

Noreen's Smart Car

BMW Isetta, 1955

BMW Isetta, 1955

BMW Isetta, 1955

BMW Isetta, 1955

BMW Isetta, 1955

BME Isetta, advertisement

BMW Isetta, interior, 1955

Snowflakes from Hell

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Walter Ballmer, Olivetti advertisement, 1970

My friend, Terry Lee Stone, introduced me to the term, “special snowflake.” This applies to young people who have attitude problems. Typically, for their entire lives they were told, “You’re special. You’re unique. You can do no wrong. There is no such thing as competition, everyone is a winner.” So they start college and are shocked when they are told to do a project over, or that their solution is not world changing. Oddly, there is competition in the world. Oddly, some people are better than us at something. Part of the problem is society’s need to celebrate every aspect of a child’s life.

Now I know there will be huge outcry over my next opinion, but the truth must be told. I believe in positive reinforcement. But I do not understand the graduating ceremony for the end of grammar school and middle school. Graduating from high school is an achievement. Some people don’t. Unless you are taken to live in a Unabomber cabin in the woods, everyone will automatically move from grammar school to middle school, and middle school to high school. There is no choice, and no risk of not achieving this. So, why have a graduation celebration?

This leads me to typewriters (I know it’s disjointed, but imagine living in my head all day). When I started high school, my parents gave me a portable red Olivetti Underwood typewriter. They did not throw a big party for my ability to pass the 8th grade. They didn’t send me on the Grand Tour of Europe for the summer. Sensible and appropriate? Yes.

Olivetti’s commitment to design was inherent in all aspects, from product design to graphic design. The roster of design consultants could have been made by following the AIGA Medalist list. Olivetti’s designers included Bayer, Rand, Lionni, Pintori, and Ballmer. As opposed to other corporations in the 1960s approach to good corporate identity, which was typically a whitewash, Olivetti’s made design part of every aspect of the company.

Giovanni Pintori, Olivetti Underwood logo, 1963

Walter Ballmer, Olivetti booklet cover, 1966

Ettore Sottsass, Olivetti booklet cover, 1970

Giovanni Pintori, Olivetti poster, 1954

Giovanni Pintori, Olivetti poster, 1954

Giovanni Pintori, Olivetti outdoor exhibition

Giovanni Pintori, Olivetti poster, 1947

Herbert Bayer, Olivetti advertisement, 1953

Herbert Bayer, Olivetti poster, 1953

Jean-Michel Folon, Olivetti poster, 1960s

Paul Rand, Olivetti poster, 1953

Paul Rand, Olivetti poster, 1954


Monday, June 20th, 2011


Farenheit 451 title sequence

The typical line used in a 1950s science fiction trailer is, “this could be YOUR future!” Most of the time, they are pretty far off. I haven’t been taken over by pod people. Flying saucers have not bombed Washington D.C. We haven’t started turning dead people into Soylent Green. If you watch Fahrenheit 451, however, they were fairly spot on. Now we don’t travel in monorails and the landscape doesn’t look like an odd post-war European neighborhood, but the television idea is right. Everyone has giant wall mounted monitors. Nobody, except revolutionary intellectuals reads. And the television shows use the audience as part of the program, as in “What do you think… Linda?” or “Vote now on American Idol.”

Whatever your position is on the benefits or evils of reading, the title sequence is magnificent. How do you create titles when the audience can’t read? You can do it with still images of television antennas, solid color, and a voice over. No type, no animation, it’s a simple idea that costs $1.25. But I’ll take this over a million-dollar HD CD sequence that has glossy chrome, flying thingamajigs, and blasting audio. Call me old.