Archive for August, 2011

Such a Tool

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

powder room remade as tool closet

I’ve been trying to decide why I can’t sit still on the weekend. I could sit by the pool and read magazines or history books. I could watch endless hours of I Love Lucy. But I don’t. I relentlessly weed the cactus garden. I touch up paint throughout the house. I reorganize the garage (as my brother says, “reorganize” is the scary word here). I scrub the ceramic tile around the pool. A friend told me I do these things, not because I have an industrious Puritan streak, but as a way to sublimate emotions. This makes sense to me. Unfortunately, I’m not particularly aware of my emotions, so I have no idea what I’m sublimating.

As I pondered this last weekend, I noticed that the tools were a mess. Some were in the garage, some were in the laundry room, and others were in the rumpus room. So I took over one of the closets in the foyer. This closet started life on the 1955 blueprints as a “powder room.” When we first moved in, the closet had a little vanity and mirror, with lambs applying lipstick wallpaper. I guess the idea was to stop in before leaving the house to check makeup application. I desperately tried to save the silence of the lambs wallpaper, but it was falling apart. I installed pegboard, hooks for extension cords, mounting to hang the ladder, and painted everything. I didn’t labor over the paint color; I simply took some extra paint from the paint cabinet. I put a rolling Metroshelf cart in there with shelves for chargers and bins of nails and screws. Now I have easy access to all the tools. No more trudging all over shouting, “Where in the hell is the mallet?”

powder room remade as tool closet

Mule Trail

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Paul Rand, Mechanized Mules of Victory, 1942

I’m often asked, “Sean, how do you manage to have only cool projects?” I could say, “Well, I’m just that wonderful,” but that probably is not the response desired. The truth is that every project has the possibility of being great. Sounds corny, but it’s true. I’ve interviewed young designers who have told me they were only interested in cultural organizations or social causes as clients. To me that sounds worse than working at a poultry plant. I like the diversity of clients in many areas. And I am adamantly opposed to the idea that good design is only design for cultural organizations or social causes.

A good example of a project that might be deemed by someone too highfalutin, “utilitarian, and not my kind of thing,” is the Mechanized Mules of Victory booklet designed by Paul Rand. This is a publication designed in 1942 for the AutoCar Company. AutoCar produced armored vehicles for the war effort. To our highfalutin designer, this would be a double whammy: armored vehicles and an actual corporation. Rand created a book that is as raw and functional. It’s absolutely correct for the subject. The American Typewriter typeface speaks to DIY, mechanized content. The banal images are transformed by the use of silhouettes, repeating images, and solid shapes. It’s a simple two-color printing job with a spiral binding. The binding references notebooks, and technical plans. The composition is rigid and unbending, but the pagination of the pages keeps the book alive.

The next time you’re asked to work on a dog kennel catalogue, or dental tool brochure, don’t say, “I’m too good for this. Who has the telephone number for Greenpeace?” Make something wonderful.

Paul Rand, Mechanized Mules of Victory, 1942

Paul Rand, Mechanized Mules of Victory, 1942

Paul Rand, Mechanized Mules of Victory, 1942

Paul Rand, Mechanized Mules of Victory, 1942

Paul Rand, Mechanized Mules of Victory, 1942

Paul Rand, Mechanized Mules of Victory, 1942

Paul Rand, Mechanized Mules of Victory, 1942

Paul Rand, Mechanized Mules of Victory, 1942

Paul Rand, Mechanized Mules of Victory, 1942

The Rape of the Bear Logo

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Michael Vanderbyl, logo, California Conservation Center

Typically, I don’t comment on design or events post-twentieth century. Today, however, I set this aside. I’m sure many of you have already received the AIGA Action Alert regarding the copyright infringement paradise Bill Gardner writes beautifully about this at He covers the issues far more eloquently than I could and clearly took notice of yesterday’s post on catchy headlines, “Love thy Logo, Charlatan, Huckster, Moron, Thief.” Bravo to Bill. Yes,, is a remarkable and audacious example of thievery. It’s also a fantastic teaching tool. Teaching why plagiarism is wrong is often like explaining calculus to a housecat. Some get it, others keep repeating, “but I never saw the original CBS eye logo.”

I’m especially proud that one of my best friends has the logo that is best represented. Michael Vanderbyl’s logo for the California Conservation Center is a classic example of flawless craft, message, and function. It’s one of those logos I could never imagine creating. My mind isn’t wired that intelligently. Obviously, the folks at the logo garden feel the same, and have cleverly re-used it as often as possible.

Following AIGA Executive Director, Ric Grefé, here is action all of us should take:

We believe the most powerful response we can make as a community is to demonstrate the profession’s outrage and the threat of clients’ legal action, if the rights to the design belong to the client. Several legal actions are already in process.

Your course of action, immediately:

Check for your own work using the “try it free” button.

If your creative work has been misappropriated, contact Williams (see below), contact your lawyer, contact your client and have your client contact his/her lawyer to make it clear that this is a violation of copyright law.

If your work is not on the site, contact Williams to make it clear that this represents illegal, unethical behavior; that it fails the basic test of decency, common sense or business acumen; and that it also exposes his customers to liabilities for copyright infringement.

Send a copy of your correspondence to

Three possible addresses to use for your correspondence:

LogoGarden, LLC
1011 Centre Road, Suite 322
Wilmington, DE 19805

John Williams
230 Halmerton Drive
Franklin, TN 37069


This is an issue that affects us all and is such an egregious case of violating creative rights that we must take action.

logogarden bear, le style Vanderbyl


logogarden dog and cat, le style Vanderbyl


logogarden dog and cat, le style Vanderbyl

logogarden ducks, le style Vanderbyl

logogarden dog and cat, le style Vanderbyl


Drag Me to Hell

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Star Scandals, 1992

Before TMZ and online gossip sites, there was Star magazine Scandals. Noreen claims I speak like I’m in a 1950s low-end movie. This may be true. From what I’ve been told, “Swell,” is no longer used in everyday language. I’d much rather speak in Star magazine headlines, “I’m not under thirty. I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t need another Hollywood bar designer get-together.” The verbiage is matched only by the design. This is proof that modernism failed. Less is less here, and once is never enough.

Is there a grid? Who cares when Fergie romps topless with her Texas millionaire as her children watch? Are there typographic consistencies? “Princess Caroline’s husband zooms to his doom. Kiss Papa goodbye,” does not need a common type size. The Scandal issue is the design equivalent of “Shock and Awe.” Every page is a barrage of information screaming at the highest volume. Every fact is extreme.

This is how all copy should be written, regardless of the client. The exhibition, Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects, at MOMA should be renamed, “Stalker Machines Terrorize and Attack Innocent Hipsters.” The New York Times should reconsider headlines such as “Obama Administration Calls for Syrian President to Step Down” to “Pres Lashes Out in Furious Rage at Evil Tyrant.” See how much more exciting the news could be.

Star Scandals, Sgt. Pepper cover concept

Star Scandals, fame does have its hardships

Star Scandals, Deco type equals child stars

Star Scandals, Moppet stab

Star Scandals, no image is too low rez

Star Scandals, All cap extravaganza

Star Scandals, Liz slam

Party Like It’s 1968, part 1

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Eric Hill, Winsor & Newton Paints ad

Last week I managed to crash this blog. I don’t know how, but Noreen said I did, so it’s probably true. In rebuilding the cabin, I found the year 1968 to appear more than any other. Now, a good editor would say, “Well, then, let’s make sure we cover other years.” But I say, “Let’s have more.” So prepare yourself.

I don’t know why 1968 shows up so much. It was a pivotal year in American culture. The Cultural Revolution was at its height. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, and Barbarella were released and depicted three distinctly different visions of the future. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago became a firestorm. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. And Richard Nixon was elected President.

In 1968, design had a wonderful combination of smart ideas mixed with a bolder palette and less rigid approach. On the whole, in design, this was the last gasp of the “simple big idea” school. By 1970, design had adopted expressive illustration and more intuitive solutions. If you think I had a personal connection to 1968, like high school graduation, you are wrong. I was four. We lived in the Haight in San Francisco, I was in an experimental co-op nursery school, and the first movie I remember seeing was Barbarella.

Paul Hauge, Dwight Frazier, shopping bag for The Picture Company

Harold F. Walter, More to Love Thee Christmas Greeting

Eric Hill, Winsor & Newton Paints ad

Holger Matthies, Polydor Records