Archive for April, 2012

Bless the Beasts and the Children

Friday, April 27th, 2012

AdamsMorioka, ICCF poster, 2012

People always tell me how funny kids are, “Oh, Jane said the funniest thing last night,” or, “You should have heard him explain how the solar system works. It was so cute.” But I find children to be rather poor at storytelling. I typically get this story, “… and then I put my left sock on…” My grandmother would stop us when we were telling her stories and say, “This is boring.” We learned to plan a conversation with her and avoid stories about outfit options.

One thing I’ve learned is that the most talented people have the best stories and information. Michael Bierut always has something interesting. Michael Vanderbyl has hilarious stories. Marian Bantjes has a wealth of information about subjects I never considered. For example, Marian knows what to call any group of animal. I would say, “Hey, dude, check out that bunch of zebras.” Marian knows this is not a “bunch”, but a dazzle of zebra.

Last week, the International Conservation Caucus Foundation held their annual gala in Washington D.C. We designed a poster for the gala as a tool for children and members of the United States Congress to learn animal group names. Obviously, the actual goal is to raise awareness for the ICCF’s mission to promote the projection of U.S. leadership for international conservation worldwide. It was an honor to have this opportunity, and I know Marian will be proud that I know this information now.

ICCF poster in classroom

The Young and The Restless

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

LA LA LAND from | Yero | on Vimeo.

It’s that time of year again when a new batch of designers lands in the real world. I’ve been told that approximately 30,000 design students graduate each year and enter the market. This sounds terrifying but shouldn’t be. The reality, as in most of life, is that the cream will rise to the top. Out of that huge number, there is a much smaller group dedicated and really talented designers. I was worried as I approached graduation. Lorraine Wild gave me this advice, “if you’re good, willing to work hard, and keep learning, you’ll do well. Nobody good slips through the cracks.” It turns out that this was true; short of those people I know who self-destructed by smoking pot all day.

Here, then, is a slate of amazing designers who graduated last Saturday from Art Center. I know each of them, and can vouch not just for their abilities, but also for their dedication and willingness to work.

However, just to make this clear, I am not an employment service. The last time I posted a group of grads, one of them sent me an email clarifying that she would only work in Los Angeles or San Francisco and would not accept less than $50,000 salary. To this I sent a simple reply, “Not my problem.” Yes, I too can be mean.


Josh Finklea –
Teodros Hailye –
Tyler Hamilton –!home|mainPage
Ben Hickman –
James Ihira –
Kevin Lam –
Scott Langer –
Chanmi Grace Lee –
Chul Lee –
Christian Morin –
Tomo Ogino –
Aldis Ozolins –
Yerem Tagvoryan –


Christian Morin, Chocolate Skateboards

Christian Morin, Crail quote of the day website

Tyler Hamilton, Randsburg

Scott Langer, The French New Wave Cinema Series

Chul Lee, Omnibus Film Festival

Chul Lee, Omnibus Film Festival

Ominbus Film Festival from chul lee on Vimeo.

Kevin Lam, Discovery Science Center

Tomo Ogino, Griffith Observatory identity

Tomo Ogino, Griffith Observatory identity

Chanmi Grace Lee, Architecture and Design Museum

Aldis Ozolins, Winter X Games

Aldis Ozolins, Winter X Games

Josh Finklea, Sonny Grotesque

Ben Hickman, Decca Nashville

Ben Hickman, Decca Nashville


SyFy Summer Identity from T on Vimeo.

The Red and the Black

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

Matthew Liebowitz, promotion, 1947

People often ask me, “Sean, what’s the secret with this whole graphic design thing?” Of course, there is no secret. Or if there is, nobody told me. I can say, however, that a big rule for me is contrast. There is no such thing as too bright, or too much contrast in design. I’m not big on de-saturated colors and soft contrast. Design should be bold. There’s an old saying about teaching a donkey. First you smack it in the head with a two by four, and then give it the message. Now, clearly, I don’t advocate donkey cruelty. But, design is the same. First, get the audience’s attention. Then tell them the story.

Red, white, and black are good choices for contrast and bold statements. I’ve used this combination many times and quite enjoyed it. The danger is looking like a Nazi. The Nazis were rather keen on black and red, so you need to be careful to not appear to be a Facist. Using a little bit of red and a little bit of black isn’t the same thing. Remember: donkey, two-by-four, and big.

Alvin Lustig, book cover, 1940s

Gustav Klustis, poster, 1928

Henry Wolf, Esquire magazine cover, 1955

Henry Wolf, Magazine spread, 1960s

Herbert Matter, Arts and Architecture magazine cover, 1947

AdamsMorioka, Frederator postcard

John Massey, Orchestra Poster, 1960s

Karel Vaca, film poster, 1964

Lester Beall, promotion, 1938

Paul rand, Art Direction magazine cover, 1939

Paul Rand, department store ad, 1947

In a Landscape

Friday, April 13th, 2012

AdamsMorioka, The Eye and The Ear, cover, 1995

We’ve discussed my musical taste here previously. It’s exactly what would be expected: Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, and American patriotic music. Fly Me to The Moon is fine at the office, but I’ve been discouraged from playing John Philip Sousa’s version of The Stars and Stripes Forever. Years ago, when we worked with MTV, I had to nod and pretend I knew who everyone was discussing. Fortunately, Noreen is hip, so she could explain it to me.

There was one music related project, however, that I understood. The Getty Research Institute exhibited a collection of musical notations in 1995. We designed the catalogue. I paid attention in college when experimental twentieth century music was discussed. So I could grasp the idea. Experimental music requires a different type of language to be played correctly. Musical graphic notation allowed for symbols and other forms to convey the information as to how the piece should be played. In some instance, the idea of chance is included with the usage of materials such as multiple layers of acetate.

I may not recognize Nicki Minaj when she is standing in line with me at LAX (I just thought this woman in front of me was oddly overdressed), but I can tell you how the I Ching is an influencer in John Cage’s music.

AdamsMorioka, The Eye and The Ear, 1995

AdamsMorioka, The Eye and The Ear, 1995

John Cage, Music for Piano 1-85, 1952

John Cage, Concert for Piano and Orchestra,1957-58

John Cage, Variations II, 1961

My dad, grandmother, and John Cage, 1986

More More

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine, detail, 1947

Sometimes, too much is not enough. This may seem contradictory to the typical badgering I do about minimalism. The point of minimalism is to use only what is needed and nothing more. And there are instances where quite a bit is needed. A few years ago I went to Hallmark in Kansas City to give a talk. On the tour of the headquarters, I saw the remarkable diorama Alexander Girard designed. Now, I typically, am not a big fan of cute Victorian paper dolls and tiny shoes. But in this context they sure looked good. Mary Blair was genius at combining multiple forms into a cohesive whole.

Alexander Girard, exhibition case, Hallmark headquarters

Mary Blair, mural design

That same skill is evident in a feature Will Burtin designed for Fortune magazine in 1947. This is why the Burtin spreads work: First, there is a clear and strong grid structure. The elements work proportionately with each other. Second, Burtin uses scale to create drama and pacing. The cigar Indian is huge, while the huckster person is small. There are tiny and huge elements. Third, the pages are not a sea of rectangles, or as we like to say, “do not make that look like the wonderful world of rectangles.” Images are silhouetted, odd shapes, or trompe l’oeil. And finally, the color and typography are simple, consistent, and minimal.

However, beware of the temptation here. As you can see, it can be easy to become promiscuous with imagery. You don not want to be a layout slut, adding as many varieties of images and shapes as possible. 

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947