Art Direction


AdamsMorioka, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, book cover

There is a rather severe difference of opinion about using a cliché in the design world. I like them. They are clichés because we all understand them. As long as the idea is presented in an unexpected way, it’s all good with me. An arrow is cliché. “Oh, Sean,” I’ve heard, “Arrows are so 20th-century.” But, why be oblique and complicated when it is so easy to point someone in the right direction?

Arrows are wonderful because they are symbols that command. The viewer is not being asked, “Would you prefer to turn right, perhaps?” An arrow screams, “TURN RIGHT! TURN NOW!” How many other symbols can do that? Lester Beall introduced me to the wonderful world of arrows. Not, Lester, personally, but through Lou Danziger’s vast historical knowledge. At a time when design was racing faster toward more is more with less and less clarity, the arrow was a revelation. The zeitgeist of that time was , “make less with more.” I wanted to make more with less (follow me? More meaning, less stuff.). I could put an arrow on a poster next to a headline and the viewer would read this first. Who knew?

Unfortunately, arrows are a temptation. Like all wonderful things, too much is not good. Judicious usage is needed. As Groucho Marx said: “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”


Mieczlaw Berman, collage, 1927


Herbert Bayer, sketch for a poster, 1923


Kurt Schwitters, Cover of Merz 11, 1924


Jan Tschichold, film poster Napoleon, 1927


Lester Beall, Poster for Rural Electrification Agency, 1937


Lester Beall, spread from PM magazine, 1937


Max Huber, poster for a race, 1948


Giovanni Pintori, poster for Olivetti, 1956


Paul Rand, poster, 1965


Shigeo Fukuda, poster for his work, 1971


Tadanoori Yokoo, poster for concert, 1963


Paul Rand, poster, 1948


Paul Rand, Cumins Annual Report, 1976


Chermayeff & Geismar, SeaTrain logo, 1960s


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.