When More is Not Enough

December 5th, 2014 by Sean
Lingscars.com

Lingscars.com

You know how teachers are always saying, “I love teaching, the students teach me as much as I teach them.”? It’s true. Yes, in a high-falutin’ idealistic way, but usually in odd and unexpected knowledge. This week, I learned that raping an old person is called “grape” after “grandparent rape”. I learned that I could turn off that annoying double click isolate feature in Illustrator. And I learned the worse thing a young man can say to a woman is, “Make me a sandwich.” I don’t know why. I’d be happy to make someone a sandwich, it doesn’t seem that egregious.

The absolute most exciting piece of information was lingscars.com.. Nicole Jacek pointed me to this site ages ago, but I lost it. My students in Type Design 5 found it for me. I’m sure I’m behind the curve on this one. Everyone already probably knows about it, but humor a square designer who spends time looking at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection. Lingscars.com is the most incredible website ever designed. It has everything from singing people, a Darth Vader mask, a walking chicken, and flight attendants doing a safety demo. If that isn’t enough, the code is genius.

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Frozen

December 4th, 2014 by Sean
Blake Little Preservation, Sean Adams, designer, 2014

Blake Little Preservation, Sean Adams, designer, 2014

One of my favorite clients is Blake Little. I’ve known Blake for twenty years. He’s the first call I make when I need a remarkable photographer for a project. Blake is also able to make me look halfway decent in photographs. The upside of this is that I look good in a headshot, the downside is that someone meets me in person and says, “oh, hmm.”

A few years ago, Blake asked me to design his book, Dichotomy, followed by The Company of Men, and Manifest. I’d love to say they are incredibly challenging, but this is proof that it’s hard to go wrong with great content.

Blake’s most recent book, Preservation, is about to be released and there will be an exhibition of the work at the Kopeikin Gallery in February. Blake’s work has an inherent sense of energy. Whether it’s a piercing gaze, or coiled strength, or kinetic motion, the subjects share an intensity of power. The Preservation images have the same quality, but in this case, the energy and motion is frozen. The subjects appear to be unexpectedly trapped in amber. The result is a cross between a Rodin sculpture and frozen figures from Pompeii.

I thought I was being radically alternative to create an ultra-rigid grid and system for the typography as a counterpoint to the fluid imagery. But I have a feeling it’s an instance of a designer getting caught up in the tiny details and saying, “But don’t you see, the missing cross-bar on the ‘A’ changes the meaning entirely.”

Blake6 Blake5 Blake4 Blake3 Blake2 Blake1Dichotomy Dichitomy2CompanyManifest

 

Please Remain Seated

November 23rd, 2014 by Sean
Bjorn Aronson, 1956

Bjorn Aronson, 1956

Lester Beall, 1937

Lester Beall, 1937

I was cleaning out my garage yesterday and a neighbor stopped by to say hello. The door of my garage leads into my rumpus room (yes it’s knotty pine, no we don’t play bridge in there). There are several Disneyland attraction posters in the rumpus room and she saw them on the wall. “Oh, I love your posters,” she said, “I mean I really, really love them.” I thanked her and then worried she might come back with a weapon.

This happens anytime anyone sees them. Even hardened academic post-modern/critical theory obsessed designer types like them. “Hmm, that isn’t bad, I guess,” they say.

Why is that? First, they are remarkably well designed. Second, they’re big and people like big things. Third, they remind the viewer of a good experience. And finally, they tap into the common iconography of travel and adventure.

So, let’s start with the influences. The Disneyland Hotel poster (above) borrows arrows from Beall’s Rural Electrification poster, and geometric shapes from Russian Constructivism.

Clearly the WPA National Parks posters informed the design of many of the Disneyland attraction posters. The illustration style is representational. Larger than life scale defines the space. Dramatic lighting and bold colors dominate. The Grand Canyon Diorama poster is a close cousin to the See America poster.

Early American modernism, ala Lester Beall and Joseph Binder, is related with stylistic elements such as arrows and the use of implied perspective created with scale. The Skyway poster’s perspective employs the same device of extreme scale as the Binder Air Corps U.S. Army poster.

The idea of a strong foreground combined with a distant vista links the Frontierland and The National Parks WPA poster. The color choices in both examples veer from the expected, a sunny blue sky or water, to more dramatic options such as an orange sky on the WPA poster and ochre water on the Frontierland poster. Flat color and simple shapes define a silkscreened process in both examples.

Most important, however, is the inclusion of narrative. The posters promise a story. They exhibit bobsledding with super tan people, dangling from a thin wire on a gondola, or braving wild animals through the Grand Canyon Diorama. Each poster conveys a sense of time, place, and typically makes the viewer part of the action.

Yes, this has been an adventure through a serious dissertation on Disneyland attraction posters. But there is no cause for alarm. We have concluded this post, and future posts will return to less words.

Paul Hartley, 1958

Paul Hartley, 1958

WPA, 1938

WPA, 1938

Bjorn Aronson, 1955

Bjorn Aronson, 1955

WPA, 1938

WPA, 1938

Bjorn Aronson, 1955

Bjorn Aronson, 1955

Lucien Bernhard, 1916

Lucien Bernhard, 1916

Pau Hartley, 1959

Pau Hartley, 1959

Herbert Matter, 1936

Herbert Matter, 1936

Bjorn Aronson, 1956

Bjorn Aronson, 1956

Joseph Binder 1941

Joseph Binder 19

Paul Hartley, 1961

Paul Hartley, 1961

Max Huber, 1948

Max Huber, 1948

Ken Chapman, 1967

Ken Chapman, 1967

Man Ray, 1938

Man Ray, 1938

The History of Joy

November 18th, 2014 by Sean
Jean Carlu, 1929

Jean Carlu, 1929

As some of you know, my most recent course on Lynda.com launched yesterday. This one, Fundamentals of Graphic Design History, was incredibly fun to make. I was challenged to create a course that would provide the basics of design history and make it interesting. I could have gone down the track of, “This is a poster by Jean Carlu in 1929. It has an umbrella. Next slide.” But I’m interested in why Jean Carlu made this poster, what was happening culturally, and why it works.

I assume most people think about history as a horrible task, tainted by boring lectures on the War of 1812 in high school. So, how could I make this subject relevant and communicate my passion for the subject. No I don’t jump up and down and get overly excited. I simply laid out the facts. The more you see, the larger your visual vocabulary adds to your design skills. It’s as if writers were told to not bother reading Dickens or Twain. “Oh don’t bother with those, they’re old. Just read wikipedia. That’s good enough for a writing education.”

There’s also the joy factor. We all share that same feeling of pleasure when we see something wonderful or discover a new idea. So I designed the course to explain what was happening politically and culturally and how that led to the choices made in design. Why did the Bauhaus designers reject decoration? Why did the Fillmore posters refer to Alice in Wonderland? Why did the Nazis barge into Jan Tschichold’s apartment and arrest him and his wife?

Of course there is another version, the Vanity Fair course, that has all the secrets and juicy rumors. But that will need to wait until I’m older or can make up stuff and not get caught.

Michael Vanderbyl, 2009

Michael Vanderbyl, 2009

Deborah Sussman, 1984

Deborah Sussman, 1984

Liedenthal, 1967

Liedenthal, 1967

George Tscherny, 1959

George Tscherny, 1959

Jan Tschichold, 1930

Jan Tschichold, 1930

Iwao Yamawki, 1932

Iwao Yamawki, 1932

Alfonse Mucha, 1894

Alfonse Mucha, 1894

Books on Fire

October 25th, 2014 by Sean
FHK Henrion The Complete Designer

FHK Henrion The Complete Designer

I am quite proud of my most recent project, to build a bookcase in my office at home. It still needs some trim work, but the books are in and nothing has collapsed. The most surprising aspect of the project was how many books I had. Who knew? These are only the design books, there are other bookcases in the house with more. I had quite a few duplicates that I tried donating to the Art Center library, but they didn’t need them. I didn’t want to throw the books away. I considered burning them in the driveway and telling my neighbors they were evil books: Catcher in the Rye, etc.. But I left them in a box on the curb, and they were gone in an hour.

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from buying more. One of my favorite publishers is Unit Editions. It’s a collaboration between Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook in London. They focus on books with incredibly high quality and remarkable content. Rather than producing 25,000 copies of a book about business cards on cheap paper, Unit Editions publishers smaller quantities that will last for generations.

When I hear people ramble on about sustainable practices and how they used recycled paper for their brochure I nod approvingly. But, in the end, isn’t the truly sustainable action to create an artifact that will be used, saved, and not thrown in the trash?

As Lou Danziger told us as students, “Stop buying drugs. Buy books instead.” Very good advice, although as a student, I was spending my money on Cup o’ Noodles not drugs.

After

After

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Total Design and its pioneering role in graphic design

Total Design and its pioneering role in graphic design

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

Supergraphics — Transforming Space

FHK Henrion The Complete Designer

FHK Henrion The Complete Designer

Herb Lubalin American Graphic Designer

Herb Lubalin American Graphic Designer

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Manuals 1 Design & Identity Guidelines

Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90) Restless typographer

Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90) Restless typographer

Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90) Restless typographer

Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90)
Restless typographer

Essays: Scratching the Surface Adrian Shaughnessy

Essays: Scratching the Surface
Adrian Shaughnessy

Ken Garland  Structure and Substance

Ken Garland
Structure and Substance

Ken Garland  Structure and Substance

Ken Garland
Structure and Substance

Supernew Supergraphics

Supernew Supergraphics

Type Only

Type Only