Stationery: spelled with an “e” for envelope

June 30th, 2014 by Sean
Herbert Bayer, Letterhead Design, 1932

Herbert Bayer, Letterhead Design, 1932


My friend, Kathy McCoy, recently asked if I had any Herbert Bayer images from his Colorado days. She checked with Lou Danziger who pointed out that we were the caretakers of his monumental slide archive of graphic design. After I pulled everything together, it was obvious that Bayer designed a lot of stationery, and I mean a lot.

The world is screaming insanely, “Print is dead, print is dead, the end is near!”  People may not be using letterhead for a casual note that can work on email, but they still use it in more formal situations. The good part of this is that clients want the best stationery with the options, not the down and dirty cheapest one. Now it really matters.

Bayer designed most of these at the Bauhaus and before he emigrated to the United States. The letterheads are all asymmetrical, use the golden section as a guide, and are designed for functionality. Since Modernism demanded that functional should be paramount, this makes sense.

When I design a letterhead I like to help the user also; add a short rule to delineate the fold, put a bullet where the date is typed, and guides that identify the margin.

Bayer takes this a little more seriously by identifying the location of every type of information. I’m certain that nobody tried to use too small of a margin or fail to line the date up with the type. I get the sense that this would have been a pretty serious infraction and all hell would break loose in the halls of the Bauhaus.


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Sense and Sensibility

June 26th, 2014 by Sean
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Foundations of Layout and Composition: Marketing Collateral

Call me old-fashioned, but I think it’s important for a designer to know certain basic issues like the size of a business card and what information belongs on an envelope. Nevertheless, I see a great number of portfolios that have envelopes with phone and fax numbers, business cards that are unwieldy and oddly sized, and examples of 3-dimensional promotion that goes against the laws of physics. No this isn’t the fault of the owner of the portfolio. Clearly nobody took the time to explain these basic issues. I’m guilty of this myself. I’ve often talked to students and assumed someone else already taught them the information.

So, I can complain and be the cranky designer who laments that world isn’t what it was when I was a youngster, or I can help. When the good folks at asked me what course I’d like to do next, I suggested we dig deeper into basic issues of layout and composition and move into the stuff we make. Foundations of Layout and Composition: Marketing Collateral gave me a chance to start at the beginning with issues like audience, determining a budget, and what items to produce. I then added basic information on business cards, letterhead, swag, 3-d promotion, and posters.

I’m hoping the examples I use are interesting and inspiring. I rounded up some of my favorite firms like Eight and a Half and Modern Dog. But the main goal is to explain simply the most basic information with collateral. Don’t get me wrong; I’m fine with something being unexpected. In fact it should be. But it’s best when you know why it’s not ordinary. Nobody should be in the position that I witnessed a couple of weeks ago:

Me: Why did you decide to make the letterhead a unique size?

Designer: What?

Me: I’m not sure that a 5×7 card is a poster. What was your intention?

Designer: What?

Me: Is the envelope mailable? It looks like it will fall apart and cost a ton in postage.

Designer: Why are you so mean?

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Tunnel of Love

June 23rd, 2014 by Sean

People say the 1950s were uptight and squeaky clean. But if you’ve seen Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back, it’s clear that people had filthy minds. They are both filled with innuendo and shocking comments. Both have the same plot: Rock Hudson and Doris Day hate each other, but only know each other by talking on the phone; they’ve never met. When he sees her in person, he takes on a false identity to woo her. She falls in love with the fake version and he subtly convinces her to have sex/get married. That part’s a little murky. She’s a good girl and seems petrified of any sexual situation. I think she was supposed to be a virgin, since she’s unmarried. But she’s a little long in the tooth for that. So it appears that she has a psychological issue such as repressed memory or PTSD.

Lover Come Back takes place in the advertising world. It’s one of those great Hollywood versions where campaigns are fully develop, products are redesigned, and copious research happens in an hour. I love the idea of an “Ad Council” that is a court determining ethical issues and can eject someone from the advertising world. I don’t that’s legal, and certainly wouldn’t fly with AIGA. But, there’s still time and I could do something especially heinous.

Raindrops on Roses

June 20th, 2014 by Sean

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Watching Glass

June 19th, 2014 by Sean
Cary Grant cool glasses

Cary Grant cool glasses

I have a bad habit of buying the same item repeatedly. It’s not as if I decide I need a few of the same shirt. I forget I have these items and keep buying more. I have a massive amount of khakis and blue Sperry sneakers. Each time I see them I think, “Hmm, now those are pretty nice.” I have every possible kind of madras shirt, as if anyone would notice one from the other. And I have way too many eyeglasses. There is a store in Pasadena, Old Focals, which is rather like a heroin den would be to others. I keep buying the same few styles of glasses over and over. Just this morning, I thought, “I like those glasses Harry Hamlin wears on Mad Men. I need to go get me some of those.” Of course, I already have several just like them.

And why vintage glasses? I can’t get on board with some of those groovy new styles. I don’t want to look like I’m a DJ or hip-hop star, although it’s doubtful anyone would make that error. If sturdy eyebrow glasses were good enough for my grandfather, and thick simple frames worked for Cary Grant, that’s good enough for me.

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