Ho in Hawaii

July 29th, 2014 by Sean
Blackwood Brothers Quartet, Paradise Island, album cover

Blackwood Brothers Quartet, Paradise Island, album cover

 

Hawaiian Polka Tour, album cover

Hawaiian Polka Tour, album cover

I was waiting with my nephew, Chance, outside the Haunted Mansion and asked him about his favorite bands. Of course I didn’t expect to know any of the ones he said; he’s a teenager. When he asked me, I told him I liked older music like Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney.

I’m sure this felt like talking to someone from ancient Mesopotamia to him, but he’s always polite, and said, “I like them too.” I didn’t reveal the more embarrassingly uncool truth, that I like cheesy Hawaiian music. Sure I appreciate the authentic Hawaiian music, but I have a soft spot for the schlocky stuff.

I buy many of these records at Amoeba Records. They’re always in the 99 cent bin, or left outside to be taken away free. Clearly there is low demand for Don Ho’s Hawaii-Ho (which is not about prostitutes on Waikiki).

Yes, sometimes they are too bad, even for me. The Blackwood Brothers Quartet album cover reads as either a gay wedding or white party, but it turned out to be gospel music in a Hawaiian style. I don’t know what happened to the actual record, but the cover for Hawaiian Polka Tour with Eddie Blazonczyck’s Versatones is remarkable. You can’t ignore the Jim Jones style portrait on the cover.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of the design is not half bad. Alfred Apaka’s Hawaiian Favorites, the Ilikai Hotel’s Music of Hawaii, and of course, Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii are classics. There’s some good letterforms too. I assume the message with these is, “primitive, wacky, and carefree.” That sounds like my normal weekend.

Ilikai Hotel Music of Hawaii, album cover

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Alfred Apaka, Hawaiian Favorites, album cover

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Refined Manners

July 24th, 2014 by Sean
London Guide, Herb Lester Associates, Anna Hurley, 2013

London Guide, Herb Lester Associates, Anna Hurley, 2013

Here’s one of the differences between being a surgeon and a designer: surgeons are required to be meticulous and have an OCD level to details. If they are, in most probability, people live and have healthy outcomes. Designers are required to be meticulous and have an OCD level to details also. If we are, nobody except another OCD designer notices. The upside is that bad word-spacing doesn’t kill people.

I can spend hours kerning the crap out of a headline. Does anyone apart from me care, or notice? Probably not. We zoom in to a gazillion percent to make sure a point is absolutely precise, obsess over the difference between Adobe Bodoni and Monotype Bodoni. But of we didn’t, we’d be slobs and hack designers, and it wouldn’t be as much fun.

Herb Lester Associates produces a wonderful collection of guides to different cities. Let’s face it, most city guides look like the Map to the Stars Homes. The Herb Lester guides are not only pertinent to travelers who prefer something more interesting than mobbed, but are detailed to death. Every tiny piece of type has been considered. The illustrations are wonderful and change from map to map. I know the designers were working on a the files at 400%, and it shows. Even the packing tape on the envelope is a work of art (which I plan to steal).

In this instance, I noticed. Every thoughtful and beautifully crafted detail adds to the overall extraordinariness of the guides. The lesson here, go ahead and fine tune the shit out of the details. If only one person in the world sees it, you’ve succeeded.

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Mutilated Bodies

July 14th, 2014 by Sean
Herb Lubalin poster, Davida Typeface, Louis Minott, 1965

Herb Lubalin poster, Davida Typeface, Louis Minott, 1965

Some fonts are bad. They are like that photo of a horrible car crash that you can never unsee. It’s not because they are cursed or especially ugly (well, some are), it’s because they have been mutilated and left to die. As I’ve grown older, I’m drawn to typefaces that may, perhaps, strain the limits of good taste.

Last week, I used Davida, designed by Louis Minott in 1965, on an annual report project. Noreen suggested I was not following the corporate system and could be opening the door to future infractions. I saw it as adding some zest and excitement. I see so much good taste sans-serif typography on a daily basis that I’m starving for something wrong.

The problem was getting a good cut of Davida. The original is really well drawn and formed. But someone along the way discovered it in the bin of forgotten typefaces and beat it regularly. The digital version is a far cry from where it began. It’s been around the block. My only choice is to redraw it myself and try to save it.

The lesson here is to find the original version of any font, see what it was meant to be before someone redrew it in a dark basement. I pledge to continue to rehabilitate Davida regardless of the current typographic style du jour.

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The Friendly Swiss

July 8th, 2014 by Sean
Herbert Matter, Swiss travel poster, 1932

Herbert Matter, Swiss travel poster, 1932

There are two sayings in Hollywood that I like: “The ass you kick on the way up is the one you kiss on the way down,” and “Blame others, take credit, deny everything.” I know quite a few people that live by the motto of blame, credit, etc., and ignore the ass kicking advice. I’ve known fine designers who, after the first taste of fame, became heinous and awful divas making demands and driving kind conference organizers to tears. And I know fine designers who have been famous for years and are the first to wrestle credit away from others. My friend, John Bielenberg, suggested I start a magazine or blog that is like Vanity Fair of the design world, telling all the stories. That sounds fun, but I’d like to keep at least the few friends I still have.

Conversely, I am endlessly amazed at the down to earth, generous nature of some of the industries legends. 90% of them are just good people, willing to help others, devote time, and always have a funny story at dinner. From what I understand, Herbert Matter was one of the least pompous designers in the field. I’ve never heard anything that paints him as difficult or negative. From all accounts, he was a true mensch. You wouldn’t expect that from his work. It’s so brilliant and confident that the author would have all the right in the world to be a jerk. But, it’s proof that either we as designers are, on the whole, pretty darned good. Or we’re nitwits and falling behind while other in different professions claw, stab, and blackmail their way to the top.

Don’t be alarmed, three “Herbert” stories in a row does not mean the next one will be about Herbert Hoover.

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Rundschrift

July 4th, 2014 by Sean

 

Herbert Bayer, Die Neue Linie, March 1937

Herbert Bayer, Die Neue Linie, March 1937

Many of you have written and asked, “Sean, do you have any more Herbert Bayer stuff to share?” Of course I do. Who knew there were so many Bayer fans? I thought nobody had any concept of anything pre-Brady Bunch, so this is a wonderful discovery. I don’t have any snapshots or scandalous photos of Herb doing some wacky thing during Octoberfest, but I’ve got type. For your holiday weekend enjoyment, here are some of Bayer’s typeface designs.

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