Posts Tagged ‘Saul Bass’

Unsinkable Brown

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

unknown, Buffalo Bill's Wild West

Recently, a client asked for brown as a color option on a project. A couple of years ago, I would have resisted. But, brown has slowly been creeping into my mind. First, I found myself admiring the brown tile at the Honolulu Airport. Then, I decided I should move away from my earthquake safe Melmac dinnerware. So, I bought several settings of Heath Ceramics dinnerware.

The Heath colors are subtle, subtle and subtle. Seeing one brown combined with cream or tan plate convinced me that brown could be alright. Some of my favorite design solutions are brown. Does this mean I’m mellowing, or developing, God forbid, good taste? I still resist any attempt to put brown in bathrooms. Brown wall, tiles, fixtures, or accessories should never be used there. I won’t go into details, but how do you know if someone previously had an “episode” in the bathroom if everything isn’t bright white?

Heath Ceramics dinnerware


Heath Ceramics, plate colors


tile, Honolulu Airport


Reid Miles, Blowin' Country


Tomoko Miho, Nieman Marcus packaging, 1960s


Paul Rand, Idea magazine, 1955


Josef Muller-Brockmann, concert poster, 1955


Saul Bass, Bonjour Tristesse poster, 1959


Will Burtin, Scope magazine, 1951


A bad brown bathroom, 1977


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Stolen Memories

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

AdamsMorioka, 1999

Have you ever accidentally stolen something and felt like Lindsay Lohan or Winona Ryder? I’m not talking about jewelry, scarves, or children. This is about accidental design theft. It happens to everyone, myself included. I’ll finish a project, be quite pleased with it, and then months or years later find the original inspiration. Usually it’s a piece of design that I love, but have filed somewhere in my brain. My unconscious mind must be saying, “Remember that Alvin Lustig poster? Steal that.” Consciously, I simply presume I had a wonderful idea.

When a friend sends me an example of how they were ripped off, I usually tell them “Imitation is the best compliment.” Sometimes it’s obvious, a poster for an event in Alabama looks exactly like one by Marian Bantjes. Or, a student designs a poster for Vertigo and gives me Saul Bass’s poster. On my way to work, I pass a billboard for the band XX’s new album Coexist. It is remarkably similar to a poster we designed for the AIGA Capital Campaign in 1999. Now, I know an “X” is an “X”, and claiming I was copied is like claiming I own the golden section. I’ve decided to use it as an affirmation, that 13 years later, the original poster is super groovy.


The XX poster

The XX poster

AdamsMorioka, 1995

Good to Great, 2001

Alvin Lustig


George Nelson


Alexy Brodovitch


Herbert Bayer


Lou Danziger


Lester Beall


Trademark Secrets

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Paul Rand, UPS logo

Identity design is not easy. Sure you can slam a couple of shapes together and call them a logo. But the core of the issue is perception and building a foundation. Over the last 20 years that we’ve been in business, we’ve been called in repeatedly to take on an identity project after another firm has failed. When I’ve asked to see what didn’t work, I’m given a pile of 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets of paper, each one with a different logo idea. Whether or not any of these were great or awful isn’t relevant. The error was presenting like a smorgasbord of stylistic options.

First, no logo ever lives in a void. Showing a mark on an empty page is deceiving. It will never appear in this setting. Second, persuasion and consensus building is a large part of the job. We take for granted that a client knows all that we know. But they don’t. They only know what they’ve seen already. And they’ve been conditioned to think a logo is a wackadoodle illustration that demonstrates their product. Logos identify, they do not describe. If Apple had made a logo that looked like the first Macintosh, they could never create iTunes, or an iPhone.

Saul Bass told me to never speak about design to a client. He didn’t mean stonewall them when they ask about a typeface or color. The idea is to talk in a language they understand and give them reasons beyond simple aesthetics for your choices.

This is probably stupid of me, and I’m revealing some of our inner processes. But if this process helps another designer solve a problem, we all look better. When we present identities, we walk the client through each step and explain in simple English why we make certain choices. This allows the client to participate in the process and eliminates the perception that designers are just goofballs making pretty shapes. It also creates a document that can speak for itself. So, below, find a typical document we create to present an identity.




Why I Design

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

I learned how to behave by Saul Bass. There seemed to be several options. I could mature into a more seasoned designer and become crankier. I could become bitter and competitive with younger designers. I could desperately try to remain young, wearing clothes better suited for a 14 year old. Or, like Saul, I could be magnanimous and helpful. Saul was enormously helpful to us when we started AdamsMorioka. He provided wisdom I still use. He sat through a long dull lecture at Aspen to wait for our talk. Saul patiently listened to my ambitions, and was always available. Now when I read his recent book, I continue to be in awe.

After Saul passed away, Noreen and I went to his memorial at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. It was a truly life changing event to see the collection of his titles on a huge screen with magnificent stereo sound. When I show Saul’s title sequences to my students they are impressed, obviously, and hopefully inspired. But they cannot experience the magnificence of Saul’s work on a wide Cinemascope screen. His titles are each wonderful, but the credit sequence for West Side Story is a miracle. It is moving, eloquent, artful, and beautifully crafted. No matter how hard my day is, this sequence always reminds me why I design.

A Preachy Post That Will Piss Some People Off

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Saul Bass, Academy Award consideration, Some Like It Hot

When I was younger, I strongly believed in the ethos of compassion and help. As I’ve aged, this has worn away. Often, I now find myself muttering, “damned idiots, dammit, damn, damn.” It’s not particularly eloquent, but it’s my best. As an example, I am completely supportive of design for good, and positive social change. Design is a sharp tool and should be used to make a better world. I do not, however, believe design for commerce is bad and should be hidden away in shame. Too often, we can fall into the trap of only taking on events that promote design for good. But the subtext here is that the work for commerce is less relevant. This only communicates the idea that we are less worthy if we are not designing websites for recycled DIY bamboo huts. Nothing is less true.

As I’ve said, before, we have the chance to make life better for others with every project (assuming you are not designing neo-Nazi newsletters). If I do a job well, the client does better. The employees keep their jobs. They put braces on their kids’ teeth. The orthodontist can send his kids to college. This is no less positive than promoting social causes.

Saul Bass was a designer who understood the balance of design for good, commerce, and cultural change. When I am feeling especially cranky, I am reminded of Saul’s generous nature. On our first day in the studio back in 1994, the first phone call was from Saul. “Congratulations,” he said, and, “What can I do for you two?” He didn’t need to do this. But this encouragement gave us the confidence to plow through the most difficult times. If Saul Bass considered us worthy of a phone call, we couldn’t be that bad. Now, I try to do the same. I do this not because I feel honor-bound or think it will absolve me of previous crimes. That small act made a huge impact on Noreen and myself. So rather than worrying about designing only for Greenpeace, we try to help in smaller day-to-day ways.

Saul Bass, Academy Award consideration, Some Like It Hot

Saul Bass, Academy Award consideration, The Magnificent Seven

Saul Bass, Academy Award consideration, The Magnificent Seven

Saul Bass, poster, The Fireman's Ball

Saul Bass, poster, Grand Prix

Saul Bass, poster, Bunny Lake is Missing

Saul Bass, The San Francisco Film Festival

Saul Bass, poster, Advise & Consent

Saul Bass, poster, One Two Three