Posts Tagged ‘Will Burtin’

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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Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine, detail, 1947

Sometimes, too much is not enough. This may seem contradictory to the typical badgering I do about minimalism. The point of minimalism is to use only what is needed and nothing more. And there are instances where quite a bit is needed. A few years ago I went to Hallmark in Kansas City to give a talk. On the tour of the headquarters, I saw the remarkable diorama Alexander Girard designed. Now, I typically, am not a big fan of cute Victorian paper dolls and tiny shoes. But in this context they sure looked good. Mary Blair was genius at combining multiple forms into a cohesive whole.

Alexander Girard, exhibition case, Hallmark headquarters

Mary Blair, mural design

That same skill is evident in a feature Will Burtin designed for Fortune magazine in 1947. This is why the Burtin spreads work: First, there is a clear and strong grid structure. The elements work proportionately with each other. Second, Burtin uses scale to create drama and pacing. The cigar Indian is huge, while the huckster person is small. There are tiny and huge elements. Third, the pages are not a sea of rectangles, or as we like to say, “do not make that look like the wonderful world of rectangles.” Images are silhouetted, odd shapes, or trompe l’oeil. And finally, the color and typography are simple, consistent, and minimal.

However, beware of the temptation here. As you can see, it can be easy to become promiscuous with imagery. You don not want to be a layout slut, adding as many varieties of images and shapes as possible. 

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Will Burtin, Fortune magazine spread, 1947

Deep Impact

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Will Burtin, Scope magazine cover, 1952

These are the questions I’m typically asked at speaking engagements: “What is your inspiration, are you hiring designers, and what is your favorite part of being a designer?” The answers are: “How much time do you have, sometimes, and working deeply with different businesses.” I like working with a client and learning about their industry or discipline in depth. It’s impossible to work for a medical client on a diagram illustrating the process of clinical trials without understanding the subject. Or to design signage for a hospital and not understand patient and doctor behavior issues.

Will Burtin never worked on the surface. His work is clearly the result of an impressive and deep understanding of the subject. He was a master of re-framing complex scientific and medical issues with design. His elegant solutions provided simple and clear access for an audience without deep medical knowledge. This goes beyond nice information graphics. His work with Scope magazine for Upjohn is a masterpiece of scale, shape, typography, and pacing. But, it also adds a layer of deep information about complex and confusing subjects.

It is convenient to say, “I don’t have time to learn this,” and fall back to the old bag of design tricks. The result is a perfectly adequate layout. But this is not only a disservice to the client; it is a lost opportunity to do dig into a subject deeply. Good design takes time, not because designers like to move a 7 point line of Garamond back and forth 1 pica. It takes time to learn, digest, and re-articulate with intelligence and craft.

images from the Lou Danziger Collection

Will Burtin, Scope magazine cover, 1951

Will Burtin, Scope magazine spread, 1951

Will Burtin, Scope magazine spread, 1951

Will Burtin, Scope magazine cover, 1951

Will Burtin, Scope magazine spread, 1955

Will Burtin, Scope magazine spread, 1955

Will Burtin, Scope magazine spread, 1955

Will Burtin, Scope magazine cover, 1955

Will Burtin, Scope magazine spread, 1957

Will Burtin, Scope magazine spread, 1957

Will Burtin, Scope magazine cover, 1957

Will Burtin, Scope magazine spread, 1957

Will Burtin, Scope magazine spread, 1957

Will Burtin, Scope magazine spread, 1957

The Eyes of Lester Beall

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Lester Beall, Scope Magazine, 1950

One of my favorite clients is Cedars Sinai. I love learning about complex medical issues, and working with smart and logical people. A common issue I face is trying to communicate a difficult and unappealing subject, such as prostate cancer, in a way that invites the audience. I want to be true to the subject, but detailed images of surgery tend to not be good for publication covers. Upjohn Pharmaceuticals produced Scope magazine in the 1940s and 1950s. Incredible designers such as Will Burtin and Lester Beall designed arresting and seductive covers. These offer an alternative to the high rez 4 color digital photography that is the default medium for everyone this day. They may look light and playful, as if the designer threw it together on a sunny afternoon. But, guess what, it probably took some time, and I like to imagine Beall slaving away in a dark Dickensian hovel as it snows outside.

from the Lou Danziger collection

Will Burtin, Scope Magazine, 1951

Will Burtin, Scope Magazine, 1953

Will Burtin, Scope Magazine, 1954

Will Burtin, Scope Magazine, 1954

Will Burtin, Scope Magazine, 1955

Will Burtin, Scope Magazine, 1957

Will Burtin, Scope Magazine, 1957