Grids and Death

My course on grids, Foundations of Layout and Composition: Grids, was released on this week. I like grids, but I know many others don't. So I knew it was a hard sell to convince someone that the grid wouldn't hurt them. It was a friend, ready to step in and clean up. 

You'd think it would be easy to slap the same structure on every project. But where's the fun in that? So how can you find inspiration in the grid world? If I find something interesting, I save it and dissect it. I want to understand how it was structured. It's like classic painting education when a student sat at the Louvre and copied a master to learn technique. 


I especially love the weird-ass grid that makes no sense. Erik Nitsche's book series on science has a wonderful grid. I still don't understand it. It's remarkably complex, but works. Of course, you can't go wrong with Josef Müller Brockmann. He gives good grid. And every once in a while I'll find something entirely unknown and marvel at the structure like this Lufthansa catalogue from the 1970s. 

The most wonderful finds are the unexpected. Looking at the Rape of the Sabine Women (1627) by Peitro da Cortona, I began to see the grid. And then again with The Death of Socrates (1787) by Jacques Louis DavidIt was like a transcendental moment when one glimpses into another world. Yes, I'm that geeky.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/ He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

How to be a Good Designer

History of Electricity cover

Years ago, Lorraine Wild showed me a publication that Eric Nitsche had designed for General Dynamics and it changed the way I look at design. Nitsche had been a hero of mine for years. I tend to like the designers who aren’t the huge names, but do great work just under the radar, like Alvin Lustig, or Lester Beall. Am I self aware? Probably not. Steven Heller wrote a wonderful essay about Nitsche in 1999. Nitsche is not the rock star like his contemporaries, Paul Rand, or Saul Bass, but he is remarkable. His simple modernist aesthetic combines a scientific rigor and precision with an emotional fluidness. That’s not easy.  Michael Bierut says, “Design is 90% persuasion.” (Michael forgive me if I have the percentage wrong, its' not that I don't try hard, it's that I'm stupid). How Nitsche convinced his clients to give him enormous amounts of real estate on a page for nothing is genius. When I showed one of his spreads from a General Dynamics project to Chris and Monica in my office, they both said, “Yeah right. A client would demand that you make the image bigger, or add a few paragraphs.” We’ve religiously collected Nitsche’s books, and I’ve been warned by my staff to not share this secret. But I am convinced that we all need as much inspiration as possible these days. Does that sound political? Sorry, it’s in my DNA.

April issue of Gebrauchsgraphik, 1956

La musique et l’humanisme by Romain Goldron Volume 4 in the series 1966, Editions Recontre

La musique et l’humanisme by Romain Goldron Volume 4 in the series 1966, Editions Recontre

History of Transportation, cover

Advertisement, general Dynamics

postcard, General Dynamics

Annual Report, General Dynamics, spread

General Dynamics, Convair 800 advertisement