Sweet

Ladislav Sutnar

In 1996, I was asked to design the materials for the first AIGA Business Conference. I hate going to a conference and trying to deal with a batch of printed matter, the schedule, maps, and directories. Other people told me they would rather not stick pins in their shirt with a name badge. As I love plastics, I found a little plastic pouch at the Plastic Mart in Santa Monica. I believe it was to hold labels in hospitals. I used this, punched two holes in the top, and used IV tubing to hang the pouch from my neck. Now I could design all the materials, including the name tag, to fit inside the pouch. Easy peasy.

A couple of months after the conference I saw someone on the street with the same kind of pouch, but for a plumbing contest. Of course today, they are everywhere. Am I bitter that my pouch concept was adopted by every conference and theme park? Yes. But, I can be please that I'm saving shirts from pin holes every day.

On the other end of the spectrum from my flammable pouch concept to great thinking is Ladislav Sutnar. Sutnar's most lasting contribution to our lives is one of the most ubiquitous design elements in the world, the parenthesis around an area code: (310) 555-1234. He solved this problem working with Bell System in the 1950s. Sutnar was adamant that design be functional. Good information design was a critical element of our complex and technological world. He maintained that there was no place for anything but useful and high-minded design.

He followed this philosophy: “Good visual design is serious in purpose. Its aim is not to attain popular success by going back to the nostalgia of the past, or by sinking to the infantile level of a mythical public taste. It aspires to uplift the public to an expert design level. To inspire improvement and progress demands that the designer perform to the fullest limits of his ability. The designer must think first, work later.”—Ladislav Sutnar

This didn't translate to boring. As religious as Sutnar was about functionalism, his work often displays a sense of vitality and play. Yet it still imparts the information clearly. Rather than adopting a dull and rigid approach that was as exciting as a bus schedule, he allows the shapes and forms to interact with the typography.

He was probably bitter about his area code solution too.

Styles of Radical Will

Some designers take great pride at being an a-hole. I was speaking with a designer I'd never met before, and he boasted for quite awhile about his take no prisoners attitude. He told me a story about yelling at a young designer at his firm during a client presentation until she cried. He loved to invite freshly graduated designers for an interview and then tear their work apart piece by piece.

While this sounds like an interesting reality show, the result is simply hurt and terrified designers. It doesn't make anyone better. Unless someone shows up with a heroin needle stuck in their arm, there really is no reason for berating until tears in design. The profession is hard enough without that.

I'd rather take my cue from Gene Frederico. Frederico was one of America's most revered art directors for decades until he died in 1999. He was passionate about good design, and certainly never let anyone slide by with less than their best. Yet, he took time to see young designers and critique his or her work in a constructive way. Most designers at his level could simply pass this task along to someone else.

Frederico's work is witty, fresh, and bold. It never feels overwrought or desperate. He used typography as illustration. Frederico named A.M. Cassandre's poster, S.S. Amsterdam, as a great influence on his career. His work meets Cassandre's high standards of flawless shape and form, but takes it one step further, always adding that smart and unexpected concept. His moving announcement, that depicts everyone moving, is a perfect example of his dry humor and incredible skill. To paraphrase a song by the Burning Sensations, Gene Frederico Was Never Called an Ass-hole.

E' una buona forchetta

John Alcorn, Evolution by Design: Stephen Alcorn and Marta Sironi, 2014

I planned on doing a post today to rant about bad clients. Sure there are some that were indecisive or unclear, but I can only think of one who was someone I'd love to run into, when I'm driving and he was walking. Then I looked through Stephen Alcorn and Marta Sironi's book, John Alcorn: Evolution by Design. The ranting concept seemed small and petty compared to the vastness of the Alcorn work.

I'm not opposed to small and petty, but each spread is breathtaking. Steven Heller calls Alcorn the 4th Beatle of Graphic Design. He was the youngest (21) member of Push Pin Studios in 1956. His work with Push Pin and Lou Dorfsman at CBS is smart, sophisticated, and elegant. He never succumbed to a "cutesy-pie" approach common to illustration in the 1950s. As he matured as a designer, the work takes on layers of sensuality. There is no restrictive diet here; the shapes, images, and typography are rich and full.

This maximalism expanded when Alcorn moved to Italy. After 1971, the illustrations are a feast of vibrant and complex forms with pleasure and passion, like good Italian cooking. The work is a reminder of the joy in design. It reinforces the good parts, not the murderous tendencies and anger management problems, but creative expression and love of craft.

 

John Alcorn in Santa Croce, 1973 (Courtesy of Stephen Alcorn)

Frozen

Blake Little, Preservation

One of my favorite clients is Blake Little. I've known Blake for twenty years. He's the first call I make when I need a remarkable photographer for a project. Blake is also able to make me look halfway decent in photographs. The upside of this is that I look good in a headshot, the downside is that someone meets me in person and says, "oh, hmm."

A few years ago, Blake asked me to design his book, Dichotomy, followed by The Company of Men, and Manifest. I'd love to say they are incredibly challenging, but this is proof that it's hard to go wrong with great content.

Blake's most recent book, Preservation, is about to be released and there will be an exhibition of the work at the Kopeikin Gallery in February. Blake's work has an inherent sense of energy. Whether it's a piercing gaze, or coiled strength, or kinetic motion, the subjects share an intensity of power. The Preservation images have the same quality, but in this case, the energy and motion is frozen. The subjects appear to be unexpectedly trapped in amber. The result is a cross between a Rodin sculpture and frozen figures from Pompeii.

I thought I was being radically alternative to create an ultra-rigid grid and system for the typography as a counterpoint to the fluid imagery. But I have a feeling it's an instance of a designer getting caught up in the tiny details and saying, "But don't you see, the missing cross-bar on the 'A' changes the meaning entirely."

Obsessed

Recently, a young designer met with me and talked about obsession. "I'm worried it's wrong, but I get obsessed about something and can't stop," she said. She wasn't talking about Justin Bieber or heroin. She gave the example of string art. "I can't stop looking for it online and want to learn how to do it." Who doesn't?" was my reply.

I don't know where she heard that being obsessed was bad. Sure, if you're stalking someone and build a shrine with sacrifices for them you may have a problem. But I've been working on my OCD family tree for years and never tire of it. Paula Scher makes wonderful paintings of maps. Marian Bantjes works with pattern. Massimo Vignelli couldn't get enough Bodoni. Being obsessed is part of the job.

Ken Briggs was a British designer responsible for many of the beautiful posters for the National Theatre in London. Clearly, Briggs was obsessed with the New Typography, inspired after seeing a copy of Josef Müller Brockmann's Neue Grafik. The posters relentlessly use Helvetica, golden section proportions and grids. But, Briggs took the rigid rules and tweaked them with surprising color choices and offbeat photographic solutions. He added a dry British wit to a sterile approach.

Briggs didn't do this once, or for a couple of months. He did it over and over and over. And thank God for that obsession. The lesson here, obsession makes perfection.

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Shooting the Tube

There is a huge difference between a dull photograph of Yosemite Valley and an Ansel Adams photo. Adams didn't photograph Yosemite Valley, he shot the weather in the valley.

Left: Carleton Watkins, Right: Ansel Adams

In the same way, there is a lot of bad surfing photography. It's the same shot over and over, someone tube-riding shot from below. LeRoy Grannis' photos, however, are good, really good, surfing photos. They are not the same shot over and over. Beside the obvious issues of lighting, composition, color, and content, Grannis' images work because they are not photos of surfing. He photographs the people surfing. The images are about culture and community. They objectively depict the surf community in the 1960s and 70s. This separates the work from traditional sports photography. The action is the backdrop to the individuals in the frame.

They also work because everyone is super groovy, even the elderly spectators with bitchin' sunglasses.

Twelve Inches of Pleasure

I'm currently writing a new course for Lynda.com, Fundamentals of Graphic Design History. You'd think this would be easy. I know the history, have the images, and am so old I knew Guttenberg personally. But condensing all of the Bauhaus into a three-minute format and making sure it doesn't sound like, "Bueller, Bueller, anyone?" is tricky. It's a great challenge and fun.

When I started writing about design in the 1970s, I kept circling around album covers. The emotional impact of these artifacts is extraordinary. Sure, there was great corporate identity and typography at the time and more than enough to discuss with those alone. But when I mention a specific album, people light up. "Oh, I stared at The Tubes cover for hours trying to figure out how it worked." or "I kept the Frampton cover on the top of my pile of records just to see it when I woke up every morning.

When I went to college, Roland Young was one of my teachers. I was 19 and knew everything. On the first day, when I realized that Roland was responsible for a big part of the record covers I loved, I was impressed. And that's not easy for an asshole 19 year-old. Today, Roland is a good friend. I took over his Communication Design 1 class at Art Center and still hear from almuni, "Wow, when I had Roland for that class my life changed." My students say, "You were funny."

I recently discovered his cover for Joan Baez, Where are you now, my son?. This cover may seem unassuming and quiet, but it's masterful. The sharp typography with the confidence to be just what it is and the texture of the grainy image is contrast at its best. The image of Baez that speaks to the object of a printed photograph is about a moment in time and intimacy. The Smiths tried this later with some covers, but the original is still my favorite.

Roland's body of work and career, from working with Lou Danziger to art director to teacher, is immense and impossible to show without a major book. Publishers, publishers, anyone?.

Dynasty

Several readers have sent me notes asking for a family history post. So, I'm heading way, way back for this one to 1295 AD. The story of my 17th grandmother and 17th grandfather is filled with soap opera drama.

Isabella de Capet of France, also known as the she-wolf of France, was the only surviving daughter of Philip IV, King of France (16th grandfather). She was engaged to King Edward II of England as a child to cement a treaty between England and France.

The fun begins when she marries Edward II. It seems that he enjoys the company of young men, his "favorite" when they married, Piers Gaveston. Obviously this can cause discord in a marriage. Gaveston ends up being captured and executed by angry Barons who weren't too keen on Edward's policies and unorthodox arrangement. After a failed campaign to conquer the Scots, Edward was even more unpopular.

Now, he took up with a new favorite, Hugh de Spencer (yet another 17th grandfather). For several years, Edward and de Spencer imprisoned and executed enemies, confiscated lands from the barons, and punished extended family members and courtiers. Eventually, Edward and de Spencer confiscated all of Isabella's lands and imprisoned her. This was a good sign to Isabella that the marriage wasn't really working well.

Isabella returned to France and began an affair with Sir Roger Mortimer (18th grandfather). Together, they raised an army and returned to England to dethrone Edward II. Edward and de Spencer fled London, but were captured by Isabella and Mortimer's forces. She had de Spencer hanged, castrated, disemboweled, drawn and quartered. She was very mad. Edward was forced to abdicate the crown to his son, Edward III (16th grandfather).

Now, the story gets confusing. The official story was that Edward II fell and died while imprisoned. Rumors spread that Isabella had him murdered with, sorry for the graphic part here, a red hot poker put up his rectum. Recently historians have argued that evidence points to Edward escaping and living the rest of his life as a hermit.

Isabella and Mortimer now thought they had it all wrapped up. Edward III was too young to rule, so they were ruling England, making lots of money, and everything seemed swell. But when Isabella became pregnant with Mortimer's child, which would have created a new heir, Edward III was pissed. So he raided their castle, captured Mortimer and had him executed, even after Isabella begged for his life saying, "Fair son, have pity on gentle Mortimer!"

Edward III took on his role as King of England and exiled his mother to Norfolk. She lived well, as one of the richest women in England and died at 62. She was buried with Edward II's heart. This is real life, and so much more exciting than Game of Thrones.

Isabella de Capet of France, played by Aure Atika, World Without End
Inspection of Piers Gaveston's head
Execution of Hugh de Spencer
Isabella and Roger Mortimer
Isabella accepts Edward II's crown
Edward II, played by Blake Ritson, World Without End
King Edward II, played by Ben Chaplin, World Without End

The Friendly Swiss

Herbert Matter

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.

Rundschrift

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.

Stationery: spelled with an "e" for envelope

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.

Rough and Ready

The concept behind wabi-sabi is to find beauty in transience and imperfection. I love this concept although I have difficulty following it. When I find myself scrubbing the top of the flat files with Comet and a rough brush, or using an x-acto knife to clean crevices in a lamp, I know I am in trouble. I'd like to let the imperfections on the lamp to be just fine.

I once scrubbed all the enamel off my grandparents' kitchen sink because it still had little off white spots. That was when my family should have called for an intervention: "Sean, I love you, but you are ruining your life and ours by this incessant scrubbing of sinks," or, "I refuse to acknowledge you or support this awful habit until you stop and put the canned air and Windex down. You are sick and need help."

The point here, is that I love the nubby and organic. But I can't seem to let it be just that. Stan Bitters' work is elegant and warm, pointing to a natural world of texture and smell. The ceramic work isn't hyper glossy or smooth as a baby's bottom, and I like that. The colors are rich and unexpected. The evidence of a human hand is exposed on each creation. Perhaps I need to get some clay, a kiln, and some glazes and lock myself in a room until I can live with the bump on the rim of a vase.

Alla buona derrata, pensaci su.

I like Switzerland. It's hellishly expensive and a beer costs $20, but as they say, the trains run on time and the design is nice. Once  in awhile a young designer will ask me, "Don't you think everything would be better if there were standards for all signage and information. Maybe everything could be in Univers?" But, that would end up recreating Switzerland. I like the weird hand-drawn signs on my neighborhood botanica, and the awful use of Hobo at the Boho Café.

Max Huber managed to marry the elegance and simplicity of Swiss modernism with the vibrancy and expression of play. He was born in Switzerland, then emigrated to Italy. The Italian spirit of la vita e bella (life is beautiful) wove its way into Huber's Swiss grids and black and red color palette. His work has joy, exuberance, and a touch of chaos. Like a day in Rome. The colors are vibrant, pure, and aggressive.

I didn't know Max Huber. He died in 1992. But I imagine a dinner with him to be filled with too much wine, wonderful stories, and risqué jokes. I like Herbert Bayer too, but I don't think dinner with him would have been as fun.

Mean Girl

Alice Roosevelt

I've been reading a book, Franklin and Lucy, about Franklin Roosevelt's many relationships with women including one of my grandmother's cousins Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd. In the course of the book, multiple family members keep popping up. Even the Roosevelts (Oyster Bay branch) were distant cousins. If my grandmother were still alive, I'd love to know if everyone knew they were related with all the complex interactions and connections. It's a tangled web, that points to a world with fifty people total.

Alice Roosevelt, Eleanor's cousin, and Teddy Roosevelt's daughter is one of the characters. She was married to Nicholas Longworth, another cousin. Between Longworth and Alice, I've discovered some wonderful quotes. I wish I were this quick on my feet. When insulted I tend to simply stammer and say, "uh, no." So enclosed today are some of these quotes that you may use whenever you need. And you can needlepoint a pillow, like everyone on the Upper East Side with Alice's most famous quote, “If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me.” 

One day, while lounging in a chair at the Capitol, another member of the House ran his hand over Nicholas Longworth's bald head and commented, "Nice and smooth. Feels just like my wife's bottom." Longworth felt his own head and returned an answer: "Yes, so it does.

When asked about his wild daughter, Alice, Teddy Roosevelt said, "I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both."

Alice Roosevelt Quotes:

“I have a simple philosophy: Fill what's empty. Empty what's full. Scratch where it itches.” 

“The secret to eternal youth is arrested development” 

 On a Washington senator was discovered to have been having an affair with a young woman less than half his age: "You can't make a soufflé rise twice."

On President Calvin Coolidge: "He looks as if he were weaned on a pickle"

On President William Taft : "He has so much brain and so little beauty."

On President Herbert Hoover: "The Hoover Vacuum Cleaner is more exciting than the president. But, of course, it's electric."

 On President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was "One-third sap and two-thirds Eleanor."

On President Teddy Roosevelt: “My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding, and the baby at every christening”

When President Lyndon B. Johnson proudly showed off an abdominal surgery scar Alice commented dryly, "Thank God it wasn't his prostate."

When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis married Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, Alice asked, "Hasn't anyone ever warned Jacqueline Kennedy about Greeks bearing gifts?"

The late Senator Joseph McCarthy once took the liberty of calling her by her first name. In response she looked at him icily and declared, "The policeman and the trash man may call me Alice; you.can.not."

Asked by a Ku Klux Klansman in full regalia to take his word for something, she refused, saying, "I never trust a man under sheets."

Surprised by Joy

RayEames
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Each term, I pull the Art Center Graphics Gallery together. It's exciting to see the breadth of work produced, and get a sense of the tone of the department. At the end of the Spring term as I was waiting for a batch of posters to arrive, I wandered into the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery, which is behind the student gallery. The current exhibition is Ray Eames: In the Spotlight. Now this is a case of discovering something wonderful in your own backyard. I've walked by the gallery several times a week, but was always too busy to stop. Boy, that was dumb.

When I finally stepped in, I was shocked to find the best exhibition I've seen in years. After multiple visits to the great museums of Europe and New York, this was the one collection that inspired me the most. The exhibition highlights Ray's work, not just more Eames LCW chairs. It contains the incredible collections in her drawers, the rack of slide carrousels, her early artwork, even her own incredibly tailored dresses. The density of visual ephemera is remarkable. This isn't an exhibition for minimalists. But there is a rigor and tightness to the chaos, and an unrelenting sense of optimism. Even the Computer House of Cards talks about the beginnings of things and the possibilities of technology.

Of course, I wanted to buy many of the items, but since it was a gallery exhibition, they said no.

867-5309

Jennifer Morla, photo: Jock McDonald

I was in Las Vegas yesterday doing a speaking engagement for AIGA Las Vegas and Mohawk. The term "design rock star" was thrown about quite a bit. While this might seem flattering, it's remarkably unsettling. I'm just me, kind of a bozo. A "design rock star" is someone like Jennifer Morla. Since we're on a roll with powerful women designers in San Francisco, Jennifer must be included. She is from the generation that followed Marget Larsen and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. She began her career when San Francisco was a field of Michael's (Vanderbyl, Cronin, Mabry, Manwaring, Schwab...). See no girls here. Jennifer entered the scene and stood as tall (sort of) as the dudes.

Jennifer made and continues to make work that could only be made in San Francisco. It is playful and light, Victorian and sleek, dark and complex. Like San Francisco, the work is a study in contradictions. A DWR catalogue has organic imagery of a bird set, not in a forest, but on a minimal modernist white background. Jennifer's felt screen uses forms that would typically be constructed with materials such as lace, but are re-presented with a utilitarian textile. The Mexican Museum recasts Frida Kahlo as a large set of photo-mechanical halftone dots, denying the painterly or sentimental representation typical of Kahlo. Each project slams one form against another creating work that is always unexpected and wonderful.

I can't say that envy is a big part of my emotional composition. I know that everyone has their own wacky shit going on even if the exterior looks perfect. And like every designer, I have the sensation of joy and discovery when I find a designed item that I wish I'd done. However, when Jennifer showed me her solution for the Clorox 100 Anniversary book, I was jealous. I was envious that she did something so remarkable and simple using the Clorox plastic material as the cover, and I would never have thought of that. And I was really envious that she owned that artifact. I wanted to have it for myself. This is pretty positive proof that a solution is great. I regret my sinful thoughts of envy, but excuse myself as it was caused by the extraordinary. And she has the most magnificent laugh.

 

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Reject the Small

Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, Sea Ranch

After my last post about Marget Larsen, Michael Vanderbyl reminded me about the remarkable Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. Solomon was another woman working in San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s. And, again, another incredible talent who left the field too early. In Solomon's case, she left graphic design in 1977 to pursue a career as a fine artist.  This was predicated by the choices and options that were available to a working woman designer with children at that time.

As Solomon points out in a recent interview in Creative Review"Now that I happily live alone with my dog I have time to think, and I realise that I was always so frantically busy making money to live, taking care of my daughters and worrying about men, that I never had time to think, least of all about my work. At my office I just drew up the first design I visualised so that I could leave to pick up Chloe or Nellie from school, shop for dinner, cook and clean, play wife and do all the stuff that working mothers do."

Reading this description without seeing the work would point to delicate and polite typographic solutions, not Solomon's aggressive and bold aesthetic. This work has balls. It is unapologetic, confident, and in your face. It transforms architecture and space. When she left the field, Solomon wanted to unlearn the Swiss modernism she was taught. Put this in the context of work in the 60s and 70s; precise, refined, and modernist design spoke to the idea of expertise. Raw, hand-made, and "bad" work was counter-culture, rejecting the idea of expertise and authority.

What Solomon created, was indeed counter-culture. While it relied on modernist forms, it pushed them past the limitations of rigorous Swiss typography and commanded attention.

 

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Un Año De Amor

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Signage is serious. People may not find a restroom in time. They may get lost and miss the Gap. If you are a signage designer you must be serious. You must make big, black, monolithic directories that include serious information. There is no room for fun. None. Don't even think about color. Helvetica, red and black dammit!

Urban signage is hard. There are multiple committees made up of government officials who previously worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The signs need to be clear in a complex and changing environment. They need to withstand weather, vandalism, climbing children, and birds. These are the factors that lead to the 2001: A Space Odyssey black monolith directories.

Lance Wyman's system for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics are what every Olympics tries to outdo, and nobody has come close (sorry to my friends who have designed some of these. they're swell, but not 1968 Mexico City). But, today I want to talk about Wyman's program for the Mexico City Metro from 1969. This solution achieves all the difficult  goals, but maintains a sense of exuberance and joy. The program reflects a Mexican color palette and sensibility. And it looks like it was fun to design. How can a subway system with orange, pink, teal, and avocado green not be magnificent? I would ride the Los Angeles Metro all the time if it had icons of grasshoppers, sailing ships, and a duck for a station.

Wyman's work is a beacon of optimism in a dull, drab, and serious world.

 

 

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Stamp, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Tipo font, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Station icons, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

 

Movin' On Up

I’m heading off to introduce my good friend, Julie Beeler for an AIGA lecture. Now Julie is one of the smartest people I know. She’s cracker-jack fast and makes me feel like a low grade somnambulist moron. So the idea of designing a poster that captured her skill, intellect and the amazing work at Second Story was scary. Of course, I ignored all that and started on my own wacky craft project. You know you’re in trouble when you find yourself asking the office, “Do we have any tiny felt flowers? Does anyone know how to make yarn look like a bow?” I expected Julie to recoil when she saw the poster and exclaim, “You moron!” But, she took the high road and said she liked it just fine.

Treasures from the Great Northern Place

When Graphis did a story on us soon after we started the firm, we said, “We’re interested in making a good cake, not just nice icing.” Since we were both 29 years old and too cocky we thought this was incredibly clever. A few years later at a conference, a designer came up to me and said, “Yeah, I saw that article in Graphis. Everyone at my firm hates you. And you stole that quote from Burton Kramer.” Back then, I was still under the impression that I should remain polite and try to understand what was really driving this criticism. Now I would I simply say “Go to hell you mother@#$%ing mother@#$%er @#$%face.

 

In reality, Burton Kramer had said this in 1972. But, in my defense, I didn’t know this. I love Kramer’s work. Today, we get mired in post-modern analysis of irony, pastiche, and contradiction. Kramer’s solutions are so crystal clear and cutting. They are rational, perfect, simple, and elegant. But they are never cold, or without a sense of the human touch. The Canadian Broadcasting Company logo is complex and precise, but is optimistic and about infinite possibilities. Kramer’s identity programs are sublime. They are a testament to a time when designers had the time and skill to fine tune every tiny detail, as opposed to some of the slapdash icons created from a batch of Illustrator shapes. When I look through Kramer’s new book, I find the most difficult issues is to not inadvertently steal more of his wisdom.