Not a Prostitute on the Ground

I was talking with a friend yesterday who told me he was tired and depressed. He felt like he was in a rut, getting older, wasn't in a relationship, and just felt crummy. I tried to help by pointing out that he had a new orange shirt which was nice and a new pair of gym shorts. I told him that getting older wasn't bad; it’s better than being hit by a bus. And I suggested he should be glad he wasn't in a relationship. What if he were, and went home to be beaten every night. "See," I said, "You're lucky. You have a new shirt, aren't dead, and nobody is beating you at home every night."

This advice wasn't particularly helpful. Even I could tell that the "Glad Game" wasn't working. So I told him to go home and watch any Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland movie. Babes in Arms and Babes on Broadway are especially cheerful. You know the standard plot: The orphanage is about to be sold and the poor urchins will be put on the street, so the local kids get together and decide to put a show on in the barn or street to raise money. Mickey and Judy round everyone up and their friends are all incredibly talented and hammy. They put on giant production numbers at the drop of a hat. A powerful show business executive discovers them. They raise money and the orphanage is saved.

God's Country, in Babes in Arms, has a rousing finale with lots of American flags. But my favorite is Hoe Down from Babes on Broadway. It's fresh and wholesome. It's good American farm life with a snappy rhythm. Of course, these were made right before and at the beginning of World War II. So there is a fair amount of patriotism, nostalgia for simple values, and innocent teenagers. These are a perfect antidote to those days when anyone is feeling sad.

And if that's not enough, there's always Polyanna. Don't worry, I've been told to not pursue therapy as a career.

The Red and the Black

People often ask me, “Sean, what’s the secret with this whole graphic design thing?” Of course, there is no secret. Or if there is, nobody told me. I can say, however, that a big rule for me is contrast. There is no such thing as too bright, or too much contrast in design. I’m not big on de-saturated colors and soft contrast. Design should be bold. There’s an old saying about teaching a donkey. First you smack it in the head with a two by four, and then give it the message. Now, clearly, I don’t advocate donkey cruelty. But, design is the same. First, get the audience’s attention. Then tell them the story.

Red, white, and black are good choices for contrast and bold statements. I’ve used this combination many times and quite enjoyed it. The danger is looking like a Nazi. The Nazis were rather keen on black and red, so you need to be careful to not appear to be a Facist. Using a little bit of red and a little bit of black isn’t the same thing. Remember: donkey, two-by-four, and big.

Not Flat

When I was a young designer, Lou Danziger showed me a booklet designed by Herbert Bayer. It took my breath away. Bayer used a Trompe-l'œil effect to simulate a collection of flowers on top of an open spread. This was one of those moments similar to noticing the arrow in the FedEx logo. It was as if a light had been turned on and the world looked entirely different. The page isn’t a 2-dimensional form? It’s a window into a 3-dimensional world? Who knew?

Clearly Bayer knew this. He used the Trompe-l'œil effect on other pieces including a Nazi propaganda piece in 1936. Paul Rand used the effect on a cover for American Apparel magazine beautifully. I’ve attempted to incorporate this idea into several pieces. Usually someone pipes up and says, “Is that some dirt on the page? What is that? Is that a bug?” Then last night when I was on press with Cedars-Sinai’s Discoveries magazine, my wish was granted. The editor, Laura Grunberger worked with us to create settings for a story on inspiration and new medical devices. In the midst of the press check, I was upset that someone had written on the press sheet before me. But, no, it was part of the effect of the setting. What joy.

Images from the Lou Danziger Collection