The Joy of Doing Nothing

Charles Coiner, Give It Your Best, poster, 1942

The problem with effort and good design is that the best solutions looks like they takes very little work. The solution appears natural and effortless. The worst work are the solutions that are over-designed, over-produced, over-wrought, and desperate. But, civilians will look at the ABC logo and say, "So what? What took so long? I could have done that." The logo that is an illustration of a person with raised hands on top of a globe with all nations color coded and series of stars that wraps around the globe, sitting on a word mark of tortured typography is praised, "Boy that must have taken a long time."

Charles Coiner's World War II poster, Give it Your Best, is one of these examples. It's so obvious and straightforward that it appears that no design happened. But, the poster leaves nobody guessing at the message, is visually aggressive and powerful, and stands the test of time. Works for me.

And while we're on the subject of World War II posters, I can't resist discussing the series, This is Your Friend. These posters were created to help our troops understand what our allies looked like so we wouldn't shoot them. The Chinese were our allies; they were not Japanese who were our enemies. The English,and Australian men wore these specific hats and were not German. I like that they try so hard to make clear what could be difficult; if someone was caucasian and blonde were they German? Not if they had a smile and tam-o-shanter hat. They were clearly Canadian.

But the poor Dutch. Why only a Dutch sailor? If they weren't sailors and Dutch were they dangerous? And I don't want to sound mean, but couldn't the War Office find a strapping young and handsome Dutch man? I'm pretty sure there were other options here. If a student tuned this in I would say, "You need to stop using Google as a research tool and using low resolution bad images."

WWII Canadian poster, 1942

WWII Russian poster, 1942

WWII Ethiopian poster, 1942

WWII Dutch Sailor poster, 1942

WWII Australian poster, 1942

WWII English poster, 1942

WWII Chinese poster, 1942

Mule Trail

I’m often asked, “Sean, how do you manage to have only cool projects?” I could say, “Well, I’m just that wonderful,” but that probably is not the response desired. The truth is that every project has the possibility of being great. Sounds corny, but it’s true. I’ve interviewed young designers who have told me they were only interested in cultural organizations or social causes as clients. To me that sounds worse than working at a poultry plant. I like the diversity of clients in many areas. And I am adamantly opposed to the idea that good design is only design for cultural organizations or social causes.

A good example of a project that might be deemed by someone too highfalutin, “utilitarian, and not my kind of thing,” is the Mechanized Mules of Victory booklet designed by Paul Rand. This is a publication designed in 1942 for the AutoCar Company. AutoCar produced armored vehicles for the war effort. To our highfalutin designer, this would be a double whammy: armored vehicles and an actual corporation. Rand created a book that is as raw and functional. It’s absolutely correct for the subject. The American Typewriter typeface speaks to DIY, mechanized content. The banal images are transformed by the use of silhouettes, repeating images, and solid shapes. It’s a simple two-color printing job with a spiral binding. The binding references notebooks, and technical plans. The composition is rigid and unbending, but the pagination of the pages keeps the book alive.

The next time you’re asked to work on a dog kennel catalogue, or dental tool brochure, don’t say, “I’m too good for this. Who has the telephone number for Greenpeace?” Make something wonderful.