Many Inventions

My grandparents' TV trays before my time

When my brother, sister, and I visited our grandparents, were allowed to eat TV dinners on a TV tray and watch TV. Now that I'm an adult, I like to do the same. It may seem uncivilized, but sitting at the dining room table and staring at your family, spouse, or guests is just so boring. I prefer to pull out the TV trays and set everyone up.

Now, some of you may be asking, "WTF is a TV dinner? WTF is a TV tray?" or perhaps for our younger readers, "WTF is a TV?" TV dinners were rather disgusting frozen meals that only children could appreciate. Typically, the aluminum tray held a meat entree such as chicken or Salisbury steak, a vegetable like peas and corn, a potato item, and a strange dessert such as a piece of starch with cranberries on top. The whole tray was cooked in the oven and served without the need of a plate. Easy for everyone.

I'm sure there was no nutritional value. The vegetables had been boiled to death and then flash frozen. The fried chicken had a remarkable duality: it was both very greasy and very dry. I don't want to consider the sodium content. But when you're eight or ten, who cares? It's like space food that astronauts eat.

TV trays were nicely decorated folding trays that could be set up in front of a sofa or chair. They really are an amazing invention. They fold up neatly, can be washed in the sink, and serve a multitude of functions such as eating while watching Mercy Street, as a tray that is impervious to watermarks from drinks, and as a flat surface to hold tools if one is working on a project. While I would stay away from the frozen sodium laced TV dinner, I strongly recommend the TV tray.

President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan with fancy TV trays

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/Lynda.com 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.

A Designer Walks into a Bar...

I have a friend, a well-known designer, who laments that he never gets to do work that is "fun". His work is serious and beautifully crafted with a deep connection to French structuralism and Freudian theory. I, on the other hand, lament that my work will only be seen as "fun", not "serious". Of course the reality is that nothing is that black and white. His work has light and playful elements, mine can be conceptual and multi-layered.

Herbert Leupin (1916–1999) (yes, another Herbert; it was a popular designer name) was disregarded and ignored as an "advertising poster artist". How could the work be taken seriously when it has a giraffe? Today, his posters are sought after by serious collectors. At first glance, they are funny and light. They exist to sell beer, Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and pens. He wasn't concerned about the theoretical underpinnings. And they are masterful and joyful.

He does what I endeavour to teach: see things in the world that can be seen entirely differently with the slightest move: a shoe becomes a car, a glass of beer enjoys a day at the beach, letterforms become carbonated bubbles. The imagery is light and carefree. And, as Shakespearean stage actor Edmund Kean said, "dying is easy, comedy is hard."

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/Lynda.com 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.

The Sweetest Things in Life

Alvin Lustig made some purty nifty design. Often when a print designer turns to environmental work, the result is flat designs on a wall. Lustig’s collaboration with Victor Gruen for Barton’s Barton's Bonbonniere is a great example of his talent in spatial thinking. His solution is energetic, playful and takes advantage of the 3 dimensions from the ceiling to the floor. I can’t say I’d like to live there; it might drive me to drink. But what doesn’t?

I have friends from Brooklyn who remember Barton's Bonbonniere as a place to visit on special occasions. Viennese immigrant Stephen Klein established Barton’s in 1938. In the 1950s, Barton's had three kosher candy production plants in Brooklyn. Barton's was particularly known in the Jewish community for being "the" Passover chocolate of choice. In the 1960s, the Klein family sold the business.  Barton’s name was used by several parent companies until it was discontinued in 2009. I don't like candy, or chocolate, but I don't like that I can't visit Barton's Bonbonniere

Sad Men

The 1950s and 1960s are called the “Golden Age” of advertising. America was filled with new products that had been developed to fight World War 2, people had money in their pockets, and the baby boom created the need for housing, appliances, cars, and anything one might need to raise a family. These products needed to be sold. Advertising was the way to create that desire to own that washing machine, Cadillac, or new sofa.

I show some of the classic ads in my first term class at Art Center. They are well crafted, beautifully composed, and smart. I don’t show the ads that I really like. These would point a group down the wrong path. I like the bad ads. The corny ones are fine, and I enjoy the funny atom bomb/gum ad as much as the next guy. The ads that are depressing and contradict the message are wonderful. Rather than enticing the viewer into a product, they say, “Life is sad and banal. Nothing will ever be good.” My favorite is an ad for Nevada Warehouse Corporation. Nothing says breadth of experience, and abundance like a sad scattering of products on a black background. And I can’t wait to head over to Gray Reid’s to buy my dungarees next to the emergency room.