The Path to Hell

Here is a list of things one can do that will ensure that he or she will go to hell (beside the obvious such as murder):

  1. Use any Photoshop filter
  2. Use Live Trace
  3. Use Garamond Bold (or any old-style serif bold)
  4. De-saturate an image because it seems too strong
  5. Use a typeface that looks like handwriting

The faux-handwriting typeface is especially egregious. First, they are fugly. Second, the designer is lazy. Third, God gave people opposable thumbs so they could use their hands to write. If people were meant to only draw with a vector pen tool, or write with the fake handwriting type, we could have hooves like a cow and poke at the keyboard with a pen in our mouth.

Bad, bad, bad, and bad

Bad, bad, bad, and bad

When I show young designers work created by hand, such as Ed Fella's or Pablo Picasso's posters, they often say, "it looks hand-drawn. shouldn't it be vector?" or "my child could have done that." But the point is, your child didn't make that loose and spontaneous drawing of a bull or Ella Fitzgerald singing.

So, when tempted to use the brush tool in Illustrator rather than taking the time to pull out a piece of paper and use your actual hands, then scanning it, remember that you may go to hell.
 

Ed Fella, 1998


Below, Pablo Picasso, 1959–1970

Portrait of Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes, by Irving Penn, 1957

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Girl Midget

You might find this hard to believe, but I love Gidget. Here’s the quick synopsis: Gidget wants to learn to surf, but girls don’t surf so nobody will teach her. She persists and finally becomes part of the gang. She’s not busty, blonde and tall like the other women on the beach, so the boys think of her as their kid sister. All types of high-jinx occur as Gidget navigates the wacky world of high-school, Southern California, and surfing. There was a movie with Sandra Dee, then others where Gidget goes to Hawaii, Rome, other places, and then the TV show with Sally Field.

The Gidget movie has a good title sequence, but I’m not so keen on the Sandra Dee Gidget. There’s something wrong with her; she’s just too jumpy. I suspect enormous amounts of coffee before hitting the beach. If she were my child, I’d send her to rehab in Malibu or, at least, sedate her with Nyquil. Sally Field, however, has the right amount of cute with less frenetic nervous energy. She has a snappy style, is nice, and tries really hard to be a good surfer. Then there is the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner, who inspired the character. She's badass in real life, smoking, surfing, and eating crackers at the beach.

Kathy Kohner, 1957

Kathy Kohner, 1957

I love the fake surfing scenes. Her best friend LaRue is a wonderful sidekick. Gidget already has learned that you should hang out with someone less attractive and dowdy and you’ll look better. The title sequence must have cost 49 cents, and stole the type from I Dream of Jeannie. But how can you not love Gidget’s cute facial expressions and costume choices? For those who aren’t Gidget aficionados, Gidget is a mix of Girl and Midget, hence Gidget.

Gidget and LaRue

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Helvetica is Jan

Speaking after Stefan Sagmeister at a conference is a bad idea. I've done this many times. It's not that Stefan is nothing less than a true gentleman and good friend, it's that when he finishes, I can look out at the audience from the side of the stage and see people streaming out en masse. "Well that's what I came for, time to go," they must be saying. I'm not crazy about doing this, as I tend to come off as, "and now for the easy listening break."

Years ago, I spoke at a conference following someone, not as generous as Stefan, who was one of the hip and cool designers at that time. She talked about the critical theory and deconstruction of meaning regarding a logo she designed that looked exactly like Helvetica, but the crossbar of the "A" was removed. People seemed enthralled. I just thought, "and..."

Now, I've become that person, waxing on about the importance of the differences between Haas Grotesk and Helvetica. Sorry. I know everyone has a major hard-on for Helvetica, but I can't look at it as anything but the less attractive sister of Haas Grotesk, like Jan and Marsha. Originally, Helvetica was Haas Grotesk, but over time changes were made for expediency. Christian Schwartz redrew Haas Grotesk in 2004, based on Max Miedinger's 1957 version.

Compared to standard issue system Helvetica, it's elegant, crisp, warm, and legible. It doesn't suffer from the "generic" look of Helvetica. I've been using it probably more than I should. I promise, however, to not talk endlessly about the lower case "r" at my next lecture. Maybe just a little.

Screen-Shot-2014-08-08-at-11.04.51-AM
Screen-Shot-2014-08-08-at-11.04.17-AM
Screen-Shot-2014-08-08-at-11.03.46-AM
Neue_Haas_Grotesk-alphabet
notebook-1957-May-07
specimen-1963-Neuburg_Rudin
poster_front_website_905
Haas Grotesk (L) Helvetica (R)
Helvetica in Switzerland
Helvetica in Switzerland

Madame, Taisez-vous!

The last time we went to Paris, Noreen had just watched Funny Face. This proved to be a mistake, as she insisted on singing Bonjour Paris everywhere we went. This is funny the first couple of times, but after awhile is trying, especially when the French stare and shout, “Madame, Taisez-vous!” I admit, however, that I love Funny Face and was tempted to sing as well. If you haven’t seen Funny Face, and think Saved By the Bell is an old classic, you need help. You are sad.

Here’s the basic plot. Audrey Hepburn is a beatnik and dowdy salesgirl at a Greenwich Village bookstore. The crew from a high fashion magazine, including the editor, Kaye Thompson, and photographer, Fred Astaire, descend upon the store for a high fashion photo shoot. Poor Audrey Hepburn, hideous and dowdy, is forced to be an extra next to the incredibly severe model. When the photos are developed, everyone agrees Audrey Hepburn should be made-over and sent to Paris as the star model. They all fly to Paris, sing the song, and shoot some fashion photos. Audrey Hepburn gets mixed up with some beatniks, and everyone is freaked she’ll miss the big fashion show.

There are a few highlights that I love. Fred Astaire’s character, Dick Avery, is based on Richard Avedon. The art director is based on Alexey Brodovitch. The magazine decides that pink is the color of the moment. Of course, it’s impossible to see Audrey Hepburn as ugly, so that part doesn’t work.

 

Deep Impact

These are the questions I’m typically asked at speaking engagements: “What is your inspiration, are you hiring designers, and what is your favorite part of being a designer?” The answers are: “How much time do you have, sometimes, and working deeply with different businesses.” I like working with a client and learning about their industry or discipline in depth. It’s impossible to work for a medical client on a diagram illustrating the process of clinical trials without understanding the subject. Or to design signage for a hospital and not understand patient and doctor behavior issues.

Will Burtin never worked on the surface. His work is clearly the result of an impressive and deep understanding of the subject. He was a master of re-framing complex scientific and medical issues with design. His elegant solutions provided simple and clear access for an audience without deep medical knowledge. This goes beyond nice information graphics. His work with Scope magazine for Upjohn is a masterpiece of scale, shape, typography, and pacing. But, it also adds a layer of deep information about complex and confusing subjects.

It is convenient to say, “I don’t have time to learn this,” and fall back to the old bag of design tricks. The result is a perfectly adequate layout. But this is not only a disservice to the client; it is a lost opportunity to do dig into a subject deeply. Good design takes time, not because designers like to move a 7 point line of Garamond back and forth 1 pica. It takes time to learn, digest, and re-articulate with intelligence and craft.

images from the Lou Danziger Collection

The Eyes of Lester Beall

One of my favorite clients is Cedars Sinai. I love learning about complex medical issues, and working with smart and logical people. A common issue I face is trying to communicate a difficult and unappealing subject, such as prostate cancer, in a way that invites the audience. I want to be true to the subject, but detailed images of surgery tend to not be good for publication covers. Upjohn Pharmaceuticals produced Scope magazine in the 1940s and 1950s. Incredible designers such as Will Burtin and Lester Beall designed arresting and seductive covers. These offer an alternative to the high rez 4 color digital photography that is the default medium for everyone this day. They may look light and playful, as if the designer threw it together on a sunny afternoon. But, guess what, it probably took some time, and I like to imagine Beall slaving away in a dark Dickensian hovel as it snows outside.

from the Lou Danziger collection

 

Nobody Ever Called Pablo Picasso an A-hole

Most good designers know that the best logos are the simplest ones. Of course, it’s difficult to account for a long and arduous process of strategy, typographic studies, hundreds of icons, and system elements, and countless meetings when the result is a simple logo. Simple is hard. Desperation is not pretty on a date, or in design. But, it’s no fun to hear someone say, “That’s it? That took six months and cost ‘X’ amount of dollars?”

This is the same as looking at a Picasso and saying, “I could have done that,” or “my six year old child could have done that.” But, apparently, you or your child didn’t do that, and he did. That’s why he’s Picasso.

One of my pet peeves, including people who don’t use turn signals, is faux handwritten type. If it’s meant to be handwritten, I’d like to see something that was, surprisingly, written by hand. Those fonts that imitate handwriting have been put on earth by Satan to tempt people into laziness. Picasso’s posters should serve as the best example of this. His handwritten copy is light, playful, and energetic. If these posters were typeset in Felt Tip (no offense to the Felt Tip people), they would be flat and dull. And don’t even think about these typeset in Leonardo; you will never close your eyes again and not think about that tragedy. You will wake up in a cold sweat screaming most nights.

No More Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee

One of my bizarre obsessions is riverboats. I don’t particularly want to take a ride on a new casino riverboat in St. Louis, but I’d be fine taking a riverboat cruise in 1850 up the Mississippi. I’ve found a repeating motif of riverboats in illustrations between 1950 and 1960. They were used on ads for pharmaceutical products, handkerchiefs, posters, and wallpaper. If the riverboat craze happened in 1940 it would make sense. Gone With the Wind was released in 1939, and all things antebellum south were the cat’s pajamas. Perhaps the 1950s trend with riverboats had something to do with the nostalgia for a simpler time when atomic warfare was a constant worry.

Maybe that’s my issue too. Noreen keeps telling me, “Sean, it’s not 1955. The Soviet Union is not planning a strike. You can stop digging that bomb shelter.” Or, maybe I just like the way these riverboats look. Like Mark Twain said, "Riverboats look like floating wedding cakes." In the past few months I’ve been able to use riverboats on two projects. I made one for my lecture poster for AIGA Orange County, and I used a wonderful painting of another riverboat in the latest Mohawk Via promotion (to be released soon).

Staying on the Road

Last week at school, I introduced my first term students to the golden section. If you’ve worked as a designer as long as I have (since 1752), these proportions come naturally. I’ll work on a poster and then lay the golden rectangle on top of it, and what do you know, it all fits. But when you’re first starting out, it’s a little trickier. I can explain the math and show my Designorama film about it, I even show them Donald in Mathimagicland (we’ll tackle this on another post). Explaining it is similar to explaining how to drive; it’s pointless unless the student is in the driver’s seat.

I’ve been collecting examples to show my class, and each year I find more. Next term, I’m pulling out the Swissair posters as examples. They are so sublime and simple. They are rigid in their proportions, but fluid. Now I understand that a little Swiss typography goes a long way. Overused and the world could become a rather dull place. I’ve always believed that good typography is like a spider web; it is precise, perfect, elegant, ordered, and adheres to a strong grid. But it doesn’t work, unless one thing interrupts it.

Ricky not Zac

My niece, Izabelle, is like most 12 year olds today. Last summer she loved Zac Efron, which was fine, except his hair is always in his face. I suggested she start listening to Ricky Nelson. This was as popular as suggestion as my idea of buying her a nice kilt and sweater set. I’ve even gone as far as putting publicity shots of Ricky Nelson, Tab Hunter, and Troy Donahue in frames next to her desk in her room at my house. I’m pretty sure she just feels sorry for me and considers me the squarest person in the world. But I’m not being square, Ricky Nelson is a cool guy. His music kicks ass, and he’s handsome in that way 12 year old girls like. When she’s older, she’ll discover how super groovy Ricky Nelson really is. At least he kept his hair combed.

The Wonderful World of Plastics

09 House of the Future

I love plastic. I know it’s bad, and I should demand fine china or beautiful crystal, but plastic works so well and doesn’t break. In 1957, Monsanto’s House of the Future opened at Disneyland. This house is made entirely of plastic. What a wonderful idea. No natural materials, everything can be hosed down, and children can throw things or throw up and there is no damage. The architecture has a “googie” vibe, and resembles 4 mobile homes connected in the middle, but it works for me. The House of the Future thrilled guests for a decade, then it was replaced in 1967. Rumor has it that the wrecking ball bounced off the side of the building, and it was taken apart in pieces. As the narration explains, “The floors on which you are walking, the gently sloping walls around you, and even the ceilings are made of plastics.” Could anything be more wonderful?

Let's Make a Pit

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957

One of the stories in David Sedaris’ Naked is about his Greek grandmother. At one point, she is moved into a high-rise complex for the elderly. Sedaris describes his visits:

I enjoyed pretending that this was my apartment and that Ya Ya was just visiting. “This is where I’ll be putting the wet bar,” I’d say pointing to her shabby dinette set. “The movie projector will go in the corner beside the shrine, and we’ll knock down the dividing wall to build a conversation pit.” “Okay,” Ya Ya would say, staring at her folded hands. “You make a pit.”

When I read this, my first thought was of the conversation pit at the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana. Eero Saarinen designed the house in 1957, Dan Kiley designed the ground-breaking (no pun intended) modern landscape, and Alexander Girard designed the interiors. Of course, the house is a masterpiece of modern architecture and design. The interplay between the sleek and hand made folk art is remarkable, and the breakdown of the interior versus exterior space is elegant. But, I can’t stop thinking about that pit. When you are in there do you see everyone’s shoes when the move out of the pit? Does it promote licentious voyeurism from the ground level up? Do you set your drink on the floor/edge of the sofa? I ponder these questions. And there is something about conversation pits that screams “Key Party.” Maybe I won’t dig that hole in my living room.

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, from exterior

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, the pit

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, dining room

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, hall

Miller House exterior