Nur Arbeit

Hans Hillman, poster, Le Gai Savoir, 1969

Hans Hillman

Designers are disturbed. We are entirely obsessive compulsive over a ligature or perfect shade of warm red. We take chaos and order it into digestible portions. But we also like the big, big picture. We tell our clients that we are following a clear set of steps and phases on a project to provide a sense of clarity and comfort. But, creativity is messy. They don’t want to hear, “Well, I’ll do the research, formulate a strategy, and then maybe I’ll think of a good idea in the shower. Or maybe not. Maybe it won’t happen for two weeks. I might change my mind, or have no logical rational reason for it.”

Hans Hillman liked surprise. He was more interested in the process of working, because that is where everything is undecided and you have the chance to surprise yourself. He was simple in his philosophy: nur Arbeit. Just work. Get to work and surprise yourself. Let amazing things happen. His film posters are testament to this. They are unpredictable and startling.

Hillman also had a rare sense of modesty. He admitted to working alone most of the time, hiring someone to help if needed. He made clear that his film posters were intended for a small audience interested in that film, not major movies. His studio was “One big room, and one small room.” It sounds perfect.

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/ 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.

Getting Lit

Dunham & Deatherage

When I was in middle school, I had friend who's family owned an inexpensive motel in downtown Reno. Yes, it was that glamorous. After playing basketball we'd go to his house and his mother would give us quarters that came from the slot machine in the motel office. We'd take the money and buy pizza then hang out in my friend's big brother's room. I'm sure everyone had a friend with a big brother who smoked pot, had an American flag hanging on the wall, needed a haircut or two, and loafed around all day. I should have been impressed by his coolness factor, but never really was. He was always too stoned, looked dirty, and his balls would fall out of his too short shorts when he passed out. But his room was covered with black light posters lit by an overhead black light. Seriously groovy.

The black light posters of the 1960s and 70s were printed with fluorescent inks and displayed under black light that intensified their psychadelic-ness. If you've been on a dark ride like Buzz Lightyear at Disneyland, you know the effect. The subject matter was aimed at horny teenage pot smoking boys: naked women, marijuana references, rock and roll, and comics. Some of the early Fillmore posters were beautifully designed, the later ones fall into the category of black velvet paintings of leopards. I can't decide if they are truly hideous or so hideous that they transcend into wonderful. I do know that if you find yourself in a friend's room filled with these you may be with the wrong crowd.

Silver Surfer

Alexander Rotany, 1972

il_570xN.272147053 a5ee808cc6e846bea2b46ba84fe1dcdc

Steve Sachs, 1967

Zodiac Lovers 1975

War Queen, 1970


David Norda, 1968

Enjoy, 1973

Take Care. The Flesh is The Grass.

the hidden message

Clearly, there was a "War on Children" in the 1970s. This was a covert and widespread conspiracy to infiltrate our minds with complicated subliminal ideas and confuse us with non-sensical connections. If you're old enough, you remember the nuclear war film from middle school. It told us that we would:

1. Probably have to be in a shelter with people we didn't know.

2. Put on a radiation suit and take freshly dead people outside every morning, even if they were your loved ones

3. Determine who was too far gone and immediately cease care

4. Assign someone for latrine duty to discard human waste outside in the radiation zone

Obviously, sneaking this in between Shock and Its Symptoms and Compound Fractures and Splints was a way to subliminally terrorize us.

I recently found an old chemistry textbook that also seems to have a hidden agenda to cause disturbing dreams and paranoid delusions. I especially like the text innocently placed like a caption that reads "Flesh is Grass". What in the name of God does that mean? It sounds like line from  A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's creepy and clearly written by someone very, very sick.

There is a super strange tongue diagram that makes me want to try to find these alien growths on my tongue and scrape them off. And finally a bizarre diagram that tells me poison gas and soldiers equals a tasty dinner. WTF? I like the seemingly harmless and nice illustrations of disparate elements (or are they subliminal metaphorical symbols that might be used to "activate" us in the future?).

If you have any doubt about this evil subliminal campaign, consider the McDonald's characters: Hamburglar, Grimace, Mayor McCheese, Birdie the Early Bird, Captain Crook, Fry Kids, and Uncle O'Grimacey

these growths may be on your tongue

why children have night terrors

gassed soldiers create tasty meals

Freudian symbols

good endpaper

The evil Grimace

The 59th Street Bridge Song

Hills Bros. Coffee Menu

Last week, the crew in the studio allowed me to link to the stereo system and play music from my library. After a few hours of easy listening after the Longines Symphonette played Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, it was disconnected. Now there is a ban on my hip tunes. In the same vein, I can prove I'm super groovy by sharing these out of this world pieces from Disneyland in the late 60s and early 70s. You might think, "Oh, Disneyland. How square." But check it out dude, this stuff is rocking. Who knew wacky duo-tones and overprinting could be so swell?

Now if we deconstruct the genesis of this style we land in a place about counter-culture mind-altering drug use. I'm sure some guests insisted on taking psychotropic substances and riding Alice in Wonderland. I remember smelling pot in Adventure Thru Inner Space when I was a teenager. I once had a friend suggest we all go to Disneyland and get high. I said no of course. That just sounds un-American. But, I have collected the cool and happening graphics. I'm groovy.

Hills Bros. Coffee Menu
Show logo
Grad Nite  1971
Grad Nite 1971
Disneyland Cookbook, late 1960s
Disneyland Bag
Vacationland, 1981
Grad Nite 1970
Grad Nite 1975
Grad Nite 1971
Grad Nite 1971
Grad Nite 1968

An Encyclopedic Photographic Memory of Ephemera

I enjoy accusing others of illiteracy. “Don’t you people read?” I ask my students. “If you’d read the copy, you’d understand why the image works,” I say to clients, but in a nicer way. “For the love of God put down that iPhone and get a book,” I tell my niece and nephews. Then I find I am as guilty of the same sin.

I have a book about the 1964 World’s Fair. I’ve never read it. I do, however, know each and every illustration, color palette, and photograph in the book. Who knows what it is about? I’m too distracted by the tiny drawings on divider pages. To make matters worse, I deconstruct the meaning of the imagery. And I make odd connections that require an encyclopedic photographic memory of ephemera. Fortunately, I have this. For example, the overview of the Fair is surprisingly similar to the layout of Epcot, which is a sort of permanent world’s fair (or beer walk, depending on your interest.) Finally, the color palette for the fair preview images is exactly the same as the preview book for Walt Disney World, published a few years later. Coincidence? You be the judge.










The Big Story

Lately, you may have noticed a longer time between postings here. Yes, of course, I’ve been busy. A new term at Art Center just began; I’m working on a new book, several time intensive projects, and heading to the Dice conference tomorrow to speak. Nevertheless, I’ve been busy for years. The saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” applies to me. The issue is graphic design. I spend all day with it. I teach, write, and yammer on about it. Lately, when I think about posting something I look at possible design pieces and think, “I am so over this.” Don’t worry. It’s a passing phase, and I’m bound to find some design I’m inspired by soon.

To escape typography, I watched Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and Ryan’s Daughter again recently. They are all remarkable. If you haven’t seen these, they aren’t what you think. Yes, Doctor Zhivago and Ryan’s Daughter are love stories. But they are played out on such a vast scale against epic times. And, they are extraordinarily and exquisitely designed.  David Lean’s vision is clear and refined. Julie Christie (who looks remarkably like Paula Scher) is the most beautiful woman who ever lived. The Panavision cinemascope and color is unbelievable. These are big, big, big movies. This is what a movie is supposed to look like.

I admit, there are some aspects that didn’t age well. Everyone’s makeup in Doctor Zhivago is a little heavy and runs toward a groovy 1965 dark eyes, light lips look. As T. E. Lawrence, Peter O’Toole captures a complex and troubled character, but he should have said “no,” to the third application of mascara.

Finally, there is a scene in Ryan’s Daughter that is my favorite in any film. It’s only a moment, when Sarah Miles lies on the forest ground and looks up. The camera points up to the tree's canopy. There is no music, only the sound of the rustling leaves and creaking of the branches as they barely move in the wind.

Color Me Mad

I believe I’ve found the root of one of my issues. Yes, it’s the bad taste in color issue. I wish I could be like Michael Bierut, or Chip Kidd, or Dana Arnett, and work with sophisticated and elegant tones. It’s always my goal, but as many of you have noticed, the train always derails and I end up with violet and fuchsia. Why is this? What has driven me to this aberration? My parents had flawless good taste in color. Navy blue and beige were acceptable, pink was okay during the summer, but only tasteless people wore turquoise or purple. My grandparents had a thing for red, white, and blue during the bicentennial, but then it was back to off-white.

The answer is On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’s credit sequence. I saw this when I was six. Isn’t that the age when individuals begin to form creatively? If you want to mess someone up big time, don’t you begin locking him or her in closets at five or six? The credits are clearly (no pun intended) designed to impart the idea of infinity. Let’s look at the facts, though. It’s 1970. Most of the audience was probably on some kind of dope. This was a psychedelic trip visual. And I sat there, soaking up the garish combinations. Now I am ruined, unable to maintain a desire for beige or taupe.

Note: bypass the singing and jump to 1:30. This is where Barbra Streisand begins to fly like the Flying Nun and the drug induced graphics begin.

Let's Take an Old Fashioned Walk

Originally, I planned to do this post about modernism done well, and modernism done badly. For example, the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe is done well. A black box office building on Ventura Boulevard is not so good. The JC Penney annual report for 1970 is a great example of beautiful and precise modernism. George Tscherny’s design is crisp and clean. The Helvetica is elegant. This is what a Swiss grid and Helvetica can be in the hands of a master. This is, obviously, the intent for the current JC Penney Helvetica style.

But, while doing research for this post, I came across the website, It’s a treasure trove of shopping catalogues. The 1970 JC Penney Christmas catalogue has nothing to do with the annual report beside the date. It’s a remarkable time capsule. The clothes are, of course, funny. It’s the odd subtext of the pages that make it such a pleasure. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did see some plaid shirts that I wanted to buy. But you cannot call 1970. Nobody answers, and there were no answering machines.


And now, from high modernism to nifty hats and big pockets on the front of pants.

I don't think anyone looks good in His n' Hers styles. Couples should not match unless they are in a groovy band like Kids of the Kingdom.

This is further proof that matching outfits are wrong. And these simply look illicit.

There is an odd prevalence of men holding women on the ground in this book. It's quite submissive and frankly disturbing. I believe the women should be allowed to stand, especially if forced to wear department store headbands. Even I know that's uncool.

Am I wrong or is this a page of "swingers"? And I don't mean the dancing to swing music people. These are the people who live down the block and invite you to a "key" party. Don't go. It will end badly.

What can be said? First, these are bathmats with holes cut for sleeves. Second, these vests scream, "beat me up! Please!" A nun would cross the street to beat up these kids.


A good friend of mine, the amazing designer Jim Cross, is a great aficionado of traditional Hawaiian music. Jim has impeccable taste. His taste in classic, authentic Hawaiian music is educated and refined. I, on the other hand, have plebian taste in many things. I’m just as happy at In-n-Out Burger as a 5 star steakhouse. My taste in Hawaiian music is no less low-end.

If you want to experience the truly relaxing Hawaiian sounds, check out Hawaii Calls. This was a program broadcast in front of the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel on Waikiki. On weekends, I tune the Pandora station to this and relax with rum based beverages. If you enjoy chanting, ukulele, drums, and the slack-key guitar (and who doesn’t), you’ll love this Hawaiian music. If you have a problem with the soothing sounds of the islands, buy the records for the covers alone. At least you will be anxious, mean, and angry while enjoying the album art.

Gifts of the Gods

When you are a designer of any kind, interior, graphic, industrial, whatever, you receive really awful gifts. This sounds horrible and ungrateful. It’s the gifts your parents, grandparents, and cousins give you. We’ve all been in the situation when you’re given a lovely gift wrapped in the “cool” wrapping paper from the Container Store. When you discover it’s a remarkably over-designed swoopy lady-shaped wine corkscrew in lime green, you must express surprise and incredible happiness. It’s assumed that, as a designer, you must like the groovy designed things. I bypass this problem by telling my family to focus on gifts of cactus and American flags.

I did, however, receive one of my best gifts for my birthday this year. The Disney Gallery at Disneyland is holding an exhibition of Mary Blair. The studies for the lost attraction, Thunder Mesa, are truly genius. And the renderings for the Grand Canyon Concourse tiles are possibly the best color palette ever conceived. These two birthday gifts are now in my kitchen. I considered putting them downstairs in the rumpus room so they wouldn’t fade. That would be no fun. And that’s a bad path. Soon I will be closing all the blinds, draping furniture, and storing art in a dark space, like my grandparents.


Tequila Sunrise

If you were “with it” in 1967 you went to cocktail parties in Malibu, drove a yellow Corvette, made macramé plant holders, and listened to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. You may already know Herb Alpert from Casino Royale (the first one), or Pee Wee Herman’s dance to Tequila. In today’s hustle and bustle world, I find Herb Alpert to be the perfect music for the drive home. It’s relaxing, fresh, and pretty groovy. I have a special weakness for 1960s Victorian revivalist typography. This is the kind of typographic layout seen at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour. Alpert’s 1965 album, Whipped Cream & Other Delights, is the prime example of this. I tried using this kind of composition on a magazine project recently. I thought it was the hippest thing I’d ever done. The client just laughed and said, “That reminds me of something old timey. Like a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour.” And…

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out, Make It Pink

I did a video interview for Mig Reyes today. He asked me to say a few words about myself so I said, “I’m a partner at AdamsMorioka with Noreen Morioka….” Then I added, sarcastically, “It’s a great place, we play the Beach Boys all the time and people are dancing on their desks.” Unfortunately, this didn’t come off as sarcasm, but as psycho. The only other option I could think of was that we like hot colors. But that seemed shallow as opposed to the deep and insightful Beach Boys comment.

While pondering this, I looked in the basket on my desk and saw this great notepad. “Oh, pink and red,” I thought and was quickly distracted. This is a notepad that I’m guessing was made around 1970 by Hallmark. Why is the world currently scared of hot pink and orange? I think it’s miraculous. It’s sort of LSD trip for the mainstream. The avocado green paper on the inside makes it even more wonderful. And if this isn’t enough content, I’ve added a page with my grandmother’s recipe for an apricot peach soufflé.

Feelin' Groovy

There is nothing groovier to me than square, squeaky clean people who are trying to be “down and groovy.” The Kids of the Kingdom, and The New Establishment were musical groups at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland in 1968. And boy, are they square. They make me look like Neil Young. But, because they are trying to be “with it” and “cool” they become truly groovy.

As designers, we’re all taught to stay ahead of the popular culture curve. When I was in school, we spent quite a bit of time and energy being “cool” and cutting-edge. Years later, when Noreen and I started AdamsMorioka, I let go of trying to stay ahead of the hip curve. It was a great relief to not have to try to be cool anymore. I admire the performers in The New Establishment and The Kids of the Kingdom. They probably played some big hits like, Up, Up, and Away, Cherish, and Windy, and then went out with their friends convinced they were the hippest people at a night-club, or they really knew how to groove and everyone else was just plain un-cool.