Talking about Blunt Talk on Blunt Talk

Several months ago, my good friend Tristram Shapeero asked me if I'd like to design the identity for the UBS Network. Now the great thing about this is that UBS Network doesn't exist. It's the fictional network on Blunt Talk a new series on Starz, created by Jonathan AmesSeth MacFarlane and Tristram. The series follows Walter Blunt, played by Patrick Stewart, who moves to Los Angeles with the intentions of conquering American nightly cable news with his program, Blunt Talk.


The network name, UBS, is an homage to the network in the 1976 movie, Network ("I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore.") This was the first thing I thought about when I received the script, but I tend to hang on to lots of pointless facts. Fortunately, when I sat down with Jonathan, he said this was entirely intentional.

The design solution for the identity is derived from a stained glass window on the Howard Beale Show in the Network movie. If that isn't meta enough, I designed a fictional history of the network from 1935–2015 based on a fragmentary shot of the UBS logo behind Faye Dunaway. The fictional history of the network is built into the set as a corporate wall. 

But one issue keeps me awake at night. The show on Starz is called Blunt Talk. The show on Blunt Talk on the UBS Network is "Blunt Talk". Should my "Blunt Talk" logo be the same logo for the real world Blunt Talk? See, confusing, but fun like a mobius strip. 

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.

Plastic Fantastic Wonderland

I've noticed that every concept car I see looks the same; sort of a swoopy Prius like car with very little headroom. I don't think I want one of these in the future. I want the rounded car with lots of headroom in Sleeper. Granted there are problems with the tiny sliver of a window and it would no doubt bottom out on the easiest of bumps, but it's pretty swell. I also like the pod-like cars on Logan's Run. Again, the lack of a steering wheel, seat belts, or any radio could be an issue, but cool design trumps these.

Dale Hennesy was the production designer on Logan's Run and Sleeper. Both of these have that distinct glossy and slick 1970s futuristic vision. Plastic is big. Chrome is hip. All white interiors like an Apple store or the new Enterprise work well. The furniture is made for awkward lounging and would clearly pose problems when it was time to stand up. Also, it must be quite temperate in the future. The people in Logan's Run seem to wear draping silk scarves as clothing and are really into those low socks. In this story, people are killed at 30 to maintain population control. Given the lack of arch-support if you only wear socks, this is a positive. Otherwise these people would be limping around at 40.

Most importantly, I appreciate the Garanimals approach to clothes. Monochrome is big. Nobody has clashing patterns or colors. Everyone is very matchy matchy. Perhaps people go home and change into plaid pants and flower patterned shirts in private.

Mon beau Montréal

1976 Montréal Olympics, Georges Huel

I recently judged a competition for the GDC in Canada. Much of the work was from Montréal, and it was darned good. There's some cracker jack stuff happening up there in the cold north. I've never been to Montreal, but I've been lucky enough to have been invited to many other parts of Canada.

If you've never been, it's like this: imagine that you go back in time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. You step on that one butterfly, and sure enough the butterfly effect happens. Once you go back into the time machine and return to the present day, everything seems the same... almost. That's what Canada is like. It seems just like home, but then there are little things that are just slightly different, like a different dimension one step away from our reality. Of course, there is different money. They speak English, albeit slightly differently. The stores are sort of the same, except you can buy really cool lumberjack kind of stuff at Roots. And they look like us, but they're incredibly nice.

One of my favorite Olympics programs, or programme to our French Canadian friends, is the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Georges Huel created a harmony of elements that are exuberant and tightly controlled. What a wonderful time it must have been in 1976. A designer could design with flawless Swiss typography, staying on the grid, aligning photos to the golden section. Nobody made accusations of post-modern referential appropriation. Swiss typography in a pure form was a just a swell solution. Judging by the photo of Huel's team, I imagine lots of long lunches drinking Harvey Wallbangers and chilled white wine..


Design Team: Georges Huel, Léo Chevalier, Marielle Fleury, Michel Robichaud, John Warden


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The Slow Descent into Madness

I imagine being an interior designer is a hard job. So many people seem to have revolting taste. How do you tell a client that the orange deep shag carpeting and gold columns are tacky? As graphic designers, we face the same issue with typography. I’ve worked with clients who have the most beautifully designed offices, filled with Mies van der Rohe and Eames furniture. But, they invariably pull out a horrible piece of typography and suggest that for the logo. It isn’t the client’s fault; they don’t have the same OCD issues around a correct serif resolution that we do.

For my entire career, I’ve been a typographic purist. We managed to maintain with a handful of tried and true standards. We avoided trendy fonts and anything slightly degenerated or techno. In the past year, however, things have changed. We recently used ITC Avant Garde as a starting point on a wordmark. We re-purchased it, because I deleted it from every computer a decade ago. Last week, I designed a poster for our twentieth anniversary with ITC Bookman Swash Italic. What’s next, clown outfits for everyone at the studio? Linen paper?!

Once, when a client showed me a brochure with Avant Garde, I explained that this was the same as wall-to-wall green shag carpeting. Alternatively, Univers was a fine, tasteful, and well-made area rug. If I’ve accepted ITC Bookman, have I moved into liking Harvest Gold appliances? Is that so wrong? Perhaps the severity of my rules needs to be examined.

Pictorial Souvenir Discourse Analysis

It’s amazing to me when I meet another Los Angeleno who has never been to Disneyland. Are the communists? Did they grow up with abusive and cruel parents who built a Carrie closet? Do they hate the idea of fun? Of course, they typically tell me “It’s not my kind of thing.” Or, “I don’t understand the attraction of contemporary mass market spectacle.” Boring, boring people.

When I was a kid, I had a copy of “Disneyland, a pictorial souvenir”. I know every detail of every image. The images paint such a nice story of a lazy day with family, rock and roll fun with teens, and exciting (but not overly exciting) adventures. When I looked through this recently, I began to decode the images. Yes, OCD, yes geeky, yes, too much emphasis on deconstruction in art school. I found several running themes.

1. Old people and People with hats.

Hats signify an exciting time. There are many matching hats on old people and kids. Old people let us know that Disneyland can be enjoyed by everyone. I know this is true. I've been there with my grandparents. Although they preferred that we visit each land in a counter-clockwise direction and never jump between sides of the park.

2. Nuns

There are nuns all over the place in the Disneyland visual landscape. They show up on preliminary sketches, and in souvenir books. I don't think there is any hidden religious subtext. This has more to do with the supposed cruelty of nuns who slam rulers on Catholic school children. Nuns are not thought of as carefree, anything goes, kinds of women.


3. Blurry motion

These say “speed.” Disneyland can be a crazed, fast paced, and thrilling place. Everything is fast: a hip dance scene in Tomorrowland, Rocket Jets, America the Beautiful Circlevision, the Peoplemover, and the Mad Tea Party Teacups. The Teacups are, and Rocket Jets (now the Astro Orbitor) were, indeed, too fast for me. All that spinning. But the Peoplemover and Circlevision were fairly slow paced. This was good. The Peoplemover had a hard fiberglass interior. I would not want to be in a Peoplemover whipping around the bend that fast, slammed against the hard seat, or in a Circlevision theater with guests throwing up.


4. Leg details

From a child’s point of view this must be what Disneyland looks like. These tell us that cast members are cleaning, the costume characters will interact with children, and there are horses. We also don't need to involve ourselves with details such as individual people.


5. Lingering

Many images show people meandering and lingering. They stare into a shop window on Main Street (why, I don’t know. The door is two feet away). Others look at unique items in the One of a Kind Shop, or watch the The Royal Street Bachelors in New Orleans Square. This tells us that there is time to relax, saunter, and discover stuff to buy. Unlike most of the stores I visit, here I can and linger and not be asked to leave. The downside of these images is the message that it's okay to walk really slowly down Main Street, 8 abreast. It's not. Some of us need lunch.

6. Darkness

Whether it’s real night outside, or simulated night in the Blue Bayou, these images are indicators that Disneyland is not just for kids. You can have dinner with your middle-aged friends or neighbors. You can take your spouse on a special dinner date while the kids hang out in Fantasyland. Or you can throw caution to the wind and get groovy with the young adults.

Tales of Gods and Heroes

Tomoko Miho.

Whenever I see the movie, Two For the Road, with Audrey Hepburn, I think about Tomoko Miho. In the 1960s, she and the remarkable Jim Miho spent half a year touring Europe in a silver Porsche. They visited designers and must have been the chicest people in every restaurant or little village.

Miho’s work is lucid, minimal, true to international style modernism, and speaks with clarity. But it also allows for spontaneity and the unexpected. In her words, she “Joins space and substance. It is that harmony that creates the ringing clarity of statement that we sense as an experience, as a meaningful whole, as a oneness-as good design.”

The Circus is a Wacky Place

As a design student, I was repeatedly told to study Polish poster art. This was in response to my work that was deemed, “too tasty, too polite.” I spent hours looking at these posters and..., nothing. They made no sense to me, and I could not understand what they meant, how they arrived at this odd aesthetic, or what they had to do with my work. Today, I realize the value of these posters. They transcend the expected. They follow an aesthetic that is fearless and non-traditional. And they allow for gesture and passion.

Now I find myself suggesting the same thing to my students. My students come back and say, “Professor Adams, I don’t understand what they have to do with my work.”  To which I say, "Look at them again."

The CYRK (circus) posters were designed during the golden age of polish posters, from 1962 to 1989. The state commissioned these posters to promote a new, modern circus. The designers followed this assignment with non-literal, suggestive forms. Often, these contained hidden anti-Soviet and anti-Communism symbols.

In all honesty, they still mystify me. I can imagine how Josef Muller-Brockmann designed a poster, or Alvin Lustig, or even Yusaku Kamekura. They are beautiful and mysterious, but are from a culture so far removed from my reality, that Martians might have designed them.


from the Lou Danziger Collection

Wiktor Gorka, 1967

Spray and Pray

On my first day at art school, a student two years ahead told me emphatically, “You need to know how to airbrush.” As freshmen, we used colored pencils and gouache. In the junior level studio, they all used the airbrush. The sound of the spraying and chug of the motor was often interrupted with, “sonofabitch!” I was frequently concerned that my career would never happen because I couldn’t use an airbrush.

For those of you who only know the spray paint can symbol in Photoshop®, an airbrush is a machine that is like a fancy can of spray paint. A compressor runs a stream of air through a nozzle that has paint. To make an image, you mask off the areas you don’t want painted, and smoothly spray. Then you take off that mask and make another one. The airbrush sounds easy. I’m sure you may be thinking, “so what, I can use spray paint.” But it clogs, splatters, your masks pull off other paint, and you shout “sonofabitch!” a lot.

My inability to use the tool only makes my admiration for the masters of airbrush greater. Digital perfection and high-definition may be in vogue today, but I think it’s time to celebrate this great work. It was a southern California art form that screams Venice Beach, roller-skating, Xanadu, Sunset Strip, and palm trees. And even better, the guys who were the airbrush kings, such as Charlie White, were the most laid-back, down-to-earth, and just plain nice people I’ve ever known.