On Bad Decisions

For many years, I have warned others that using that uber-mondo-groovy typeface may impress others at first, but then will become an embarrassment, like a bad high school haircut. I used this reasoning with a certain authority, often described as “smugness” by others. I had large hair in high school, but it was basically a bigger version of my hair today.

Then I found a series of episodes of American Bandstand on YouTube that included me. These make the bad type choice seem laughable. Not only did I choose excessively trendy clothes; I wore them on national television. I’m sure at the time, I thought my yellow Ton Sur Ton shirt from Paris and red Vans were so totally on track. I added my paint splattered Swatch watch to show that I was creative. It was a train-wreck of 1980s Southern California style. Fortunately, it was a detour. As evidenced below, a photograph from my pre-school on Russian Hill in San Francisco. Far left, I am wearing close to my current everyday clothes.

 
Sean, far left: in madras, khakis, and Converse sneakers

Sean, far left: in madras, khakis, and Converse sneakers

The choice to be on American Bandstand may seem odd. It started with an idea my best friend Erica and I had to go on a local dance show aired on public access in the Valley. We thought it would be fun and Ironic (remember, in Art School, one thinks this way). Erica’s dad suggested we think bigger and do Bandstand. Why not? It was even more ironic. Erica, her cousin Tina, my friend Peter and I sent photos and a note explaining why we wanted to be on Bandstand to Dick Clark Productions. A couple of weeks later, we received letters asking us to join the next taping of six episodes.

It began as an ironic conceptual art project, but quickly became a serious issue once we realized that we needed six different outfits. I could pull off one or two groovy looks, but six was excessive. Somehow we managed, although some of the choices were far more disturbing as seen by the examples posted below.

The lesson here:

  1. Don’t use trendy typefaces

  2. Stay away from groovy clothing choices

  3. Get a haircut if your hair is giant

  4. Don’t go on a dance program and dance in a listless and “art school I don’t care about anything” way.

 

For those young people who have no idea what American bandstand is:

American Bandstand is an iconic audio-visual time capsule encompassing four decades worth of dances, performances, fashions and fads in popular music. The show, hosted by Dick Clark from 1956 to 1989, introduced new musical acts to generations of Americans. (https://www.dickclark.com/shows/american-bandstand)

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 Images of the Mad

Or when bad photos happen to good people

As of today, I have 1,076 images In my iPhoto Disneyland album. That may seem excessive to some, and not enough for others. They're a mix of photos I took, images I found, and scans of artifacts. I had a friend who worked at the park and had a great collection of obese people there, but mine are mostly typography. On the other hand I have fewer than 30 print photographs of Disneyland from the time I was a kid to the 1990s. Strangely, these mostly suck

You'd think that the cost of film and prints coupled with a degree from art school later, would lead to well considered and composed images. No. I seem to either have been on crack or in the midst of a seizure when I took these. They're of odd items such as the roof of the River Belle Terrace, or they're crooked and blurry. There is no sense of a focal point or rule of thirds.

Today I get furious when I see guests photograph their subject thirty feet away: "Hold on until everyone passes. I want all of you in the frame with the castle." BRING YOUR SUBJECT TO THE FOREGROUND! We don't need to see their shoes. After finding my careless and oddly cropped images, I can no longer throw that stone.

Of course, I couldn't help myself, and decided to fix some of these. But I think I like the bad ones better.

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 Oldest Living Rubylith User

Several weeks ago, I was asked to do a short segment for the 25th Anniversary of Photoshop. It sounded fun until I was told I would need to demonstrate some of the tools used before Photoshop. First, this was an honor and scary at the same time. It was wonderful to be asked, but was I the last living designer who remembers what a rubylith was? And then the thought of showing how we used these tools after 25 years was challenging. But, what the heck? If I got any of it wrong, I was the last one alive to know.

During the shoot, I realized that the rapidographs weren't working and I didn't have a true square edge to the drafting table. I hoped that nobody would notice this. But I was surprised how quickly I recalled the process. I didn't have time to mix the rubber cement to the right consistency, or cut the ruby exactly (you'll know what that means if you are old). I liked how meditative the process was. It was slow and careful, a true craft. My hands even got dirty with ink and rubber cement boogers.

When I was finished with my demonstration, I kind of missed the old days of typesetting, the waxing machine, and the quiet concentration of making a mechanical. I recall going to AIGA events in New York in my early 20s. I would see Massimo Vignelli who was always kind and oddly remembered my name. He was flawless in his Massimo simple black and white clothes. Or Ken Carbone, who was also dressed in the most relentlessly crisp white shirts. I had my khakis, pink oxfords, and repp ties with bits of rubber cement, glue, and pieces of tape. I could never understand how everyone else stayed so clean. That was the true secret of life before Photoshop.

Mai-Tais and Suicide, Is it Bad?

One of my favorite spots was Trader Vics at the Beverly Hilton. It used to be a very Sinatra Beverly Hills crowd, but then the other group, producers and prostitutes, found it. Unfortunately, it was recently updated. Why, I don’t know. I guess it was on the verge of being very cool, so time to make it tasteful. At the other end of the spectrum is Trader Dicks at the Nugget in Sparks, Nevada. It’s amazingly cheesy in a 1980s porn movie way. I actually love it more. If you are looking for an evening of serious career alcoholic drinking with mai-tais, this is the place. This is dangerous, though. You can either revel in the plastic flower, velveteen booth, and fried pupu platter wonderfulness, or it can go the other way. If you are the type who drinks and has crying jags, this atmosphere may lead to the most depressing evening of your life. But it’s Reno, and a gamble as to whether the night ends with hilarity or an intentional overdose.

G.I. Jive

The Camp Beverly Hills jacket, photo Penny Wolin

Before I graduated from college, I worked as a photo assistant with a remarkable photographer, Penny Wolin. At one point, we spent a summer traveling through the Rocky Mountain states to shoot a project, The Jews of Wyoming: fringe of the Diaspora. It was an incredible experience. One evening, we took a break and stopped into a bar near Laramie, Wyoming for a beer. When we walked in, I realized this was the local bar for the service-men and women at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base. I felt pretty nifty because I was wearing my nylon bomber jacket and had aviator sunglasses. “Yep,” I thought as we talked with people, “I’m fitting in just fine here.”

Now, here’s where this post takes a left turn. When we left and I threw my jacket in the back of the VW bus, it occurred to me that the bomber jacket was good, but maybe having Camp Beverly Hills stitched across the back was a little out of sync. For those of you wondering, “What the heck is that?” Camp Beverly Hills was a cool place to shop off of Rodeo in the 1980s. The store specialized in pastel colored t-shirts and outfits, with a few military items mixed in. Everything had the Camp Beverly Hills logo, which, hard to believe, is now cool again. In retrospect, the people we met at that bar from Warren Air Force Base were pretty impressive. They were friendly and chatty, and I didn’t get beaten up.

What I was trying to emulate, no luck

Drew Barrymore, ET years, Camp Beverly Hills

Vals, and Goldie Hawn, Camp Beverly Hills

More vals, 1980s, Camp Beverly Hills

Camp Beverly Hills today, retro 80s cool