Un Año De Amor


Signage is serious. People may not find a restroom in time. They may get lost and miss the Gap. If you are a signage designer you must be serious. You must make big, black, monolithic directories that include serious information. There is no room for fun. None. Don't even think about color. Helvetica, red and black dammit!

Urban signage is hard. There are multiple committees made up of government officials who previously worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The signs need to be clear in a complex and changing environment. They need to withstand weather, vandalism, climbing children, and birds. These are the factors that lead to the 2001: A Space Odyssey black monolith directories.

Lance Wyman's system for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics are what every Olympics tries to outdo, and nobody has come close (sorry to my friends who have designed some of these. they're swell, but not 1968 Mexico City). But, today I want to talk about Wyman's program for the Mexico City Metro from 1969. This solution achieves all the difficult  goals, but maintains a sense of exuberance and joy. The program reflects a Mexican color palette and sensibility. And it looks like it was fun to design. How can a subway system with orange, pink, teal, and avocado green not be magnificent? I would ride the Los Angeles Metro all the time if it had icons of grasshoppers, sailing ships, and a duck for a station.

Wyman's work is a beacon of optimism in a dull, drab, and serious world.



Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Stamp, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Tipo font, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Station icons, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969

Lance Wyman, Mexico City Metro, 1969


Party Like It's 1968, part 1

Last week I managed to crash this blog. I don’t know how, but Noreen said I did, so it’s probably true. In rebuilding the cabin, I found the year 1968 to appear more than any other. Now, a good editor would say, “Well, then, let’s make sure we cover other years.” But I say, “Let’s have more.” So prepare yourself.

I don’t know why 1968 shows up so much. It was a pivotal year in American culture. The Cultural Revolution was at its height. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, and Barbarella were released and depicted three distinctly different visions of the future. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago became a firestorm. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. And Richard Nixon was elected President.

In 1968, design had a wonderful combination of smart ideas mixed with a bolder palette and less rigid approach. On the whole, in design, this was the last gasp of the “simple big idea” school. By 1970, design had adopted expressive illustration and more intuitive solutions. If you think I had a personal connection to 1968, like high school graduation, you are wrong. I was four. We lived in the Haight in San Francisco, I was in an experimental co-op nursery school, and the first movie I remember seeing was Barbarella.

For Your Aural Pleasure

Many of you have written, and asked, "Sean, where can I find interesting ringtones and alert sounds for my computer?" The answer is here at the cabin. This collection has a sci-fi bent for those of you in the sci-fi nerd category. Since I made them, I must be in there, also. And I added an extra that we put on Noreen's computer for her alert sound about cookies.

Jetson's doorbell

HAL9000 moment

2001: voiceprint identification

Voyager door signal

HAL9000 Tracking

HAL9000 Message

Battlestar Galactica Action Stations

would you like a cookie?

Type of Tomorrow

I’m often asked, “Sean, what’s the future of design?” Fortunately, I know. I specifically know the future of screen-based design. I’ve seen it on television. There are several options.

If you prefer a future that is run-down and multi-cultural, Blade Runner shows us how to mix corporate identity and Japanese Kanji. LA Eyeworks is still in business, and the Los Angeles Police Department has hired a designer with a retro-digital outlook. For those preferring a modernist future, 2001: A Space Odyssey articulates a future with a nice and consistent on-screen typographic palette. Courier and OCRA are still all the rage. Many screens are now vertical to better see tall people.

Modernism still dominates in the 24th century on Star Trek, The Next Generation. Akzidenz Grotesk Medium Condensed has been determined as the only acceptable typeface, and tablet shapes are de rigueur. Screen based typography on the latest Star Trek movie has the problem of over-using Microgramma. However, any use of Microgramma is over-usage. In this future, we are obviously able to digest enormous amounts of information on screen with tiny type. Luckily, everyone seems to be under 30 and tech-savvy.

This is what I now know: if you are a designer in the future, you may be asked to use Microgramma or fill the screen with trivial information. Just say no.

Very pretty pretty pretty

Warning or congratulations: There is some nudity above.

The first movie we see as a child leaves an indelible mark. Many of my friends cite the following: The Sound of Music, Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, even the bizarre Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The first movie recall seeing was Barbarella at a theater on Van Ness in San Francisco. I am convinced the typographic strip scene for the titles began my love for typography. It’s interesting that Barbarella was made in 1968, the same year 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 is a hard-edged technologically driven vision of the future. Barbarella is soft and sexual. They share a connection to psychedelia. The final scenes of 2001, and most of Barbarella are clearly about an altered mind experience. While I love 2001, Jane Fonda’s fur lined spaceship is ingrained on my soul. If I had a spaceship and needed to spend months in space, I’d much rather have her groovy carpeted van version with the sexually ambiguous computer, over the pristine Discovery One and Hal (wait he’s sexually ambiguous also).

Design in Space


Several years ago, we pitched the idea of doing a show about “design in film” to the Sundance Channel. Yes, this was stepping out of our job of identity and brand design, but we had their attention via the on-air graphics, so why not? Well it worked as well as teaching a goat Buddhism. They just looked at us as if we had suggested doing a show about watching grass grow. Our first show would have focused Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. So, I abandoned our idea and focused on deconstructing (that’s French structuralism for stealing) the design of the movie.

Unlike Design Observer, that discussed the film's typographic choices, mainly Futura, with an exemplary intellectual rigor, I am excited by the aesthetics and wacky spacefood packaging. The color palette is a lesson in late 1960s “sophistication”: ochre, avocado green, orange, cornflower blue, paired in black and white settings. The shapes used for doors, windows, on-screen graphics, and the monolith could all be easily converted into high-style corporate identities of the time. My favorite element, however, is the food service tray. The quirky illustrations of specific food items to be eaten through a straw are strangely out of place in the high-design aesthetic. But they give hope that there will be a home for odd and wacky when we are flying on a Pan Am shuttle to the moon.

wacky mashed food mashed corn mashed peas Logic Memory Center The Tycho monolith in a neo-classical Bel-Air style home circa 1968 on screen interface on moon shuttle