Revenge of the Rigid

Environmental Protection Agency identity system and manual
Chermayeff and Geismar, 1977

From Design Observer

In 2015, Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth started a Kickstarter campaign to reprint the NASA Graphics Standards Manual, designed Danne & Blackburn in 1975. Recently, Reed and Smyth, as Standards Manual, with AIGA, have launched another Kickstarter campaign to reprint the EPA Standards Manual. Chermayeff and Geismar designed the identity and system in 1977. To date the suite of manuals also includes the Manuals for the Official Symbol of the American Revolution Bicentennial, and the New York City Transit Authority.

The commonality with all of these manuals, beside their overwhelming popularity now, is the rigidity of the graphic systems. The manuals clearly mandate how to use the logo, how not to use the logo, what color is acceptable, and the only typeface option. Examples of applications show the grid structure and type of imagery. As many possible examples are identified from a satellite to a Telephone Directory cover. These are not systems to be messed with.

What is contrary here is the current fascination with these hard-line identity systems in a design culture that proselytizes the virtues of flexible logos and customizable systems. Let’s identify the differences. The classical post-war identity program followed the strict guidelines. Designers working with the program followed the rules in the manual and produced work that maintained a consistent visual system. By the 1980s, the idea of a flexible identity, that is a logo that can change, evolved. The MTV logo (Manhattan Design, 1980) is a prominent example of the flexible identity system. Designers working with a flexible system were encouraged to bring their own creativity to the project and create dynamic and surprising results.

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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.

Shame

After a speaking engagement I like to spend a few minutes with a Q+A session. I often really mess up.

Years ago, I used an image of a run down trailer on a poster for a lecture. The idea was to show my deepest fear, that I would end up in poverty, hopeless, living in a trailer with garbage on the lawn. During the Q+A, one woman stood up and said, "I don't appreciate you making fun of poor people." I responded that was not the intention, it wasn't about socio-economic status, but the idea of losing hope. She continued, "I hope you realize that some of us live in mobile homes." This is where it turned bad.

I should have said, "Yes, you're right. It was insensitive. I'm sorry." But, of course, I didn't. I responded, "Really? I had no idea. I didn't realize that designers live in mobile homes." Of course, I knew designers lived in all kind of houses, but I was on a disastrous roll. This made her mad. "Really, I'm sorry. I didn't know, my office is in Beverly Hills." The audience was now obviously angry. Then someone asked, "What kind of car do you drive?" I should have ignored this and said thank you and stopped. But, I said, "I'd rather not say." "Come on!" someone shouted. "OK, it's a Range Rover, but I drive everyone to lunch. So it's ok."

I was quickly deposited back at the hotel, almost shoved out of a moving car. I didn't have any food, but the woman at the front desk shared a bag of Doritos she brought for her lunch.

In reality, I had lived in the trailer on the poster. In 1980, my step-father at the time owned the trailer park and we lived there for several months between moving from Nevada to Oregon. The trailer was cleaner back then.

more like this than this

the side view

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.

Making the Bed in New Orleans

“When did you realize you had gone from being a designer to being a personality?” one person asked me at the AIGA conference in New Orleans last week. Someone else said, “I can’t believe I’m talking with you. You’re a celebrity.” Good so far, but then added, “You should be a game show host.” April Greiman addressed me as the “Bob Barker of graphic design” repeatedly. Somewhere along the line I wanted to make a t-shirt that read, “I’m actually a designer. I am more than my hair.”

We all make our own beds. Hosting Command X is one of my greatest joys. Working with these seven young designers and seeing their amazing bravery is unbelievably satisfying. I’m not giving that up even if the world decides I am well known only for being perky onscreen. I know seeing me onstage doing this reinforces the “game show host” persona. If that’s the price to work with the Command X superstars, I’ll pay it. 

But, at my core, I’m a designer. I’d rather work on a complex issue and find a smart solution than host the $25,000 Pyramid. I need to figure out how Michael Bierut walked this tightrope. If it were up to me, he’d have Charlie Rose’s job, and I still consider him one of our greatest designers.

I think it’s the hair. I can’t do anything about that. It just happens by itself wanting to be game show or newscaster hair. Maybe I’ll cut it super short, and then people will say, “Oh, that Sean Adams, boy he's fugly, but yeah, isn’t he a graphic designer?”


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.

I am fairly out, and you are fairly in.

President Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, 1960

"I am fairly out, and you are fairly in. See which of us will be the happiest." This is a quote President George Washington said as he passed the presidency to John Adams. I thought about this today as tomorrow is my last day as AIGA president. On July 1, the job is Su Mathews-Hale's. She will be a dynamic, smart, and visionary president. And, clearly infinitely more patient than me. The floggings will stop.

I stepped in for a second term 2 years ago. I did this, not because I have a huge ambition for power. If I did this is the wrong job. AIGA was in the midst of a controversial issue, the sale of the building. This and the next challenge, the search for a new Executive Director, were critical. And I might be of some help.

Me and Debbie Millman (my first term) 2008

AIGA Presidents, L-R: Clement Mok, Sean Adams, Bill Drenttel, Debbie Millman, Michael Bierut, Ric Grefé (Executive Director), Michael Vanderbyl, 2009

My first term as president from 2007-2009 was like the Eisenhower years. It was a good time. Membership and revenue was high, chapters were growing and thriving, and the organization was efficient and had a remarkable support system of Ric Grefé, Denise Wood, an amazing staff, and nation of volunteers. We had board retreats in Palm Springs (yes, board members pay for it all themselves). The only thing missing was Mamie.

Mamie Eisenhower, 1954

This term was more like the Clinton years. Change is never easy and progress seemed to happen in hard jolts, not a seamless walk. Social media and online conversations create an immediate response to every decision. This is good because dialogue is the basis of a vital democracy. The downside is that rumor and conjecture quickly became facts. At times it felt like there was a vast right wing conspiracy. But, to keep it in perspective, it's AIGA, not the United States Senate.

President Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton

me at the end of my second term, 2015 (OMFG!)

me at the end of my second term, 2015 (OMFG!)

People ask me how I feel about leaving after so many years. In fact, I'll be staying on the board to work with the Executive Director search committee, but my days of demanding that others bow to me are unfortunately over. 

The best part will be the chance to devote more time to education, supporting young designers, and actually designing. I look forward to spending less time on conference calls (which I hate because I never know who is speaking, and am easily confused). But, I will never again feel the same pride, as I do now serving the profession. 

Me and the fabulous Katie Baker, May 2015, Grand Rapids, Michigan

AIGA is more vital and stronger than any time in history. To all of you who have been part of this two year journey: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the organization and design profession stronger, and we leave it in good hands. All in all, not bad.

I will leave with the greatest pride for this organization of ours and eternal optimism for its future. Su, you're on.

The flawless Su Mathews-Hale, Madam President

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 Pleasure of Small Problems

Sean Adams, 2014

Last week, I finished a poster for Dialogues: Poster Art of the Soviet Union. I could do anything I wanted. I chose to stay away from 45 degree angles and Constructivist typography. They just didn't go well with Khrushchev's testicle quote. I had a great time working on it, and hope it is useful for the event. But is it graphic design?

For a long time, the battle cry of design has been "problem solving." Well, what isn't? Create an urban signage system to help revitalize mid-Manhattan. Yep, problem solved. Design an information guide and website to help in an environmental disaster, check. Make an identity system and collateral for a homeless shelter, uh huh. But the problem with narrowing the focus of design onto only a tiny aspect is the inherent exclusion of anything that is deemed as not serious problem solving. If there isn't a multi-page case study, with dense research, clear results, and a sans serif font, then it's not design.

But where does that leave the work that is, frankly, just amazing without a giant purpose? Using the metric of justifying all design by the density of the issue negates most of the work that moved the profession forward. That Paul Rand Apparel Arts Magazine cover with the propeller, really? That had a deep purpose and widespread effect on the garment industry? No, so it's out. The same goes for Saul Bass' beautiful poster for The Music Center, Alexey Brodovitch's Ballet book, and a long list of work that shaped me as a designer.

I'll stick with not defining graphic design. It uses words, symbols, and images to communicate. Some of it solves problems that are big, some solve the problem of making me happy for a moment. That's good for me. Leaving this open allows for work that may be simply ridiculously wonderful.

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.

Sweet

Ladislav Sutnar

In 1996, I was asked to design the materials for the first AIGA Business Conference. I hate going to a conference and trying to deal with a batch of printed matter, the schedule, maps, and directories. Other people told me they would rather not stick pins in their shirt with a name badge. As I love plastics, I found a little plastic pouch at the Plastic Mart in Santa Monica. I believe it was to hold labels in hospitals. I used this, punched two holes in the top, and used IV tubing to hang the pouch from my neck. Now I could design all the materials, including the name tag, to fit inside the pouch. Easy peasy.

A couple of months after the conference I saw someone on the street with the same kind of pouch, but for a plumbing contest. Of course today, they are everywhere. Am I bitter that my pouch concept was adopted by every conference and theme park? Yes. But, I can be please that I'm saving shirts from pin holes every day.

On the other end of the spectrum from my flammable pouch concept to great thinking is Ladislav Sutnar. Sutnar's most lasting contribution to our lives is one of the most ubiquitous design elements in the world, the parenthesis around an area code: (310) 555-1234. He solved this problem working with Bell System in the 1950s. Sutnar was adamant that design be functional. Good information design was a critical element of our complex and technological world. He maintained that there was no place for anything but useful and high-minded design.

He followed this philosophy: “Good visual design is serious in purpose. Its aim is not to attain popular success by going back to the nostalgia of the past, or by sinking to the infantile level of a mythical public taste. It aspires to uplift the public to an expert design level. To inspire improvement and progress demands that the designer perform to the fullest limits of his ability. The designer must think first, work later.”—Ladislav Sutnar

This didn't translate to boring. As religious as Sutnar was about functionalism, his work often displays a sense of vitality and play. Yet it still imparts the information clearly. Rather than adopting a dull and rigid approach that was as exciting as a bus schedule, he allows the shapes and forms to interact with the typography.

He was probably bitter about his area code solution too.

Damn the Torpedoes, Full Steam Ahead!

Last Friday night, I was awarded the AIGA Medal at the AIGA Centennial Gala. As Nancye Green said after the first AIGA gala, "This is like the best high school reunion with everyone you've ever known." It was the most successful gala in AIGA's history and proves that we still care about design and designers above all else.

Michael Bierut summed up the essence of the evening by pointing out that almost every Medalist talked about someone in the room who gave them his or her first job, or someone in the room they had hired. That AIGA is about our community was made exceptionally clear at this event. There was no mean-spiritedness, envious disregard, or minimizing of another designer. Nobody had the attitude that success was finite and another's meant less for them. There was an honest sense of pride and pleasure for everyone's successes. We may think, as designers, we are competitive and cut-throat, but compared to other professions, we're pussycats and pretty damned supportive of each other.

There's been a huge amount of discourse over AIGA's direction over the last year. Last term, a student in an Art Center class asked me why there was so much arguing. But this isn't arguing. It's discourse. It's what happens when people are deeply committed and passionate. It's what every organization hopes to have. The opposite is a listless disengaged community. We have emerged from a major shift in AIGA's history that will lead to decades of stability and vitality.

As designers, we all have the predilection to critique and analyze. We may have various opinions on the day to day issues of the community, but it was clear at the gala that, in the end, we are all working to the same goal.

As I was sitting there, watching the other Medalists accept their award, I found myself feeling that sensation we all share; seeing something wonderful and having that contradictory sensation of the joy of discovery and that twinge of envy that someone else made it. I tend to use one too many sailing metaphors, but in this instance, going forward, I can only think of Franklin Roosevelt's quote, “To reach a port we must set sail. Sail, not tie at anchor. Sail, not drift.”

Angela Jimenez Photography:

Left of Center

margetlarsen

Many of you have written me and asked, "Sean, WTF? What happened to Burning Settlers Cabin?" The simple answer is that I have four jobs: AdamsMorioka, Art Center, AIGA, and Lynda.com. As you know, I was also in Berlin for three months for the Art Center TestLab. And, of course, I have a very busy routine hanging out at the country club drinking martinis, tennis lessons, and playing golf every afternoon. But now, I'm getting a handle on it all and back to bring optimism back to the world.

In between my freshman and sophomore year at college, I was asked to interview at Landor and Associates for an internship. The interview was remarkably humiliating. The first comment being, "Uh, you might want to consider cleaning up the rubber cement on your projects, and using something other than a chainsaw to trim them." The downside was no internship. The upside was a great lesson that my sloppy, messy CalArts portfolio wouldn't fly in the actual professional world.

In my head, I imagined all the work in San Francisco to be like the remarkable packaging Marget Larsen did there. Her projects for Joseph Magnin were light and playful and people coveted them. They have a tinge of counter-culture, Victorian eclecticism, and clear Modernism. Most importantly, they were fun. They didn't look constipated, uptight, and angry. It was clear that the designer enjoyed making them. Today, when every project is run through ten committees and budget is the highest concern, it is hard to imagine anyone giving the green-light to a box that turns into a Thonet chair or multi-colored set of game boxes. Larsen's work is ground-breaking and was widely imitated. She had the misfortune of working at a time when few women in the profession were recognized on a coast where only "far-out and wacky" work was produced.

Marget-Larsen021 Marget-Larsen015 Marget-Larsen013 Marget-Larsen003 Marget-Larsen001 Marget-Larsen034 Marget-Larsen032 Marget-Larsen030 Marget-Larsen029 Marget-Larsen028 Marget-Larsen025 Marget-Larsen024

Missionary Position

AIGA article, U&LC magazine 1975

Some of you are probably aware that AIGA has been working on some primary issues for the last several months. The future of the organization, whether the headquarters building should be sold, and a multitude of other issues have been debated vigorously across 67 chapters and 23,000 members. Many of you have sent me kind notes, worried that the stress is getting to me. In all honesty, and this is probably not something I should divulge, I'm not that stressed. First, I know we'll end up in a good place. Second, between the national board, advisory board, and chapter leadership I have the smartest people in the industry working on this. And, third, genetics must be at play. Yes, it's important, but it's not founding a nation.

I found an old issue of U&LC from 1975. It has an interesting article from AIGA about typeface copyright protection. I like that it's set in justified, tightly leaded Tiffany. If a typeface needs protection, it's Tiffany. It's sort of the fat friend who dresses a little too glitzy. I'm also struck by the extreme niche subject matter. It was a time when AIGA was primarily a small New York club with 1700 members. An issue like typeface protection merited a whole page. And I now believe AIGA should drop the current clear and classic logo and go to the Tiffany solution.

 

AIGA article, U&LC magazine 1975

U&LC magazine 1975

Come Fly with Me

Continental Airlines, Boeing 747, 1970s AA-747-vi

I've been away from the burning settlers for awhile doing my five other jobs. Some of you already know that I've signed on for a second term as President of AIGA. This time it's as a co-president with the very brave Drew Davies. I'm getting ready to film a new course I've written, Fundamentals of Layout, for Lynda.com. I'm teaching at Art Center. I'm doing Command X at the AIGA Head, Heart, Hand Conference. And, of course, still a partner at AdamsMorioka. In September, I'm heading to Berlin for three months and leading testlab Berlin. I always think I'm industrious, but I'm probably just frenetic.

When I decided to go to Berlin I immediately began to get quite nervous. Sure I'm nervous about moving to another country, learning German, and leading 12 incredible students. But, I was mostly concerned about the air travel. I'm not scared of flying. I'm scared of flying in coach.

I'm often told I live in a bubble, usually by people who don't know each other. It's not a compliment. It's usually followed by, "You make me sick." So it might be true.

My reasoning is this: I can't work in a little seat. I'm too tall. If I lose billable hours, I cost the firm money. If I fly in first class, I can work, so the ticket price usually matches my hours. See, it all makes sense.

Unfortunately, I'd really prefer to fly in first class on a 747 in 1975. I know everyone goes on and on about how air travel has become worse than the bus and people used to dress to travel. But when I see the photos of life on a 747 in the 1970s, it's looking pretty groovy. People seem more interested in lying around and having swinging singles parties or getting high on marijuana. I'm not into that kind of thing, but I would love to fly in an orange and rust cabin.

It's all too navy blue and grey now. Perhaps the reasoning is that passengers are more comfortable with a square and professional flight crew than one that looks like they are shooting a porn movie.

QANTAS71-20

CONTINENTAL747COACHLOUNGE2-vi

7208_0623_05_747_Interior

7208_0623_14_747_Interior

Wayne Thom 7208_0623_13_747_Interior

Unknown-1

AC 747 11

1970s aircraft interior

People on 'ludes should not drive

I think about the concept of alternative universes more than I should. When I make decision, I consider the quantum theory that an alternate of me makes a separate decision that branches into a different timeline. The moment I am most concerned about is the one when I was 17 and decided to respond, “No, thank you” to my acceptance to Harvard, and “yes, thank you” to CalArts. Somewhere in an alternate reality, I took the other path, graduated from Harvard, and then from the JFK School of Government with a masters in public policy. I might be a Senator in the 18th dimension. But, I took the other road. I deal with clients that ask four or five times a day, “Are you sure this is right. In your professional opinion?”

However, I do get to design cool things like this skate deck for AIGA Colorado’s Bordo Bello event. My good friend Charles Carpenter asked me to design a deck again for this great cause. This gave me the chance to highlight some profound quotes from Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Yes, if you haven’t seen it, it is better than Citizen Kane. I might be missing out on being called Senator Adams, but I get to immortalize the classic line, “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”

 

When not choking is good

Tomorrow, Thursday December 6, at 11am PST, 2:00 pm EST I'll be hosting a webcast about AIGA's 100 year history. "Boy, Sean," you say, "That sounds as interesting as a lecture about the history of the UAW." And, if it weren't for the incredible images, you might be correct. The difference is the design solutions created by the nation's leading designers over a century. They didn't design an ordinary poster or publication. These pieces ended up in the hands of their peers, and we know that designers often can have opinions. I've had the experience of asking a designer to create something for AIGA, and then watch them choke. There is something about the pressure that all of your friends, enemies, and heroes will see it. That's understandable. But, the opposite is true. When they succeed they create work that is often some of the best pieces of their career. So, if you want to see some pretty nifty design, and you don't mind listening to me blather on about history, join intomorrow, http://www.aiga.org/webcast-100-years/.

 

 

 

The Post About Nathan, Andy, and Shoes

One of my favorite people from the old days at AIGA was Nathan Gluck. I never quite understood Nathan’s role. He seemed to be the archivist and keeper of the stories of AIGA’s history. When I met him, he must have been in his 70s. Nathan was like your friendly uncle who knew all the family gossip. When I’m older, I plan on writing a tell-all book. By then everyone Nathan gossiped about will be long gone, and I won’t care if everyone hates me.

We were all star-struck by the fact that Nathan worked with Andy Warhol on his shoe drawings. It was hard to imagine lovable and disheveled Nathan as part of the beautiful people Factory scene, but there you have it. Long before Warhol became a pop icon, he worked as an illustrator. He won awards from the Art Directors Club, and illustrated pieces for AIGA. In the mid-1950s, Warhol made most of his income with shoe illustrations for I. Miller. When he started, the shoes were represented faithfully. As the work evolved, they became increasingly fanciful. Nathan worked for Warhol as an assistant. He drew the shoes, and then Warhol made corrections and refined the illustrations.

In 1955, Warhol published a self-promotional portfolio, A la Recherché du Shoe Perdu. The portfolio capitalized on the increasing fame of the shoe illustrations and combined a shoe poem by Ralph Pomeroy. Warhol’s mother handwrote the poems in a careful and ornate script. When she became too ill to continue, Nathan took over, imitating the style perfectly. I spend a great deal of time explaining that reality is irrelevant, perception is everything. In other words, it doesn’t matter what a shoe actually looks like. That it is presented powerfully and dynamically is more important.

 

 

 

 

Jealousy and Desire in Book Form

If you are a designer, you’ve had the experience of discovering that the same person or firm designed several of your favorite items. It’s like playing favorites without realizing it. This happens to me repeatedly with work from Volume. I pick up a book at the bookstore, admire it, turn to the colophon and yep, it's a Volume design. Now I could be angry, jealous, and spiteful, which I usually am. But, in this instance, the best recourse is to recognize the great work. I've known Eric Heiman and Adam Brodsley for two decades (yes, we’re all that old). If they were a-holes, then I could simply ignore them. They’re not, unfortunately. They teach at CCA, devote time and energy to AIGA, and are magnanimous genuine people. Damn them.

Several of my favorite books are Volume designed. They have an innate sense of when to stop. The books are true to the subject, never rely on typographic circus tricks, and are remarkably crafted. They present the content in a way that is clear and objective, but never dull or sterile. The commonality is a sense of warmth, value, and cinema. Pacing is the trick with publications. A good publication should be paced like a film: quite moments, crescendo, intimate sequences, and a defined plot. The Volume work does that and injects long shots, details, and close ups. This isn't easy.

There are two emotions that I do my best to avoid, pride and jealousy. Any decision I have ever made based on pride has been a bad one. So what if someone thinks I’m a dingbat? It doesn't cost me anything and investing resources to combat this is often pointless (I’m not talking about Noreen here. I accept her judgment of my dingbat attributes). Jealousy is a hard one to avoid. I’m human; I ask myself, “How come Volume has such great projects? How is it fair that they get to design a magnificent book on Cliff May, but I don’t? I bet they get free Heath ceramics.” But this takes so much effort, and it is so much easier to enjoy their amazing design and relax.

images courtesy Volume, Inc.

 

The Red and the Black

People often ask me, “Sean, what’s the secret with this whole graphic design thing?” Of course, there is no secret. Or if there is, nobody told me. I can say, however, that a big rule for me is contrast. There is no such thing as too bright, or too much contrast in design. I’m not big on de-saturated colors and soft contrast. Design should be bold. There’s an old saying about teaching a donkey. First you smack it in the head with a two by four, and then give it the message. Now, clearly, I don’t advocate donkey cruelty. But, design is the same. First, get the audience’s attention. Then tell them the story.

Red, white, and black are good choices for contrast and bold statements. I’ve used this combination many times and quite enjoyed it. The danger is looking like a Nazi. The Nazis were rather keen on black and red, so you need to be careful to not appear to be a Facist. Using a little bit of red and a little bit of black isn’t the same thing. Remember: donkey, two-by-four, and big.

A Magic Kingdom

In recent years, I’ve been concerned I was out of touch. Well, that goes without saying. A common house-cat has more hip-ness than me. But I thought the new generation only cared about working collaboratively, denying the artifact, and deriding more seasoned designers. When I was in my twenties I loved going to a conference and meeting a hero like Milton Glaser. I was thrilled when I received a letter informing me I won an award, or that a book was selected for the AIGA 50 Book show. Contrary to standing opinion, young designers still care about these things. They want community, recognition, individual vision, and love the beauty of artifacts. I cannot express how happy this makes me. All the hogwash research that painted the millennial generation as mindless automatons blindly walking down a road of Borg assimilation with an iPhone in hand is wrong.

Which segues, as usual for this blog, into a crazed left turn. I love these postcards and preview book for Walt Disney World. I don’t love it because it is about the design of meetings or strategy or collaborative teamwork. I love it because it is wonderful. When can you combine teal, ochre, and baby blue? When people discuss the great American experiment, this is it. The freedom to design a booklet with completely wrong colors and make them work. For me, the WDW preview book is design in a nutshell. It serves a purpose, it creates excitement and joy, it promotes an idea and product, it does this is unexpected ways. It talks to me personally. And it has one wacky grid.

So this is my call to action. When you are told that individual vision is irrelevant, or recognition of individual is wrong, or the world no longer needs beauty or heroes, just say no. These are not true. Design can create wonder and joy. Individuals do this, not committees of fifty people.

Walt Disney World Preview, 1970

A Preachy Post That Will Piss Some People Off

When I was younger, I strongly believed in the ethos of compassion and help. As I’ve aged, this has worn away. Often, I now find myself muttering, “damned idiots, dammit, damn, damn.” It’s not particularly eloquent, but it’s my best. As an example, I am completely supportive of design for good, and positive social change. Design is a sharp tool and should be used to make a better world. I do not, however, believe design for commerce is bad and should be hidden away in shame. Too often, we can fall into the trap of only taking on events that promote design for good. But the subtext here is that the work for commerce is less relevant. This only communicates the idea that we are less worthy if we are not designing websites for recycled DIY bamboo huts. Nothing is less true.

As I’ve said, before, we have the chance to make life better for others with every project (assuming you are not designing neo-Nazi newsletters). If I do a job well, the client does better. The employees keep their jobs. They put braces on their kids’ teeth. The orthodontist can send his kids to college. This is no less positive than promoting social causes.

Saul Bass was a designer who understood the balance of design for good, commerce, and cultural change. When I am feeling especially cranky, I am reminded of Saul’s generous nature. On our first day in the studio back in 1994, the first phone call was from Saul. “Congratulations,” he said, and, “What can I do for you two?” He didn’t need to do this. But this encouragement gave us the confidence to plow through the most difficult times. If Saul Bass considered us worthy of a phone call, we couldn’t be that bad. Now, I try to do the same. I do this not because I feel honor-bound or think it will absolve me of previous crimes. That small act made a huge impact on Noreen and myself. So rather than worrying about designing only for Greenpeace, we try to help in smaller day-to-day ways.

Shout how-now to Mrs O'Leary's cow

Chicago is one of my favorite cities. Beside the great food, friendly people, and wonderful neighborhoods, several of my favorite people live there. Greg and Pat Samata, Dana Arnett, Jamie Koval, Bart Crosby, and Ric Valicenti are designers I deeply admire, and who are just plain fun to hang with. I assume it’s a Chicago thing that eliminates any snotty, diva-like behavior, and creates good down to earth attitudes.

Each year, Greg and Pat present the Cusp Conference. Cusp isn’t a design conference. It’s about big ideas. It’s been described as, “inspirational, funny, thought-provoking, eye-opening, informative, inspirational, fascinating, humbling, soothing, shocking, awesome, inspirational, unbelievable, wise, touching, smart, healthy, honest, confusing, inspirational, affirming, creative and just friggin' amazing.”

Last year, Greg invited me to talk about whatever I wanted. I’d been on the road speaking about AdamsMorioka and our ideas for so long I wanted to do something different. A couple of months before, TypeCon asked me to speak about the typography of Disneyland. I had a great time pulling this together and it was extremely well received at TypeCon. So I expanded on the idea and told Greg I wanted to talk about design at Disneyland through an optimistic lens. So far so good.

I’ve been speaking publicly for 20 years. I think I have a pretty good grasp of what an audience will respond to. Sometimes I get it wrong. When I spoke in Norfolk for AIGA Hampton Roads in Virginia, I started by talking about my family’s Virginian roots, and put up a list of family names in case anyone in the audience was a cousin. I didn’t realize the family names were the same as the street names in Norfolk. So it came off as, “Hi, I’m fancy. I’m from Beverly Hills. I go to the Academy Awards. My family is fancy. You’re not.” This was not my intention. I’m actually kind of a goof ball.

The Cusp Disneyland Design lecture wasn’t received as well as the TypeCon lecture. Now there could be several reasons why: it is a dumb lecture, I’m dumb, I came off as smug, or I looked fat. But, I had a wonderful time doing it. I had time to see Pat and Greg, and had a great lunch with Greg and Ricky Wurman. And I went to Chicago.

The Rape of the Bear Logo

Typically, I don’t comment on design or events post-twentieth century. Today, however, I set this aside. I’m sure many of you have already received the AIGA Action Alert regarding the copyright infringement paradise logogarden.com. Bill Gardner writes beautifully about this at rockpaperink.com. He covers the issues far more eloquently than I could and clearly took notice of yesterday’s post on catchy headlines, “Love thy Logo, Charlatan, Huckster, Moron, Thief.” Bravo to Bill. Yes, logogarden.com, is a remarkable and audacious example of thievery. It’s also a fantastic teaching tool. Teaching why plagiarism is wrong is often like explaining calculus to a housecat. Some get it, others keep repeating, “but I never saw the original CBS eye logo.”

I’m especially proud that one of my best friends has the logo that is best represented. Michael Vanderbyl’s logo for the California Conservation Center is a classic example of flawless craft, message, and function. It’s one of those logos I could never imagine creating. My mind isn’t wired that intelligently. Obviously, the folks at the logo garden feel the same, and have cleverly re-used it as often as possible.

Following AIGA Executive Director, Ric Grefé, here is action all of us should take:

We believe the most powerful response we can make as a community is to demonstrate the profession’s outrage and the threat of clients’ legal action, if the rights to the design belong to the client. Several legal actions are already in process.

Your course of action, immediately:

Check logogarden.com for your own work using the “try it free” button.

If your creative work has been misappropriated, contact Williams (see below), contact your lawyer, contact your client and have your client contact his/her lawyer to make it clear that this is a violation of copyright law.

If your work is not on the site, contact Williams to make it clear that this represents illegal, unethical behavior; that it fails the basic test of decency, common sense or business acumen; and that it also exposes his customers to liabilities for copyright infringement.

Send a copy of your correspondence to copyright@aiga.org.

Three possible addresses to use for your correspondence:

LogoGarden, LLC
1011 Centre Road, Suite 322
Wilmington, DE 19805

John Williams
230 Halmerton Drive
Franklin, TN 37069

Email: service@logogarden.com

This is an issue that affects us all and is such an egregious case of violating creative rights that we must take action.