Graphic Designer Basics

Designers 1

On Thursday night, I spoke at an AIGA event in San Diego. Several people asked me the question, "Where can I look to find examples of great design?" and "Is there a resource for finding all of the industry's history?" The first step is to get a good graphic design history book such as A History of Graphic Design 3rd Edition by Philip B. Meggs.

Then, I suggest designobserver.com, the aiga.org medalist page, and this site burningsettlerscabin.com. Also look at my Lynda.com/Linked In course Graphic Design History. These are a good introduction to learn about individual designers who had an impact.

Next, after finding someone interesting, dig in. Research everywhere and find out more than anyone else knows. I do that every time I find a piece I love.

Here, then is the first of several (meaning more to come) lists of designers everyone should know and explore (not in a dirty way). I'm keeping these (mostly) to dead people for now, so the living won't be up in arms about inclusion. Most of these are covered in other Burning Settlers Cabin posts, just search (on the left).

Saul Bass

 

Herbert Bayer

 

Lester Beall

 

Lucian Bernhard

 

A.M. Cassandre

 

Tibor Kalman

 

Marget Larsen

 

Herb Lubalin

 

Alvin Lustig

 

Herbert Matter

 

Reid Miles

 

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

 

Victor Moscoso/Fillmore Posters

 

Cipe Pineles

 

Paul Rand

 

Deborah Sussman

 

Bradbury Thompson

 

Jan Tschichold

 

Massimo and Leila Vignelli

 

The Friendly Swiss

Herbert Matter

There are two sayings in Hollywood that I like: "The ass you kick on the way up is the one you kiss on the way down," and "Blame others, take credit, deny everything." I know quite a few people that live by the motto of blame, credit, etc., and ignore the ass kicking advice. I've known fine designers who, after the first taste of fame, became heinous and awful divas making demands and driving kind conference organizers to tears. And I know fine designers who have been famous for years and are the first to wrestle credit away from others. My friend, John Bielenberg, suggested I start a magazine or blog that is like Vanity Fair of the design world, telling all the stories. That sounds fun, but I'd like to keep at least the few friends I still have.

Conversely, I am endlessly amazed at the down to earth, generous nature of some of the industries legends. 90% of them are just good people, willing to help others, devote time, and always have a funny story at dinner. From what I understand, Herbert Matter was one of the least pompous designers in the field. I've never heard anything that paints him as difficult or negative. From all accounts, he was a true mensch. You wouldn't expect that from his work. It's so brilliant and confident that the author would have all the right in the world to be a jerk. But, it's proof that either we as designers are, on the whole, pretty darned good. Or we're nitwits and falling behind while other in different professions claw, stab, and blackmail their way to the top.

Don't be alarmed, three "Herbert" stories in a row does not mean the next one will be about Herbert Hoover.

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:

Art-Nouveau Feeder Fetishist

What I want to talk about here is fat. Not “phat” fat, but fat fat. Everyone is concerned about the country getting fatter. But what happened to typography and shapes in the late 1960s and 1970s? They got fat. I understand the issue of anti-consumerism. Coming from an anti-establishment counter-culture environment in the 1960s, companies needed to make messages and products “big.” Bigger was better, and if it could also be in earth colors and look natural, even better. If I actually purchased an item, rather than making it on my loom at home with macramé, I wanted to know I was getting my money’s worth. So we see fat logos, wide lapels and ties, big shirt collars, bell bottoms, and giant brown cars.

I am ashamed to admit this, but I like fat Victorian shapes. It’s as if the Garamond and curly shapes ate too many French fries and went from delicate to, well, very, very healthy. All the years of praising refined letterforms and deriding bold serifs have led to this shameful admission. Granted, in the hands of a master such as Herb Lubalin or Tom Carnase, the results are spectacular. But, when abused by someone less adroit, the result is clunky, horsey, and vomitous (yes this is now a word when discussing ugly typography). I hope this post will prove my veracity and commitment to the truth. We only tell the truth here, at any cost. This admission will, no doubt, ruin any chances of ever receiving an AIGA medal, being invited to join AGI, or being spoken to by any of my friends. So be kind when you find me at a conference sitting alone as other designers point and whisper, “Oh, yes, it’s true. He has a secret thing for the chunky type.”

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Nitsche Didn't Say, "Design Gods are Dead"

There’s been an ongoing debate for a few years regarding design heroes. Some say the younger generation no longer needs or wants heroes, others argue that heroes are a vital part of our design experience. Personally, I cannot imagine my career without the inspiration and guidance of so many “hero” designers. In school, I looked at their work and tried to understand how they made something, and what I could take from that knowledge. When I graduated I followed the career paths already blazed by these designers. When we started AdamsMorioka, I turned to them for support and advice. Today, I show their work to my students. I do this, not so they can copy someone, but to show them different ways of thinking and making. I have never taught a class when someone did not say, "I never knew. I never thought about it that way."

Last night, I went to the AIGA Bright Lights event. This was previously the AIGA Design Legends Gala, but it was renamed this year. Brian Collins pointed out to me that Design Legends Evening sounded like a drag show in Las Vegas. Jennifer Morla, Steve Frykholm, and John Maeda were honored with the AIGA Medal. This event has always been like the best high school reunion you can imagine. It’s as if every single great friend you’ve had is in the same room. This is also a time when we celebrate and recognize the achievements in our profession. This may seem frivolous, insular, and self-congratulatory, but it isn’t. It’s vital that we support and celebrate one another. It elevates all of us and maintains our commitment to excellence and generosity.

I don’t want to live in a world where there are no heroes, where all designers have been deemed ordinary. What we do is a remarkable gift, unique to each of us. I want to look at someone’s work and be humbled. I want to be at an event and feel awkward meeting a famous designer. We need heroes for ourselves and for those outside our profession. Some are saying there are no heroes, that this is an idea of the past. But they simply do not know where to look.

John Maeda, AIGA Medal 2010