The Fast Road to Hell

Live Trace User

Live Trace User


I believe that Satan has woven himself into our lives and is preying on those who are tempted by laziness. What I am talking about here is the evil that is part of the digital world: Photoshop filters, pre-made or computer generated color palettes, and worst of all, truly a fast path to hell, live trace.

These shortcuts save time but the result is work that could be done by a house cat. I preach to young designers, "God gave you an opposable thumb so you could use it. You are not a cow with hooves. Draw the hand-drawn type!" and "If you have the use of your legs, be glad, and use them. Step away from the Aeron chair and walk somewhere to make an image, find inspiration, or just think."

I worry that an entire generation may end up designing strapped to a chair in front of the computer and pecking at the keyboard with a stick held in their mouths.

Now I don't dislike the computer, I like it just like everyone else. But off the shelf solutions minimize our gifts. Take color palettes for example. Yes, you can choose from the stock swatches in Illustrator, now your colors look like everyone else's. Or you can make your own. "Oh no!" you may be saying, "I'm scared of color." But it's actually quite easy.

The world will open up to you as a treasure chest of color. I don't want to seem melodramatic, but avoid Satan's temptations, make your own palette, or you may burn in hell.

This is how I make a palette:

1. Walk around the world and take photos of colors you like.

2. Create a photo album to house your images on your computer

3.  Create a common system for the palettes. One folder with consistent naming and documents of the same size and style.

Adobe Illustrator page: draw blank squares that will be swatches

4. Create a "Color palette template" with black squares in Adobe Illustrator.

5. Place an image you photographed.

6. Use the eye dropper tool and fill in the swatch squares on the page. Fill as many or as few swatch squares as you like.

7. Delete the image. 

8. Select all unused: delete these swatches

9. Add Used Colors

10. Save as a consistent name, e.g. Griffith Park Palette

11. Now when you need a palette on a project, add the custom one you made by selecting:

Open Swatch Library: Other Library.

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.

When More is Not Enough

You know how teachers are always saying, "I love teaching, the students teach me as much as I teach them."? It's true. Yes, in a high-falutin' idealistic way, but usually in odd and unexpected knowledge. This week, I learned that raping an old person is called "grape" after "grandparent rape". I learned that I could turn off that annoying double click isolate feature in Illustrator. And I learned the worse thing a young man can say to a woman is, "Make me a sandwich." I don't know why. I'd be happy to make someone a sandwich, it doesn't seem that egregious.

The absolute most exciting piece of information was My students in Type Design 5 found it for me. I'm sure I'm behind the curve on this one. Everyone already probably knows about it, but humor a square designer who spends time looking at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection. is the most incredible website ever designed. It has everything from singing people, a Darth Vader mask, a walking chicken, and flight attendants doing a safety demo. If that isn't enough, the code is genius.

The Colors of the Sea

Here’s a trick when choosing colors: the in-between colors are always more compelling. For example, seafoam isn’t blue or green. The viewer needs to do a little work and this creates a more dynamic response. The same holds true for all other colors. I like red with a little orange. I hate flat purple, but love something a little bluer like the dense color of a blueprint. The default color swatches in Adobe Illustrator are there as a starting point. Like the circle tool, they’re boring until you do something interesting with them.

Whenever I decide to paint a room, I pull out the paint swatch book and tape different swatches to the wall. Unfortunately, they are all slightly different shades of seafoam. To my eye, they are radically different, but at the paint store they look at me like I’m crazy. The kitchen is a light seafoam, the bathrooms are all a slightly greener version, the laundry room is slightly bluer, and the living room is a tiny bit more intense. In all honesty, I’ll admit they all look like the same color on the wall. So my attention to color detail is lost on any guest.

Seafoam is one of those colors that people respond to in extremes. They either love it, or hate it and want to hurt someone. Someone once asked me at a speaking engagement what my favorite Pantone color was. I answered, “I love seafoam, PMS 318.” Years later, I found a blog written by someone in the audience who insisted PMS 318 was not seafoam, but turquoise, and I didn’t know what I was talking about. My advice is to call it whatever makes the other party happy: seafoam, turquoise, blue-green, Mount Vernon Prussian blue, swimming pool blue, or aqua.

The Right Way, Part 1

I like arrows. They are strong and commanding. They make no apologies. They seem to say, “Go there! Now!” But if you rely on the arrows supplied by Zapf Dingbats or as stock arrows in Adobe Illustrator, or InDesign, well, the results can be rather dull. So I spend too much time looking for good arrows. Let’s face it, they all look fairly similar. After all, how much can one do with a triangle and attached rectangle? Over the years, I’ve collected many arrows, and in the spirit of sharing, please see attached. Of course, Disneyland and Walt Disney World are a treasure chest of arrows. Guests need to find their way around the parks. And, yes, I am that odd person photographing the arrow on the sidewalk.