When The World Was Young

Lester Beall

There is a point in life when I stopped being the youngest person in a meeting and then was the oldest. I find myself talking with someone who I assume must be older than me, and then learning we’re the same age. I recently realized that my grandparents were close to my age now when I was born. These points may sound sobering and point to a longing for youth; “Oh to be 80 again,” as Benjamin Franklin said. But, besides wishing I had the same waist size of my 30-year-old self, I have no desire to return to being in my twenties. 

When I started in the profession, I was the youngest such and such for a long time. Somewhere along the line as the generation before me retired or moved on to greener pastures, I became the old guard. This happens to all of us, which is better than being hit by a bus. 

Read More
 

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.

Madame, Taisez-vous!

The last time we went to Paris, Noreen had just watched Funny Face. This proved to be a mistake, as she insisted on singing Bonjour Paris everywhere we went. This is funny the first couple of times, but after awhile is trying, especially when the French stare and shout, “Madame, Taisez-vous!” I admit, however, that I love Funny Face and was tempted to sing as well. If you haven’t seen Funny Face, and think Saved By the Bell is an old classic, you need help. You are sad.

Here’s the basic plot. Audrey Hepburn is a beatnik and dowdy salesgirl at a Greenwich Village bookstore. The crew from a high fashion magazine, including the editor, Kaye Thompson, and photographer, Fred Astaire, descend upon the store for a high fashion photo shoot. Poor Audrey Hepburn, hideous and dowdy, is forced to be an extra next to the incredibly severe model. When the photos are developed, everyone agrees Audrey Hepburn should be made-over and sent to Paris as the star model. They all fly to Paris, sing the song, and shoot some fashion photos. Audrey Hepburn gets mixed up with some beatniks, and everyone is freaked she’ll miss the big fashion show.

There are a few highlights that I love. Fred Astaire’s character, Dick Avery, is based on Richard Avedon. The art director is based on Alexey Brodovitch. The magazine decides that pink is the color of the moment. Of course, it’s impossible to see Audrey Hepburn as ugly, so that part doesn’t work.

 

C'est le ton qui fait la musique

For those of you too young to remember life before iPhoto and the picture books, there once was a time photographs were physical objects, and went into a shoebox. If you wanted to make a book for your friends, you needed to stick the photos into ugly Holly Hobbie “photo-books” with plastic and waxy boards. Of course, now we can simply order a book of our personal images from Apple and, except for the “crayon” theme, make something tasteful.

One of my favorite publications is Alexey Brodovitch’s Ballet. For years, Brodovitch took snapshots at the ballet. He didn’t hire Richard Avedon to shoot them. He didn’t use a flash or worry about perfect lighting. The result is often a blur of motion and light. In 1945, this was not “real” photography. Using the standards of the time, these are simply amateur snapshots. Fortunately, this rigid definition didn’t deter Brodovitch. The blurred motion and full bleed images create the sensation of the ballet, as opposed to simply documenting it. The ornamental typography doesn’t attempt to be international style, modernist, or “high-design”. It is exuberantly about the ballet.

As I’ve said before, I truly admire work that has the courage to be about joy and delight. Ballet is a masterpiece. While we look at the book now as “high design,” it is, in fact, about something frivolous and transitory. But, aren’t those the things in life that are the most wonderful?