Inside Job

Writing books is hard. First you are required to write; that’s hard. Then you need to find images. That's hard. And you must have the rights to use the images; harder. Somehow my friend, Steven Heller, manages to do this continuously. If I heard that the United States government was going after Steven for having a monopoly, I wouldn’t be surprised. If you need a well-written book about design, go no further.

Steven’s recent book, Graphic, Inside the Sketchbooks of the World's Great Graphic Designers, co-written with Lita Talarico is a gem. Sharing your sketchbooks is not easy. They reveal a sliver of your internal processes. In some instances, such as Ed Fella, it is clear that Ed’s head is a complex swirl of forms and ideas. Ken Carbone’s remarkably beautiful and numerous sketchbooks betray a mind that is disciplined, careful, and sees a world that is lush and beautiful. Michael Bierut’s sketchbooks seem to point to an obsession with the letter “M”. They also have that wonderful mixture of words and images that is integral to Michael’s work. Marian Bantjes sketchbooks, are, surprise, unlike anything actual human beings can create. Since she lives in the backwoods of British Columbia, and alien abduction movies seem to be set there, well, you do the math.

My sketchbooks do a wonderful job of revealing just how shallow I am. Pretty colors and funny charts. I was there when they were created, and typically, I was sketching while someone was explaining something. This led to my standard response of looking up from my book, as if I were taking notes, and saying, “I’m so sorry, could you repeat that?”

Small Treasures

I spend most of my Mondays at Art Center directing students to designers or artifacts that might be inspirational. Last week, Ladislav Sutnar was the designer du jour. The week before, I relentlessly shoved Josef Müller Brockmann down everyone’s throats. This is great to help someone see another way of making or seeing.

But, I treasure the artifacts that are rarely designed by a historically recognized designer. For example, I love my father’s Class of 1963 Directory for Wesleyan University, and an old hangover remedy pack from Harold’s Club. I love this Story of Walt Disney World book. The design is clumsy and has a remarkably odd composition, but it’s optimistic. I love the vignettes and detail images.

This Commemorative Edition booklet was created soon after Walt Disney World opened in 1971. I love the map. There is an attraction in Frontierland, Thunder Mesa and Western River Expedition, meant to take the place of Pirates of the Caribbean. Since the actual Caribbean was so close, there was a concern that Pirates would seem redundant in Florida. In the end, Pirates was added to WDW, and Thunder Mesa was replaced with Big Thunder Mountain.

I’ve owned this booklet for fifteen years, only yesterday, did I notice it made the shape of the “D” in the old Walt Disney World logo. Oh yeah, I’m observant.

Sentimental Journey

One of the things I love most about Mad Men is that we know what is coming. We knew that November 22, 1963 was a bad date for Roger’s daughter’s wedding. We know that Don’s daughter, Sally, is destined for counter-culture rebellion in 1968. Reading The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is the same. Sloan Wilson’s 1955 novel follows Tom Rath as he tries to find direction in a materialistic post-war America. Clearly, much of Mad Men was derived from this. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is remarkable because it stepped out of the conformity of the 1950s and asked how an individual could function post-World War II. How does someone go from killing an enemy with a knife and then sitting politely in the suburbs or in a corporate setting?

The book was made into a film with Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones in 1956. At a time when other films of the time, like It’s Always Fair Weather, are contrived and feel like a cartoon reality, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is authentic. It doesn’t shy away from issues; it doesn’t gloss over adultery, or depression. On the shallow side, it looks great. The set design is beautiful. This is what Mad Men would look like if it had the budget of an A-list Hollywood movie.