Big

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When faced with a composition that is not working, or an idea that is not communicating, I typically make the parts giant or tiny. Design that is polite, medium, and “meh,” is just plain dull. Remarkable large scale environmental graphics (supergraphics) are a testament to the power of big. To promote these concepts, I wrote a book that celebrates environmental graphics that change culture, affect behavior, and improve pedestrian experience. 

 

There are clear masterpieces of supergraphics such as Lance Wyman’s Mexico City Olympics(1968), Deborah Sussman’s Los Angeles Olympics (1984), Barbara Stauffacher-Solomon’s Sea Ranch (1965). I wanted to find the best examples of the next generation of designers and artists in the field. The end product is The Field Guide to Supergraphics: Big Graphics in the Urban Landscape. The best part of writing a book is learning about a new approach, or discovering incredible designers. This book did both. And for those concerned about the size, it’s much thicker than I expected. It has 384 pages. 

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Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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 Meticulous Bruce Rogers

It was 1986. I graduated from college and started my career as a designer at The New York Public Library. My typographic education over the previous four years was rooted in Bauhaus asymmetry and experimentation. The Library, however, maintained a strong preference for classical symmetrical layouts and a predilection for serif typefaces. Learning how to design within these constraints felt as if I had been restricted to speak only Ancient Phoenician. However, I soon came across a book plate (and designer) that taught me otherwise. 

Bruce Rogers (1870–1957) is one of the most celebrated book designers of the 20th century. He was not hip or edgy, but urbane, scholarly, and meticulous. He revered classical structure and beauty and disdained modernism. During the second half of the 20th century, at the height of the international design movement, the design establishment disregarded him and deemed his work antique and irrelevant as modern design and sans serif typefaces moved to the forefront.  Read More

Title Page, Songs and Sonnets of Pierre De Ronsard, 1903

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Admiration for the Bland

Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats, 1961

 

From Design Observer

When I present a project, and a client is pleased, I often say, “It’s easy to do good work with a great subject.” Which is, in fact, relatively accurate. For example, many of the books submitted for competition are often about photography, art, or cultural issues. Young designers typically have book projects, completed in school, with the same esoteric content. It’s rare, as a competition judge, that I find a book on semi-trucks. Of course, I have nothing against beautiful books about photography or fine art. I’ve designed many of these. But, I appreciate a beautiful book about wrenches with admiration for the bland subject and beautiful design. Read More
 

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Where I was From

When I was eighteen, I received four copies of The Preppy Handbook for my birthday. I received another five for Christmas. Each time, the gift giver wrote on the card, "This is so you!" I didn't see the connection. Or perhaps I refused to recognize it. My parents were dismayed at the book. "It's a celebration of mediocrity and banal people," they said (mediocrity said with a short "e" as in red). 

But there was something in there that seemed so "them." Perhaps it was the boat models in the dining room. Or my stepfather's white dinner jacket that I used for my prom. He wore it on a teenage tour of all the Debutante balls on the west coast in 1960. I had to admit that my family tree was like the "joke" tree in The Preppy Handbook (although my mother's half ends up at Jamestown; those Mayflower people were late in the game). And, unfortunately, a gang of relatives were in the "Pantheon" section.

By the time I was at CalArts I was as far from "preppy" as one could get. Or so I thought. I bought black jeans and dark colored shirts. But people still said, "You're so cute and preppy." It was a lost cause. No matter how hard I tried to be cool I ended up looking like I was visiting from Connecticut in 1955.

The nice thing about getting older is not caring what others think. I finally gave in and accepted that I liked the same clothes that I wore when I was a child. I didn't need to worry about being cool and not "preppy." The issue here is that my style goes in and out of fashion every twenty years or so. I'll look quite fashionable for awhile and then super un-cool for a decade. I buy clothes in triplicate so when Sperry stops making blue sneakers I will still have new ones in a box. But let me make this clear, the pants with little whales or tennis rackets are stupid. No matter what anyone says.

My "cool-on-preppy" look in college

Me on left in madras shirt and khakis, 1968

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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 Relentless Pleasure of Little

It won't come as a surprise that I'm not a fan of fussy. It's one thing to pay attention to details, and yet entirely something else when a thousand itsy bitsy elements march around a page. I came to this realization when I was in college. It was the height of the post-modern period. The more the merrier. Modernist restraint was a misguided trend that led to ugly plain dentist office buildings. Mangle that type and add some hand-drawn squiggles that had deep conceptual meaning to three people? Sure, go for it.

Richard Neutra, Silverlake, Los Angeles

Somewhere in there, I visited one of my professors at her house to look at a project. She lived in one of the Silverlake Neutra houses. I expected the dentist office banality but found the most exquisite, harmonious, and quiet space. How could this be? Modernism worked? The next day I began removing elements rather than adding them.

One of my favorite books is Chair by Peter Bradford. This is modernism. It is direct, true to materials, clear, minimal, and bold. The usage of Helvetica in only a few sizes and a couple of weights is relentless. Like Brutalist architecture, the design is not about dainty and delicate. It is raw and rugged, but remains flawlessly refined and elegant.

Bradford's design is design with a big "D" (not Dallas). The type is type, the rules are rules, the black and white images are black and white images. Nothing is pretending to be something it isn't. If life were only the same.

some images here from culturalheritagebooks.com

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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 Empty Water

Ed Ruscha, Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, 1968

The pagination of a book should be like a film. There will be loud and energetic scenes, quiet moments, long shots and close-ups, and titles and credits. If you haven't watched Chris Marker's La Jetee, watch it now. It is the best example of pagination and pacing with still images. 

Ed Ruscha's Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass is another wonderful example. The images of swimming pools without people, expanses of blue, and blank white pages talk about the sense of emptiness and absence in a world of luxury and leisure. The broken glass image adds a hint of danger. Ruscha made this book in 1968, a year before the Manson murders. In Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Joan Didion captured the atmosphere of emptiness and looming danger in the late 1960s: 

The center was not holding. It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misplaced even the four-letter words they scrawled. It was a country in which families routinely disappeared, trailing bad checks and repossession papers. Adolescents drifted from city to torn city, sloughing off both the past and the future as snakes shed their skins, children who were never taught and would never now learn the games that had held the society together. People were missing. Children were missing. Parents were missing. Those left behind filed desultory missing persons reports, then moved on themselves.

And then there is the simple beauty of the book. The turquoise color and minimal typography in Stymie are aesthetically incredible. Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass is the best argument that the pages do not have nothing on them, that negative space is bank. There's a whole lot of emptiness there.

images via Elisabeth Tonnard

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Byron the Continent, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library

I spend too much time asking someone what typeface they used on a project. I thought I was losing my knack for identifying fonts due to dementia. I'll look closely at the page, and desperately try to find the element that will help me identify the typeface as Caslon, Baskerville, Bembo, or any of the classical serifs I know. After I give up I ask, "Ok, what is that typeface? There's something wrong with it." The answer is typically, "Oh, that's Gobbledygook (insert strange band name here)." They're odd faces found online free. That's not good. You wouldn't wear ugly clothes found online free, why would you use the sad free type?

Colophon

Monotype Bell, the way it should look

I have a book with the longest colophon ever made. If you've wondered if it's ok to list a typeface on the book credits, check this out. It's a thorough history of Bell (the serif one, not Matthew Carter's magnificent Bell Centennial). I even love the low-fi binding with stitching and a dust jacket glued to the cover.

Herbert Johnson designed this edition, Byron on the Continent for the Carl H. Pfrorzheimer Foundation and The New York Public Library. It's set in metal in the most beautiful cut of Monotype Bell on Mohawk Superfine. The detail to typography is incredible. It reminds me of the rules I learned when I started out as a designer at The New York Public Library:

true small caps (not just smaller capitals)

slightly spaced small caps to aid in reading

italics 1/2 point size larger to read optically the same as roman text

aligning figures with capital letters

old style figures with upper and lower case text

perfectly kerned initial caps

the most elegant brackets around the folios

acorns to separate content

and especially wonderful, the small cap Scilicet ( SC 561) to designate the numbers in another edition)

Don't try these without parental supervision.

Cover: Byron the Continent, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Franklin Mint

I've been asked if I have a favorite typeface. I'd like to consider myself type-tolerant, but I'm actually rather a type snob. Most projects begin with me trying something outlandish such as Behemoth. But, as time passes, I slowly migrate back to Franklin Gothic. When I found the 51st Annual of Advertising and Editorial Design for The Art Director's Club of New York, I found a gold mine. Giant Franklin Gothic and my favorite shades of orange and yellow. The book was designed by Dennis Mazzella. In the credits, its states: with the help of Kurt Weihs, my friend. I don't know what that means, so I'll include it to give credit to all parties. I also love that this book is stamped by my friend Doug Boyd. It's a double treasure.

I am in love with the unashamed enormous Franklin Gothic slipcase and cover. So much in love that I considered not sharing this so I could file it in my memory bank of possible solutions. And the spine, showing the inductees into the Hall of Fame is wonderful. Everybody gets so hung up on spines having all the information, but really, in this case on a designer's bookshelf, is anyone going to say, "Well, I dunno. What the hell is that thing?" And how many times have I spent designing countless covers for an annual report because every tiny detail means something to someone in the room. This cover solves that problem. "All we want are the facts. Just the facts, ma'am."

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Frozen

Blake Little, Preservation

One of my favorite clients is Blake Little. I've known Blake for twenty years. He's the first call I make when I need a remarkable photographer for a project. Blake is also able to make me look halfway decent in photographs. The upside of this is that I look good in a headshot, the downside is that someone meets me in person and says, "oh, hmm."

A few years ago, Blake asked me to design his book, Dichotomy, followed by The Company of Men, and Manifest. I'd love to say they are incredibly challenging, but this is proof that it's hard to go wrong with great content.

Blake's most recent book, Preservation, is about to be released and there will be an exhibition of the work at the Kopeikin Gallery in February. Blake's work has an inherent sense of energy. Whether it's a piercing gaze, or coiled strength, or kinetic motion, the subjects share an intensity of power. The Preservation images have the same quality, but in this case, the energy and motion is frozen. The subjects appear to be unexpectedly trapped in amber. The result is a cross between a Rodin sculpture and frozen figures from Pompeii.

I thought I was being radically alternative to create an ultra-rigid grid and system for the typography as a counterpoint to the fluid imagery. But I have a feeling it's an instance of a designer getting caught up in the tiny details and saying, "But don't you see, the missing cross-bar on the 'A' changes the meaning entirely."

Books on Fire

I am quite proud of my most recent project, to build a bookcase in my office at home. It still needs some trim work, but the books are in and nothing has collapsed. The most surprising aspect of the project was how many books I had. Who knew? These are only the design books, there are other bookcases in the house with more. I had quite a few duplicates that I tried donating to the Art Center library, but they didn't need them. I didn't want to throw the books away. I considered burning them in the driveway and telling my neighbors they were evil books: Catcher in the Rye, etc.. But I left them in a box on the curb, and they were gone in an hour.

Of course, that doesn't stop me from buying more. One of my favorite publishers is Unit Editions. It's a collaboration between Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook in London. They focus on books with incredibly high quality and remarkable content. Rather than producing 25,000 copies of a book about business cards on cheap paper, Unit Editions publishers smaller quantities that will last for generations.

When I hear people ramble on about sustainable practices and how they used recycled paper for their brochure I nod approvingly. But, in the end, isn't the truly sustainable action to create an artifact that will be used, saved, and not thrown in the trash?

As Lou Danziger told us as students, "Stop buying drugs. Buy books instead." Very good advice, although as a student, I was spending my money on Cup o' Noodles not drugs.


Liberty and Freedom in Grids

I like odd grids. How’s that for a catchy opening at a cocktail party? Probably not too good. Nevertheless, complicated and unexpected grids are wonderful. One of my favorite examples is the structure for the book, The World of Franklin and Jefferson, created for the exhibition of the same name. United States Information Agency and the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration proposed the exhibition with funding from IBM. The exhibit toured New York, Paris, Warsaw, London, Mexico City, Chicago, and Los Angeles and was one of the last major works completed by the Eames Office. The accompanying book’s structure is, let’s be honest, bizarre. There are almost no margins. The italic captions have their own column in the center of the page. The images seem to invade the text like wild animals. Clearly, there is a structure under here I do not understand. But I love it. It’s a world of wackadoodle grids. Now, that’s a good title for a new design book.

 

 

 

Seven Thousand Pelts in the Bins

At lunch today, we discussed which fiction books changed each of our lives. People talked about Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion, anything by Walt Whitman, and The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald. When the group asked me to list my top three, I admit I was ashamed to admit the truth. “Hmm, well, hmm,” I said in a scholarly tone, “I'm quite fond of anything by Raymond Carver. And, of course, Grace Paley.” I did not tell the whole truth. Yes, I do like Raymond Carver, but one of my favorite books is one I had at my grandparents’ house. It’s The Knockabout Club Alongshore by C.A. Stephens. It doesn’t have interesting symbols, metaphors, or complex narrative structure. It’s a standard issue boy’s adventure book about “The adventures of a party of young men on a trip from Boston to the land of the midnight sun.”

I know every page and spent hours as a kid staring at the maps of Nova Scotia and etchings of sailing adventures. The Knockabout Club was published in 1883. No, I did not read it when it was first released. When you’re eight, and there are icebergs, polar bears, Vikings, and the northern lights the publication date doesn’t matter.

            The deck—when we were able to catch sight of it for “skulps” (seal cub scalps)—was almost slippery with gore.

Lines like these are thrilling to any young boy. No worries, I do recognize now that clubbing seal cubs for scalps is not okay. I look at the book now, and am impressed with the actual design. The bright cover screams sailing adventure. I love the detailed initial caps, or in some instances, initial words. For years, I’ve wanted to go to Antarctica. Now I know the genesis of this desire. I am, however, a little confused as to why my grandparents gave me a book from 1883 to read while my friends were reading Deathwatch.

 

The Brutalism of Books

Years ago, there was a wonderful school supply store in Los Angeles. It didn’t have an inventory of fine new textbooks, cute brand new classroom decorations, or specialty learning tools. This was the warehouse of the misfit supplies. This is bad if you want to teach children up to date information, but wonderful if you prefer to live in the past. Noreen bought a huge roll up wall map of the world with all the nations in 1958. We found old textbooks, cursive lettering wall charts, and diagrams of evolution from the late 1960s. There were no prices on anything, which proved to be a bonus. When we were checking out, the cashier looked at our cart of old stuff and said, “Hmm, what about $20.00 for everything?” Pretty nifty.

I especially coveted a collection of Life Nature Library books. These are the books that explain all types of scientific information in simple terms. For me, this is good. But, it’s the design that is the high point. The books are clear and simple. They are almost industrial in their functionality. This is brutalism in publication design. They are elegant in their minimalism. Nobody was trying to show every design skill they had all on one page. Even the charts are miraculously un-designed. This isn’t about laziness. It’s about restraint.

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.

 

Brilliant Corners

Last week I had lunch with one of my favorite designers, Michael Carabetta. Since Michael is the creative director at Chronicle Books, the subject turned to, yes shocking, books. Michael suggested I look at Paul Bacon’s work. The more I researched Bacon’s work, the clearer it became that this was a remarkable treasure of incredible work. The book and album covers are energetic, surprising, and spontaneous. They never feel forced or overworked. Yesterday, I briefly fell in love with a new cookbook’s design. Then, after looking at Bacon’s work, I quickly recognized how the cookbook was desperately overdesigned.

Bacon’s love for jazz is apparent in the work. It feels open and clear, never rigid or constipated. However, the spontaneity should not be misunderstood as easy. The ideas are big, smart, and beautifully crafted. We can look back and say, “Times were different. You could walk in a room, present a solution and everyone would cheer. The they’d head out for martinis, cigarettes and flirting.” But, like today, I’m sure everyone had an opinion and wanted something different. Bacon’s work is a testament to the ability to express an idea articulately and sell it. There is obvious passion here.

James Victore’s article on aiga.org captures Bacon’s essence beautifully. I love that he can, “tell a joke so dirty that it would singe off yer eyebrows.” This reminded me of my great friend Doyald Young, and that made my day.

Words and No Pictures

Designers often ask me what I look for in a portfolio. I always look at typography. There are a million decisions and variables in type. If someone can manipulate the complex issues of legibility, form, scale, and meaning with combinations of 26 letters, and create something wonderful, they can probably manage any project. But what makes good typography? It’s not about choosing beautifully drawn typefaces (but that’s a big part), or setting everything at 4 point (some of us like to read the words). It isn’t about maintaining a rigid Swiss structure (but that’s a good place to start). It’s about making a dynamic, exciting, and meaningful experience.

I’ve seen solutions that are incredibly elegant, but make no sense. A refined cut of Didot is probably not needed for a poster about seal clubbing (the animals and blood, not the musician and nightclubs). I don’t like typography that's just nice. There’s enough boring stuff to look at already. If the type is classical and elegant, it should be so beautiful that you want to throw up. If the subject, such as The Angry Black South needs simple communication, let it be just that: simple communication. I like to think of typography as pictures of words. Which makes the statement, A picture is worth a thousand words,” a very complex math problem.

Forbidden Love

Call me out of touch, but I love books. I recall being told in college to "spend money on books, not pot." Unfortunately, I was spending money on Top Ramen, not books nor pot. I'm not a book snob. I'm thrilled to find a copy of Tidewater Virginia as well as a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. While I spend many hours showing Paul Rand and Alvin Lustig jackets, I have a secret love for the jackets of the unknown. With titles such as Saphira and the Slave Girl, which sounds faintly lesbian-esque, how can you go wrong?

The New York Public Library has a remarkable digital collection of book jackets from 1926-1947. These aren't chosen by a select group of designers for high design aesthetic value. Research Libraries typically remove dust jackets and discard them before shelving the books. From 1926-1947 anonymous librarians collected and saved jackets they found interesting. They range from unbelievably wonderful, Greatest Show on Earth, to the odd, Less Eminent Victorians. As a collection, the design trends and resources become clear. The lack of color during the World War II period is obvious. The minimal usage of photography shows, not a preference for illustration, but the issues with printing technologies at the time. As it was common for an illustrator to be hired to draw the cover jacket, much of the typography is hand-lettered in wonderful ways.

The books here have a subtext of personal care. Someone handled this artifact, chose the cover, and carefully stored it in a scrapbook. Perhaps it's because my grandfather had a wonderful library, and my grandmother was never without a book, but these books all seem to have been loved.

Shown here is the first of a series on this subject. The book jackets images include the spine.

The Lights of Old Santa Fe

Years ago, I saw a documentary, 901: After 45 Years of Working. This documentary follows the archiving of the Eames studio, as its contents were packed for shipping to the Smithsonian, after Ray's death. It’s incredible, of course. A lifetime of collecting is carefully organized in flat files and boxes. There are flat files filled with thimbles, another drawer of round shells, another with buttons, pieces of kimono fabric, spoons, pebbles, Victorian cards, and anything else you might consider collecting. After an hour of drawers, drawers and more drawers, and boxes of stuff, I found myself getting edgy. Yes, it’s incredible, but stop the archiving, get a Hefty bag.

I bought the new Alexander Girard book by Todd Oldham and Kiera Coffee. I expected a nice comprehensive publication of Girard’s work, not another catalogue of cute Girard blocks and merchandise. And it is exactly that: smart, comprehensive, beautiful, and well printed. The book is enormous. I felt sorry for the UPS dude. It’s almost as big as the coffee table, is 672 pages, and weighs 15 pounds. It is comprehensive and spectacular.

Girard’s house in Santa Fe is overwhelming. Here, more is not enough. The colors and textures are playful and exuberant. There isn’t a detail overlooked. It gave me permission to paint a mural in the hall, or put out every Mexican and Japanese folk art item I own. Like the Eames studio, there is a lot of stuff. And when there isn’t an object, he paints the surface to invoke a landscape. I was especially interested in the mural that looks exactly like It’s a Small World. Was it zeitgeist? Did Mary Blair visit and copy him? Did he copy from Mary Blair’s drawings? Who cares? It’s extraordinary.

Images from Alexander Girard, by Todd Oldham and Keira Coffee, and the Library of Congress