Something Hit Us

"Something hit us...the crew is dead...help us, please, please help us!"

I like helping people. Often, another designer somewhere in the world will send me a note requesting advice on a color issue. This could be attributed to three books I’ve written about color, or the fact that I typically wear a bright pink or blue golf shirt while everyone else is in their summer black. I appreciate the compliment that I might be of some help or expertise.

I could say I spend hours deconstructing Josef Albers’ work in the 1930s or tirelessly mix gouache paint for the perfect combination to create a palette. Both of these would be half truths. Like my dining palette, I have rather plebeian tastes. Last weekend, while changing channels I stumbled onto one of my primary color inspirations, Airport 1975 (see, low-rent taste).

Twenty years ago I had two back to back epiphanic experiences. The first was watching David Hockney paint in his studio with confident and broad strokes. The second, was, of course the genius that is the palette in Airport 1975. Who cares about the plot with the standard issue of Love Boat guest stars in peril after their 747 is struck by another plane. The number one flight attendant is required to fly the plane. There is a singing nun, played by Helen Reddy. She spends time and songs with a dying girl, suspiciously cast with Linda Blair after her film, The Exorcist, when she was possessed.

 

Not Airport 1975, Linda Blair possessed and flying

The wall shag carpet

And the glorious palette

The colors are completely wrong and go against every tenet of good taste: fuchsia and brown, purple and ochre, red and avocado green. But it’s a marvelous mash-up. How wonderful to be so bad. While I have not spent days studying the late career geometry and color paintings by Herbert Bayer. I did spend an eccentric amount of time on the strange shag carpet wall colors.

 

The full palette

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.

Bad Color

There are many ways to be sent to hell. Some involve disobeying the Ten Commandments. As a designer, however, temptation looms at every corner, telling us, “It’s ok. Go ahead and use the Oil Paint filter in Photoshop. Don’t worry about using the fake handwriting rather than using your own hands. Why make your palette when a program can do it for you? So easy; then you can have time to be lazy.” 

Now, everyone has a different concept of hell. Mine is being stuck at a party when someone pulls out a guitar to play songs about a broken heart. To avoid ending up at an endless amateur guitar playing party with people who share issues, I resist the temptation of software-generated color palettes. I make my own. 

 

I’ve met many designers who are uncomfortable with color. At some point along the path, a well-meaning art teacher or parent said, “Oh no. Those colors don’t go together. They clash.” We are given the message: You can’t be trusted with your own color choices. There are right colors, wrong colors, good combinations, and bad combinations. But this is wrong. There are no bad colors or bad combinations. The only wrong choices (and not in a good John Bielenberg ThinkWrong way), are to use the default palette, work without color conviction, and let Adobe make the palette decisions. As long as a designer works with color aggressively, everything is good. Can you use rust and violet, or avocado green and yellow, or pink and red? Why not?

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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.

Return of the Color

Almost ten years ago, Terry Lee Stone and I wrote the Color Design Workbook. Since then, it's remained a best seller in the graphic design category ( I hate saying that. It sounds like a facebook post from too many people that are more interested in themselves than others). But, it's about numbers. Last year, Judith Cressy contacted me and asked if I'd like to do an updated new edition. Uh, yes, please. 

I had a great time finding new work to illustrate some of the points made. I love when I have the chance to highlight work from designers who aren't published all the time (yet). I'm so pleased with this book. It gives real information (thank you Terry Lee Stone) about color in design. Hopefully, it will lead to a reduced terror of color. As I've said so many time, "No two colors dislike each other. The only crime is to be timid."

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.

Color By Any Other Name

There are two subjects that produce that deer in headlights look with a designer: typography and color. Let's talk about color. Clients are often quite clear about color, "I hate that green. It looks like baby shit," or, "It must match the pink of the sand in The Bahamas." But designers default to the swatch palette in Adobe® Illustrator or InDesign. Ask a designer about combining purple and magenta, and you may encounter this response, "What? Whaaaat? Uhhh, Ok." Along the way some well-meaning teacher told him or her that those two colors may never be used together.

 

The Designer's Dictionary of Color

I recently completed a new book for Abrams to address these issues. The Designer's Dictionary of Color (or Colour in Britain) will be available in April. I wanted to write and design a book that could answer the question, does this and this work together? Or how do I convince a client avocado green is a good choice (don't call it avocado green)? And, what cultural issues exist with white in Asia? 

This also gave me the chance to find young designers who haven't been widely published. I added other visual work to help clarify the issues also so that a designer could give the book to a client. The example of Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge, London, at Dusk might have more impact when looking at mint. Over the next few weeks I'll be providing some excerpts. If I can save one project that uses coral, I will have done my job.


From The Designer's Dictionary of Color; Sean Adams, 2017
Coral
Coral is neither pink nor peach. It is a color that exists between these. It is associated with femininity, gentleness, romance, and the tropics. These connections work to communicate the tone of an idea swiftly. A coral poster will immediately be read as positive and friendly. Coral has more sensuality than pure pink, which can feel juvenile. As the color of the interior of certain shells, and used as a prominent paint color throughout the Caribbean, coral has associations with a carefree and gentle holiday.

Cultural Meanings
Coral roses are a symbol of desire. In Buddhism, it symbolizes the energy of the life force. In China, it is a symbol of longevity. Coral is a sensitive color. If it shifts toward yellow, it will become peach, or a sickly flesh tone. A shift toward the red creates pink. Coral is also known as salmon, a term that was used in automobile color options.

Other Names
Salmon
Watermelon
Grapefruit
Shell Pink
Bright Rose

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.

Unsinkable Brown

Recently, a client asked for brown as a color option on a project. A couple of years ago, I would have resisted. But, brown has slowly been creeping into my mind. First, I found myself admiring the brown tile at the Honolulu Airport. Then, I decided I should move away from my earthquake safe Melmac dinnerware. So, I bought several settings of Heath Ceramics dinnerware.

The Heath colors are subtle, subtle and subtle. Seeing one brown combined with cream or tan plate convinced me that brown could be alright. Some of my favorite design solutions are brown. Does this mean I'm mellowing, or developing, God forbid, good taste? I still resist any attempt to put brown in bathrooms. Brown wall, tiles, fixtures, or accessories should never be used there. I won't go into details, but how do you know if someone previously had an "episode" in the bathroom if everything isn't bright white?

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.

When Colors Collide

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, 1964

Last week at the How Conference, a guy came up to me after my presentation and said, "You are so amazing with color. I wish I could do that. What should I do?" He wanted to know what books to read or if I had any snappy tricks for creating a palette. I answered, "Do whatever you like, just do it with confidence." The point is, no two colors dislike each other. People say, "Oh, that was an awful color combination," or, "You can't use those colors together. They'll be hideous." They are wrong.

I find "awful" color palettes all the time. But if you take them apart and use them like there is no tomorrow, people will think you're brave and leading the way. At least, that's what I think, because that's what they say to me. But they could be walking away and saying, "What the hell was that?"

In all fairness, I am hopeless when it comes to choosing colors for the living room or any space I inhabit. What if I pick the wrong color for the sofa? What if the chairs clash? I need to listen to my own advice and let the taste police judgement go. I'll be super confident when guests come and marvel at the rust, turquoise, and magenta furniture.

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 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/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.

Rough and Ready

The concept behind wabi-sabi is to find beauty in transience and imperfection. I love this concept although I have difficulty following it. When I find myself scrubbing the top of the flat files with Comet and a rough brush, or using an x-acto knife to clean crevices in a lamp, I know I am in trouble. I'd like to let the imperfections on the lamp to be just fine.

I once scrubbed all the enamel off my grandparents' kitchen sink because it still had little off white spots. That was when my family should have called for an intervention: "Sean, I love you, but you are ruining your life and ours by this incessant scrubbing of sinks," or, "I refuse to acknowledge you or support this awful habit until you stop and put the canned air and Windex down. You are sick and need help."

The point here, is that I love the nubby and organic. But I can't seem to let it be just that. Stan Bitters' work is elegant and warm, pointing to a natural world of texture and smell. The ceramic work isn't hyper glossy or smooth as a baby's bottom, and I like that. The colors are rich and unexpected. The evidence of a human hand is exposed on each creation. Perhaps I need to get some clay, a kiln, and some glazes and lock myself in a room until I can live with the bump on the rim of a vase.

Experimental Prototype Colors of Tomorrow

Epcot gift bag, early 1980s

When EPCOT opened in 1982, the concept was innovation and globalism. Wait isn't that what every conference today is about? The park was and is divided into two sections, Future World and World Showcase. Future World was where corporations like Exxon could prove how good strip mining was. World Showcase would bring cultures from around the globe to the American tourist. The visual theme of Future World was the same as the 1990s Star Trek: TNG, mid-level hotel or medical offices in non-threatening tones. The large spaces had lots of carpeting, an abundance of rounded corners, and odd geometric benches.

In my head, I've always pictured 1980s EPCOT as a unified and sleek place. The color palette was silver, blue, and white. The materials were aluminum and fiberglass. But, I was wrong. While researching the color palettes I found some truly hideous combinations. Now, I've always said no two colors dislike each other. Again, I was wrong. Some of the combinations are terrifying. It would never occur to me to combine pink, teal, plum, and orange. I'm still semi-sane. So what happened? Why the hard left away from the silver and blue? I don't know. I do know, however, that these combinations do not exist naturally, and no software product will ever provide a palette like these.

Bag palette
EPCOT 1982
Epcot map, 1983
Map Palette
Epcot mug
Mug Palette
pin
Button Palette
Gateway Gifts sign, Epcot, 1982
Gateway Gifts palette
Epcotmap2
Guidebook paltette

An Encyclopedic Photographic Memory of Ephemera

I enjoy accusing others of illiteracy. “Don’t you people read?” I ask my students. “If you’d read the copy, you’d understand why the image works,” I say to clients, but in a nicer way. “For the love of God put down that iPhone and get a book,” I tell my niece and nephews. Then I find I am as guilty of the same sin.

I have a book about the 1964 World’s Fair. I’ve never read it. I do, however, know each and every illustration, color palette, and photograph in the book. Who knows what it is about? I’m too distracted by the tiny drawings on divider pages. To make matters worse, I deconstruct the meaning of the imagery. And I make odd connections that require an encyclopedic photographic memory of ephemera. Fortunately, I have this. For example, the overview of the Fair is surprisingly similar to the layout of Epcot, which is a sort of permanent world’s fair (or beer walk, depending on your interest.) Finally, the color palette for the fair preview images is exactly the same as the preview book for Walt Disney World, published a few years later. Coincidence? You be the judge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unsinkable Brown

Recently, a client asked for brown as a color option on a project. A couple of years ago, I would have resisted. But, brown has slowly been creeping into my mind. First, I found myself admiring the brown tile at the Honolulu Airport. Then, I decided I should move away from my earthquake safe Melmac dinnerware. So, I bought several settings of Heath Ceramics dinnerware.

The Heath colors are subtle, subtle and subtle. Seeing one brown combined with cream or tan plate convinced me that brown could be alright. Some of my favorite design solutions are brown. Does this mean I'm mellowing, or developing, God forbid, good taste? I still resist any attempt to put brown in bathrooms. Brown wall, tiles, fixtures, or accessories should never be used there. I won't go into details, but how do you know if someone previously had an "episode" in the bathroom if everything isn't bright white?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense of Garish Acts

A few weeks ago I attempted to repaint my living room in sophisticated silver grey. This was a mistake. What looked beautiful in the Restoration Hardware catalogue looked like a prison cell in my living room. If I wanted to interrogate visitors, or slam them up against a wall with a shiv this would be perfect. I called my trusty painter Jeirro and he repainted it back to aqua and watermelon pink. Clearly I am doomed to what others refer to as bad taste or garish color.

In defense of garish color I point to some of our finest designers, Paul RandArt PaulTadanori Yokoo, and Paul Bruno. We think of these people as refined craftsmen. But did they shy away from magenta and orange, purple and lime green? No. They embraced it and ignored the calls from the sophisticated elite, “More beige, please.”

I’ve often used the baby mobile argument. If beige mobile and a brightly colored mobile are presented to a toddler, he or she will always gravitate toward the bright one. The bad things in life, rotten meat, deadly deep water, and coffins are dull and grey. The good things, non-poisonous berries, swimming pools, and pink Cadillacs are bright and cheerful. This is why clients react badly when presented a baby shit green poster, and cheer for the bright yellow and happy pink one.

Paul Rand, 1964

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 Red and the Black

People often ask me, “Sean, what’s the secret with this whole graphic design thing?” Of course, there is no secret. Or if there is, nobody told me. I can say, however, that a big rule for me is contrast. There is no such thing as too bright, or too much contrast in design. I’m not big on de-saturated colors and soft contrast. Design should be bold. There’s an old saying about teaching a donkey. First you smack it in the head with a two by four, and then give it the message. Now, clearly, I don’t advocate donkey cruelty. But, design is the same. First, get the audience’s attention. Then tell them the story.

Red, white, and black are good choices for contrast and bold statements. I’ve used this combination many times and quite enjoyed it. The danger is looking like a Nazi. The Nazis were rather keen on black and red, so you need to be careful to not appear to be a Facist. Using a little bit of red and a little bit of black isn’t the same thing. Remember: donkey, two-by-four, and big.

Color Me Mad

I believe I’ve found the root of one of my issues. Yes, it’s the bad taste in color issue. I wish I could be like Michael Bierut, or Chip Kidd, or Dana Arnett, and work with sophisticated and elegant tones. It’s always my goal, but as many of you have noticed, the train always derails and I end up with violet and fuchsia. Why is this? What has driven me to this aberration? My parents had flawless good taste in color. Navy blue and beige were acceptable, pink was okay during the summer, but only tasteless people wore turquoise or purple. My grandparents had a thing for red, white, and blue during the bicentennial, but then it was back to off-white.

The answer is On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’s credit sequence. I saw this when I was six. Isn’t that the age when individuals begin to form creatively? If you want to mess someone up big time, don’t you begin locking him or her in closets at five or six? The credits are clearly (no pun intended) designed to impart the idea of infinity. Let’s look at the facts, though. It’s 1970. Most of the audience was probably on some kind of dope. This was a psychedelic trip visual. And I sat there, soaking up the garish combinations. Now I am ruined, unable to maintain a desire for beige or taupe.

Note: bypass the singing and jump to 1:30. This is where Barbra Streisand begins to fly like the Flying Nun and the drug induced graphics begin.

A Magic Kingdom

In recent years, I’ve been concerned I was out of touch. Well, that goes without saying. A common house-cat has more hip-ness than me. But I thought the new generation only cared about working collaboratively, denying the artifact, and deriding more seasoned designers. When I was in my twenties I loved going to a conference and meeting a hero like Milton Glaser. I was thrilled when I received a letter informing me I won an award, or that a book was selected for the AIGA 50 Book show. Contrary to standing opinion, young designers still care about these things. They want community, recognition, individual vision, and love the beauty of artifacts. I cannot express how happy this makes me. All the hogwash research that painted the millennial generation as mindless automatons blindly walking down a road of Borg assimilation with an iPhone in hand is wrong.

Which segues, as usual for this blog, into a crazed left turn. I love these postcards and preview book for Walt Disney World. I don’t love it because it is about the design of meetings or strategy or collaborative teamwork. I love it because it is wonderful. When can you combine teal, ochre, and baby blue? When people discuss the great American experiment, this is it. The freedom to design a booklet with completely wrong colors and make them work. For me, the WDW preview book is design in a nutshell. It serves a purpose, it creates excitement and joy, it promotes an idea and product, it does this is unexpected ways. It talks to me personally. And it has one wacky grid.

So this is my call to action. When you are told that individual vision is irrelevant, or recognition of individual is wrong, or the world no longer needs beauty or heroes, just say no. These are not true. Design can create wonder and joy. Individuals do this, not committees of fifty people.

Walt Disney World Preview, 1970

No Splashing. No!

Somehow by attrition, I have become the “go to” designer when color is involved. This amazes me because my color theory is pretty simple: everything works with everything. Just don’t be wimpy. I love hateful combinations such as almond, maroon, and teal. I’d make every project avocado, burnt orange, butter yellow, baby blue, and magenta if I could. But, oddly, I love black and white. It’s the color combination used the least. Everyone assumes it’s ubiquitous, so everything is full of color. When was the last time you saw a stark black and white ad, billboard, or television commercial? Color is an evil temptress; we attempt restrain, but are lured with the promise of excitement. Be brave. Try black and white. This isn’t black and white with a splash of orange. No. No splash. You must deny any additional color.

It's Not Easy Being Avocado Green

Once again, I was driven to drink by an HGTV home improvement show. Rather than naming these shows Color Splash or Spice Up My Kitchen, they should be named more honestly. I’m thinking, “Search and Destroy Historic Value”, or “Incredible Vintage Tile Replaced: A Spa Bathroom Cheap.” Why would anyone look at a beautiful bathroom with turquoise tile and fixtures that would stand after thermonuclear war and think, “If I could only rip that out and replace it with some bamboo paneling?” On a show last weekend a new homeowner decided her avocado green bathroom was dated. Uh, yeah, that’s what makes it good. So they ruined it. Why? Why? I kept asking as they tore into the tile, “Boy this tile sure is set in here. It’ll take days to take this bathroom apart.” Of course this is God’s way of telling you to stop.

I understand that avocado green is difficult for some. I’ve found that there are two ways to make some one turn beat red with anger in a presentation. First, urinate in the corner and say, “That’s how you treat my work.” Secondly, use avocado green. People really get mad when they see it. Personally, I love it. It’s important to differentiate avocado green from hunter green. Hunter green has more blue, and avocado (or cactus) green has more yellow.

Coming out of the flower child, granola movement in the 1960s, avocado green was popular in the 1970s because marketers wanted everyone to feel good about buying a station wagon that got 7 miles per gallon. As it was avocado green and brown, it was clearly natural. The same went for plates, dresses, washing machines, fondue sets, and anything that needed to be cloaked in “natural.” If marketing people were smart now, they would realize the same thing was happening. Then you could buy an avocado green truck and leave it running all night long, just in case you needed to leave in a hurry. It’s a natural tone; it’s good for the earth.

The Color of Fear

Many of you have written and asked, “Sean, I find your color sense excellent. How can I acquire this skill?” This is not an easy question to answer. As far as I can tell, any color works with any other color. All that information about primary, complementary, and tertiary colors is nonsense. Although you should know it, so buy my color book.

To prove this point, look at the color palette in Airport 1975. Fuchsia and brown: why not? Lavender and magenta: of course! Butter yellow and violet: go for it. Why can’t airplanes look like this anymore? Everything is so “business professional” with navy blue and gray.

I want flight attendants in violet, and wall hangings made of carpet in intense colors. I want that groovy first class lounge upstairs on a 747 with an “autumnal” palette of browns and oranges. Alexander Girard did a fantastic job on Braniff (to be covered on another post), but he wasn’t brave enough to throw brights, pastels, and earth tones together in a crazy jumble. And finally, all airline companies should stop with the boarding music or Gershwin, or the American Airlines soundtrack. They should play Helen Reddy’s rendition of “Best Friend” repeatedly. This alone will make anyone who is frightened to fly desperate for the plane to take off and stop the music.

The Color of Light

I have a stack of prints that I inherited sitting in my flat files at home. Once in awhile I’ll go through them, and consider framing one and putting it up. But I don’t have room, so they stay in the drawer. There are a couple of Maxfield Parrish (1870 - 1966) prints that I love, but can’t get past the image of one hanging in the den at the ranch. It just seems to “little old lady” to put one up. Nevertheless, they are beautiful. I could do without the lounging androgynous characters in Greek temples, but the landscapes are remarkable.

Both Ansel Adams and Maxfield Parrish worked through the beginning of the 20th-century. They shared the idea of creating images that went beyond traditional landscapes. Adams didn’t photograph the landscape; he photographed the weather. Parrish didn’t paint the landscape; he painted the light. The colors are iridescent. I’ve been told that he painted in layers, much like a printer lays one color on top of another, and the translucency of the paint produces a richer, more complex effect. Parrish also had a sense of narrative. The house in New Moon has a warm glow of a light inside, creating a sense of security, comfort, and warmth.