The Strange Case of the Designer

39770-Conductor-Design-Observer.gif

What makes a graphic designer strange? Is it the obsessive attention to kerning on street signs, arguing whether PMS 172 is orange or red, or collecting odd scraps of paper on every European vacation? These may seem strange activities to civilians but they are some of the many quirks that define us. Our ability to find wonder in almost anything, however, is the truly rare skill. There are few subjects for a project that don’t elicit first interest, and then the need to know everything. A sound designer can take drill bits, ducks, polyester shirts, or viral infections and make something incredible and compelling. Contrast that with a non-designer guest at a dinner party. When I ask, “Did you know that a tungsten carbide drill bit can penetrate almost any material?” my dinner partner may look confused and then bored. 

Tobias Frere-Jones recently released a new typeface based on Bulgarian Lotto tickets from the 1930s. This inspiration may seem somewhat oblique to an investment banker but is entirely in line with the way designers see the world. Bulgarian lottery tickets? Why not?

Fere-Jones discovered the typography while researching a project for letterforms as security devices. The numerals are an example of self-verifying numbers. The name of each digit is spelled out beneath. Eighteen months passed and Frere-Jones began to question what sort of alphabet might go along with these monolithic, theatrical numerals?

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.

Fake News: Blow Up

 

One of the pivotal scenes in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) follows the protagonist, Thomas, as he enlarges a series of images. From these close-ups, he determines he accidentally photographed a murder. The viewer must decide if these photographs are evidence of a crime or merely abstract forms? The core of this question touches on our need to assign narrative to any shape, pattern, and imagery we see.

In 2014, people uploaded an average of 1.8 billion digital images every day. Today, in two minutes, people take more photographs than existed in total in 1866. In a culture flooded with this magnitude of imagery, the lines between truth and fiction are vague and confusing. Coupled with the ability to manipulate images digitally, the integrity of a photograph cannot be proven. The viewer must repeatedly determine on a daily basis if he or she believes the representation as actual or false. An uneasy and endlessly shifting sense of truth replaces the comfort of “seeing is believing.” 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 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 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.

Graphic Designer Basics

Designers 1

On Thursday night, I spoke at an AIGA event in San Diego. Several people asked me the question, "Where can I look to find examples of great design?" and "Is there a resource for finding all of the industry's history?" The first step is to get a good graphic design history book such as A History of Graphic Design 3rd Edition by Philip B. Meggs.

Then, I suggest designobserver.com, the aiga.org medalist page, and this site burningsettlerscabin.com. Also look at my Lynda.com/Linked In course Graphic Design History. These are a good introduction to learn about individual designers who had an impact.

Next, after finding someone interesting, dig in. Research everywhere and find out more than anyone else knows. I do that every time I find a piece I love.

Here, then is the first of several (meaning more to come) lists of designers everyone should know and explore (not in a dirty way). I'm keeping these (mostly) to dead people for now, so the living won't be up in arms about inclusion. Most of these are covered in other Burning Settlers Cabin posts, just search (on the left).

Saul Bass

 

Herbert Bayer

 

Lester Beall

 

Lucian Bernhard

 

A.M. Cassandre

 

Tibor Kalman

 

Marget Larsen

 

Herb Lubalin

 

Alvin Lustig

 

Herbert Matter

 

Reid Miles

 

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

 

Victor Moscoso/Fillmore Posters

 

Cipe Pineles

 

Paul Rand

 

Deborah Sussman

 

Bradbury Thompson

 

Jan Tschichold

 

Massimo and Leila Vignelli

 

If You're Not Kama'aina, Your Dead

We’ve been down this path before. On a previous post, I discussed the reasons why Hawaii 5-0 kicked Magnum P.I.’s ass. You won’t see that on DesignObserver. Now, we face the issue of the classic Hawaii 5-0 and the new Hawaii 5-0. The old 5-0 had a better title sequence, but was basically Adam-12 in Hawaii. It was the show you watched when you stayed at your grandparents’ house, and they never changed the channel away from CBS. The new 5-0 has a title sequence that’s more ‘techno” and action packed, but lacks the finesse of the old one. The new 5-0, however, is more exciting. Or perhaps I’m now old, like my grandparents and don’t get out often.

The only thing I can’t understand is why the governor of Hawaii seems to operate like the chief of police. It seems that the governor is trampling on the police force’s territory. I’d be concerned that she was not paying attention to legislative issues, but sitting by the police radio listening for some action. It also seems to send the message that you will immediately be caught in cross-fire or kidnapped if you’re a tourist in Honolulu.

The Big Cold

Before I started BurningSettlersCabin, Bill Drenttel asked me if I would do an article for Design Observer on refrigerators. Bill specifically wanted to see designer’s refrigerators. So I sent notes to a bunch of friends and asked them to send me images of their refrigerators. Immediately, Marian Bantjes sent me her photos. Thank you Marian. Then, nothing. I asked again, and everyone said, “no problem.” But nothing ever arrived. It seemed that I had asked for something too private to share. I have no idea what others keep in the fridge that is so shocking. We found a stack of frozen Big Macs in my dad’s refrigerator. Maybe famous designers are doing the same, but can’t reveal that.

I love my refrigerator, and have no issue showing it. It’s a Sub Zero Pro 48. When I have guests, they invariably ask, “Sean, just how do you keep your refrigerator so neat?” The secret is plastic bins. Keep all the mustards in one, and all the miscellaneous condiments in the others. Anything oddly shaped is kept separate. I worry that my refrigerator is too big, but we have 7/8 sized refrigerator at work, so it evens out. My advice to everyone is not to use plastic bins in the fridge (although you should), but to look into every designer’s fridge when you visit. Just what is so shocking and terrible that everyone runs when asked?