You'll Never Walk Alone

“How many photos of the same ochre door in Liberty Square at Walt Disney World do I need?” Obviously, the answer is “never too many.” Organizing my iPhoto library this weekend, I found the same image photographed almost in the exact same location over the course of ten years. Clearly, each time I see this door, I think, “oh, that would make a nice photograph.” But clearly, my mind is a sieve.

The other surprising discovery was the large amount of Walt Disney World photos sans people. I’m not talking here about the lack of photos of family members. I mean no people, as in Life After People. This tells me something about my psychological makeup, but I can’t focus long enough to know what. I don’t know how I manage to take so many images at a place with millions of people that are devoid of human activity. And there are quite a few images that may have a couple of guests, but are of empty areas of concrete or sand.

I have a secret dream of retiring and creating a job at Disneyland helping people with their photos, and offering guidance to the guests looking lost. “Excuse me,” I would say, “Are you looking for Space Mountain?” Or, “May I help you with a photo tip? Bring your child forward, and let the castle be in the background.” I could wear a white shirt and black bow tie, and be the “Answer Man.” The trick would be to not direct people to shoot scenes without any human presence. “Now wait, ask your child to get out of the shot. Okay, there are no people in the frame, shoot it now.”

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 Design of Comfort

Several years ago, the organizers at TypeCon asked me to do a presentation on the typography of Disneyland. I assumed that the research would lead to a collection of novelty typefaces. What I found, however, was an incredibly dense design solution beyond typography with intentional choices to create a specific experience. The typography, color, scale, point of view, sounds, and smells worked as a whole communicating energy, invention, American ingenuity, mid-western values, and reassurance.

Main Street, USA, is the entry point at Disneyland, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and other Disney parks globally. It is a representation of small-town America at the turn of the twentieth century. Main Street is not a perfect recreation of a town in 1890. There are no garbage filled doorways, telephone poles, muddy streets, and rather unpleasant drunk people carrying guns. Main Street is a representation of the idea of a mythical small town.

Disneyland’s original designers came from a film background. They designed every element to work cohesively to convey a narrative. Main Street is not a cute and saccharine mini-mall of false fronts. It is a well-considered and detailed construction.

The park’s guests are not spectators in the environment. They are actors on a stage. The designers created the experience of entering the park to simulate the beginning of a motion picture theater experience. The guest passes through a dark tunnel below the railroad tracks in the same way that theater lights dim as a film starts. 

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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.

The Stress of Decisions

People feel stress when they are pressed to make a decision. "Do I go that way, or the other way?" One of the tricks at Disneyland and Walt Disney World is the use of the hub. That's the area in front of the castle. Everything radiates out from here, so at any point the guest knows they can simply return to the hub. This takes away the stress of decision making with no information. I can go left toward the Mark Twain Riverboat or right to the Rocket Jets. Neither is scary.

The Hub

In addition, the parks are chock full of maps. Not giant directories that become jammed with people trying to find J. Crew, but personal maps that fit in your hand.

Its' time to revisit the world  Disneyland and Walt Disney World maps. I love that there are so many different types. Some rely on an illustration to give a simplified overview, while others detail every building. The ones that fail are, no pun intended, goofy. They treat the audience as if they were all three-year olds needing to add funny characters and cute rounded cartoon structures.

The most successful are works of art. They show clear and recognizable buildings, but never pander to the lowest common denominator. Don't pander.

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 Images of the Mad

Or when bad photos happen to good people

As of today, I have 1,076 images In my iPhoto Disneyland album. That may seem excessive to some, and not enough for others. They're a mix of photos I took, images I found, and scans of artifacts. I had a friend who worked at the park and had a great collection of obese people there, but mine are mostly typography. On the other hand I have fewer than 30 print photographs of Disneyland from the time I was a kid to the 1990s. Strangely, these mostly suck

You'd think that the cost of film and prints coupled with a degree from art school later, would lead to well considered and composed images. No. I seem to either have been on crack or in the midst of a seizure when I took these. They're of odd items such as the roof of the River Belle Terrace, or they're crooked and blurry. There is no sense of a focal point or rule of thirds.

Today I get furious when I see guests photograph their subject thirty feet away: "Hold on until everyone passes. I want all of you in the frame with the castle." BRING YOUR SUBJECT TO THE FOREGROUND! We don't need to see their shoes. After finding my careless and oddly cropped images, I can no longer throw that stone.

Of course, I couldn't help myself, and decided to fix some of these. But I think I like the bad ones better.

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.

Shining City on the Hill

Last weekend I went to see Tomorrowland, the movie. It wasn't what I expected. For some reason, I thought it would be a magic portal to the 1967 Tomorrowland. After considering that, I realize this would make for a rather dull movie. George Clooney rides on the slow moving PeopleMover. Then he visits Adventure Thru Inner Space. The whole gang has lunch at the Coca Cola Terrace and listens to The New Establishment. Not too much action. No chases or ray guns.

In my mind, the 1967 Tomorrowland still exists. Somehow I'm always disappointed to reach the end of Main Street USA and realize the 1990s version has stomped out the bright future. 1967 Tomorrowland was a gleaming shining city on the hill. It was a world of turquoise, yellow, red, and light blue, clean white paint, metallic silver walls, and Univers 67. Corporations were not evil so logos were proudly displayed. There was no better way to spend time than to ride the PeopleMover on a sunny afternoon.

We've all seen how something is changed moments before it would be hip again. If they only waited a couple of years, by 2000 the 1967 Tomorrowland would be genius.

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 Avant Garde in Felt

Sean Adams, AIGA 100 project: 1955

A few weeks ago, I was asked to create a solution for an AIGA project celebrating the 100 year anniversary. 100 designers were asked to choose a year, and design a piece that highlighted an event from that year. Michael Bierut got to 1968 before I could, so I took 1955. In 1955, the Ford Thunderbird was released and Disneyland opened. Obviously, Disneyland ended up as my subject.

As a roundabout explanation of the process, I've been a huge Cathy of California fan for years. I was having lunch at our local groovy Los Feliz Mexican restaurant, Mexico City, when I recognized Cathy Callahan herself. I'm not easily impressed by celebrity. I've met my share of famous actors and such. But I was super freaked meeting Cathy in real life and probably a babbling fool.

Around the time I started the 1955 project, I bought Cathy's book, Vintage Craft Workshop: Fresh Takes on Twenty-Four Classic Projects from the '60s and '70s. Something clicked, or broke, in my brain, and I decided to make my piece out of craft materials. It seemed fitting for a 1955 concept and I obviously have too much time on my hands. I could have cheated and Photoshopped the whole thing from stock images, but I actually went to Michael's craft supplies (that was a terrifying experience) and bought stuff.

I cut up my felt, raffia, burlap, and glitter paper. I found old buttons and cufflinks. I used the hot glue gun to attach the stuff to the burlap (which smells weird), and voila. I know most designers are looking for a cutting edge, an extreme approach to the avant grade, and the next big thing. I now have clear evidence that I am as far from hip and cutting edge as Lawrence Welk or Barry Goldwater. At the same time, I think my craft solution this proves that I am incredibly brave or, more likely, clueless.

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The 59th Street Bridge Song

Hills Bros. Coffee Menu

Last week, the crew in the studio allowed me to link to the stereo system and play music from my library. After a few hours of easy listening after the Longines Symphonette played Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, it was disconnected. Now there is a ban on my hip tunes. In the same vein, I can prove I'm super groovy by sharing these out of this world pieces from Disneyland in the late 60s and early 70s. You might think, "Oh, Disneyland. How square." But check it out dude, this stuff is rocking. Who knew wacky duo-tones and overprinting could be so swell?

Now if we deconstruct the genesis of this style we land in a place about counter-culture mind-altering drug use. I'm sure some guests insisted on taking psychotropic substances and riding Alice in Wonderland. I remember smelling pot in Adventure Thru Inner Space when I was a teenager. I once had a friend suggest we all go to Disneyland and get high. I said no of course. That just sounds un-American. But, I have collected the cool and happening graphics. I'm groovy.

Hills Bros. Coffee Menu
Show logo
Grad Nite  1971
Grad Nite 1971
Disneyland Cookbook, late 1960s
Disneyland Bag
Vacationland, 1981
Grad Nite 1970
Grad Nite 1975
Grad Nite 1971
Grad Nite 1971
Grad Nite 1968
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The View from Here

I gave a talk about the narrative design of Disneyland at the Cusp conference a couple of years ago. I covered the idea of a cinematic experience and viewer participation. The visual landscape of both Disneyland and Walt Disney World is carefully planned to create an experience like a film. For example, the tunnels on either side of the Main Street train station act like the darkening of a theater, then the guest passes onto Main Street and the “film” begins. But, the viewpoint is not straight down Main Street toward the castle. It’s to the right or left, then as the guest moves into the park, the view is revealed. The castle acts as a draw, or in Disney terms, a “weenie” and the guest is pulled toward the center of the park.

Each vista is planned to serve as a setting, information delivery vehicle, navigation device, and entertainment. At the same time, the overall sense of security and familiarity is created. Think of the experience this way: there are long shots of a Panavision nature, medium shots of singular buildings, close-ups of pedestrian level windows and doors, and detail shots of individual elements such as a birdcage on a porch or old apothecary bottles in a window.

While others are taking photos of their friends or family members in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, I’m shooting the long shots and details. I’ve found shooting panoramas by standing in one spot and rotating 360 degrees, or moving down the street and taking a picture every twenty feet to work well. Of course it looks crazy, but so what?

As a side note, once again, bring your subject close and let the castle be a background. Unless you need to shoot their entire outfit with shoes, we don’t need to see their entire body. There is no need to be upset when people walk between you and the subject 50 feet away. If I see you do this I will purposely walk between you and the subject and stand there.

Walt Disney World Main Street east

The Other Side

You can’t tell if something is dark without also seeing something light. In the same way, it’s hard to know when something is bad, when it’s all you’ve known. When I was growing up, we moved constantly, as if my parents were on the run from the law. When I left home at 18, we’d moved 22 times on three continents. I didn’t realize this was bad until I was able to stay in one place for more than 18 months.

I had another realization like this last week. I was at Walt Disney World and saw someone wearing a completely groovy t-shirt with the original Walt Disney World 1971 logo. I assumed it was an old shirt until I found it in a store. Richard Terpstra designed the shirt this year. On a side note, Terpstra is a genius at creating new products that have a sense of history and never seem forced or bad replications. Then, I found more t-shirts that I loved. Yes, they all nod to the past and fall into a post-modern pastiche concept. Yes, they are ironic and something someone would wear at a coffee house in Brooklyn or spice store in Silverlake. But, I could wear them too. That’s a real accomplishment to create a product that can run the gamut from hard-core hipster to Fred MacMurray.

Now, why was this a realization? Because I’m not used to seeing something this well designed on my side of the country at Disneyland. I’m a huge fan of Kevin Kidney items, and own an amount of them others find “eccentric”. The other merchandise at Disneyland is, well, cheesy. I hear about the issue of annual passport holders not buying merchandise at Disneyland often. I’ve had an annual passport since 1984 and don’t buy t-shirts. But I’ve only seen the overwrought glittery hyper-cute Disneyland t-shirts.

The cat’s out of the bag for me. I’ve seen what is possible. Someone in Florida at Disney Park merchandising is doing something wonderful and exciting. They’re taking risks and designing for an audience other than the Housewives of Anaheim. Bravo (no pun intended).

How to Have Fun

If there is one thing I need out of life, it’s to be useful. I give my time to AIGA, teach at Art Center, write books, and let people in when they are merging in traffic. All of these, however, are irrelevant in comparison to my useful tips for visiting Disneyland. I’m not interested in programs or books that help guest plan every minute of a day for maximum efficiency. If I wanted maximum efficiency I would vacation at a German auto factory. I don’t understand why anyone would want to race from one attraction to the next, watching the clock and screaming at the kids if they fall behind schedule. It’s supposed to be fun. So here are my tips:

1. Never, ever, ever, enter or leave an area when a parade ends. If you are in the middle of Main Street and the parade ends, do not move. You will be swept up into the crowd; you may lose the hand of your child or friends. This is as foolish as trying to calmly cross the street during a mass exodus from a burning theater. Find a quiet spot in a store and wait. It will only take 5-10 minutes for the masses to disperse.

2. Get a FastPass as soon as you enter the park. You don’t need to run screaming toward Space Mountain. You can return at a reasonable time and pass all the guests in line who have no patience or sense of pre-planning. FYI, the FastPass system has been on a grid not shared by all parks. So you can get a FastPass for Soarin’ Over California and one for Indiana Jones at the same time. Rumor has it that Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin is on a grid all by itself.

3. Do not eat everything because you are at Disneyland. I hear this excuse often, “Oh, it’s fine. I can have the popcorn, frozen banana, and corn dog at the same time. I’m at Disneyland.” Wrong. The location will not prevent an upset stomach from over-indulgence. And, as I learned the hard way, you will gain weight if you use this excuse, have an Annual Passport, and visit each weekend.

4. Pay attention to guest capacity on attractions. The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Little Mermaid have a system that is in constant motion. The line will move quickly. Dumbo starts and stops, and can only handle the number of guests on the attraction. The line will move slowly.

5. If there is a line, relax. You probably don’t have an imminent meeting or doctor appointment. It’s okay to wait for a few minutes and catch your breath.

6. Do not beat your children. This seems obvious, but how often have you seen the frustrated parent shaking the poor child, “You better stop crying and start having fun! Do you know how expensive this is?” The good thing about children is their mood swings. They aren’t like adults who hang on to being angry or sad. They’re crying and then five minutes later, laughing. And you don’t want to be the parent people stare at as they pass.

7. Go to the empty line. If a line is open, it’s open. If a cashier is sitting with no line, they aren’t closed. Everyone just assumes the line might be closed and doesn’t want to appear to cut. If there are two cues for an attraction and one is empty, it’s not closed; people are simply easily confused. Here’s a tip, if you want a pineapple swirl at the Tiki Juice Bar, use the line inside the Enchanted Tiki Room patio. Remember, the pushy bird gets the worm.

8. Avoid Adventureland if you need to get to New Orleans Square. The layout is dense and traffic patterns are tight. Go through Frontierland. The street is wider and people aren’t standing in the path, mystified by the idea of Bengal Barbecue skewers.

9. I like to eat at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante for Mexican food, or Stage Door Café for chicken fingers. If the patio at Stage Door is too crowded, take your tray to del Zocalo. It’s okay; you can move your food from one restaurant to another. There are no alarms if you step over the boundary with your turkey leg. In fact, we’ve often all gone separate ways and brought everything back to the Plaza Inn to eat.

10. Remain calm. This isn’t a test. God is not judging you if you don’t do every attraction. The point is to enjoy yourself. Take rests, sit on a bench on Main Street and eat some popcorn. It’s okay to only ride the Disneyland Railroad and Mark Twain, eat lunch, and wander.

One last suggestion is to watch the flag retreat ceremony on Main Street. It happens at Town Square in front of the train station late afternoon. I might be corny, but it’s pretty wonderful to see the salute to the armed services, national anthem, and lowering of the flag for the day.

Pictorial Souvenir Discourse Analysis

It’s amazing to me when I meet another Los Angeleno who has never been to Disneyland. Are the communists? Did they grow up with abusive and cruel parents who built a Carrie closet? Do they hate the idea of fun? Of course, they typically tell me “It’s not my kind of thing.” Or, “I don’t understand the attraction of contemporary mass market spectacle.” Boring, boring people.

When I was a kid, I had a copy of “Disneyland, a pictorial souvenir”. I know every detail of every image. The images paint such a nice story of a lazy day with family, rock and roll fun with teens, and exciting (but not overly exciting) adventures. When I looked through this recently, I began to decode the images. Yes, OCD, yes geeky, yes, too much emphasis on deconstruction in art school. I found several running themes.

1. Old people and People with hats.

Hats signify an exciting time. There are many matching hats on old people and kids. Old people let us know that Disneyland can be enjoyed by everyone. I know this is true. I've been there with my grandparents. Although they preferred that we visit each land in a counter-clockwise direction and never jump between sides of the park.

2. Nuns

There are nuns all over the place in the Disneyland visual landscape. They show up on preliminary sketches, and in souvenir books. I don't think there is any hidden religious subtext. This has more to do with the supposed cruelty of nuns who slam rulers on Catholic school children. Nuns are not thought of as carefree, anything goes, kinds of women.

 

3. Blurry motion

These say “speed.” Disneyland can be a crazed, fast paced, and thrilling place. Everything is fast: a hip dance scene in Tomorrowland, Rocket Jets, America the Beautiful Circlevision, the Peoplemover, and the Mad Tea Party Teacups. The Teacups are, and Rocket Jets (now the Astro Orbitor) were, indeed, too fast for me. All that spinning. But the Peoplemover and Circlevision were fairly slow paced. This was good. The Peoplemover had a hard fiberglass interior. I would not want to be in a Peoplemover whipping around the bend that fast, slammed against the hard seat, or in a Circlevision theater with guests throwing up.

 

4. Leg details

From a child’s point of view this must be what Disneyland looks like. These tell us that cast members are cleaning, the costume characters will interact with children, and there are horses. We also don't need to involve ourselves with details such as individual people.

 

5. Lingering

Many images show people meandering and lingering. They stare into a shop window on Main Street (why, I don’t know. The door is two feet away). Others look at unique items in the One of a Kind Shop, or watch the The Royal Street Bachelors in New Orleans Square. This tells us that there is time to relax, saunter, and discover stuff to buy. Unlike most of the stores I visit, here I can and linger and not be asked to leave. The downside of these images is the message that it's okay to walk really slowly down Main Street, 8 abreast. It's not. Some of us need lunch.

6. Darkness

Whether it’s real night outside, or simulated night in the Blue Bayou, these images are indicators that Disneyland is not just for kids. You can have dinner with your middle-aged friends or neighbors. You can take your spouse on a special dinner date while the kids hang out in Fantasyland. Or you can throw caution to the wind and get groovy with the young adults.

The Road To Tomorrow

One of my favorite objects is a piece of tile from the Coca Cola Terrace at Disneyland. While we were working on the Encounter Restaurant project, I mentioned that I was heartbroken about the refurbishment of the Terrace. The team at Walt Disney Imagineering graciously retrieved a tile from the construction debris and gave it to me.

The 1967 Coca Cola Terrace was magnificent piece of architecture. It combined modernism with a touch of California levity and space age forms. When I was young, we went dancing at the Terrace on weekend nights. During the day, it was a great place for cheeseburgers and chicken fingers. Oh, yeah, I’m that fancy. The ceiling was fantastic. Like stars in the night sky, it had a random pattern of lights rather than symmetrical ordered rows. The crowing jewel of the Terrace was the stage. When not in use, it was a sculptural planting bed. As a band began playing, it rose up from the ground and became an elevated stage. It’s still there, and is used for the Jedi Training Academy. If only the New Establishment were still together.

Many of these images have been sent to me over the years. Consequently I don’t know the correct provenance. Gracious thank you to those who have shared these. These sites are great resources and most probably the original owner.

http://gorillasdontblog.blogspot.com/

http://www.davelandweb.com/disneyland/

http://www.yesterland.com/

Shout how-now to Mrs O'Leary's cow

Chicago is one of my favorite cities. Beside the great food, friendly people, and wonderful neighborhoods, several of my favorite people live there. Greg and Pat Samata, Dana Arnett, Jamie Koval, Bart Crosby, and Ric Valicenti are designers I deeply admire, and who are just plain fun to hang with. I assume it’s a Chicago thing that eliminates any snotty, diva-like behavior, and creates good down to earth attitudes.

Each year, Greg and Pat present the Cusp Conference. Cusp isn’t a design conference. It’s about big ideas. It’s been described as, “inspirational, funny, thought-provoking, eye-opening, informative, inspirational, fascinating, humbling, soothing, shocking, awesome, inspirational, unbelievable, wise, touching, smart, healthy, honest, confusing, inspirational, affirming, creative and just friggin' amazing.”

Last year, Greg invited me to talk about whatever I wanted. I’d been on the road speaking about AdamsMorioka and our ideas for so long I wanted to do something different. A couple of months before, TypeCon asked me to speak about the typography of Disneyland. I had a great time pulling this together and it was extremely well received at TypeCon. So I expanded on the idea and told Greg I wanted to talk about design at Disneyland through an optimistic lens. So far so good.

I’ve been speaking publicly for 20 years. I think I have a pretty good grasp of what an audience will respond to. Sometimes I get it wrong. When I spoke in Norfolk for AIGA Hampton Roads in Virginia, I started by talking about my family’s Virginian roots, and put up a list of family names in case anyone in the audience was a cousin. I didn’t realize the family names were the same as the street names in Norfolk. So it came off as, “Hi, I’m fancy. I’m from Beverly Hills. I go to the Academy Awards. My family is fancy. You’re not.” This was not my intention. I’m actually kind of a goof ball.

The Cusp Disneyland Design lecture wasn’t received as well as the TypeCon lecture. Now there could be several reasons why: it is a dumb lecture, I’m dumb, I came off as smug, or I looked fat. But, I had a wonderful time doing it. I had time to see Pat and Greg, and had a great lunch with Greg and Ricky Wurman. And I went to Chicago.

Gifts of the Gods

When you are a designer of any kind, interior, graphic, industrial, whatever, you receive really awful gifts. This sounds horrible and ungrateful. It’s the gifts your parents, grandparents, and cousins give you. We’ve all been in the situation when you’re given a lovely gift wrapped in the “cool” wrapping paper from the Container Store. When you discover it’s a remarkably over-designed swoopy lady-shaped wine corkscrew in lime green, you must express surprise and incredible happiness. It’s assumed that, as a designer, you must like the groovy designed things. I bypass this problem by telling my family to focus on gifts of cactus and American flags.

I did, however, receive one of my best gifts for my birthday this year. The Disney Gallery at Disneyland is holding an exhibition of Mary Blair. The studies for the lost attraction, Thunder Mesa, are truly genius. And the renderings for the Grand Canyon Concourse tiles are possibly the best color palette ever conceived. These two birthday gifts are now in my kitchen. I considered putting them downstairs in the rumpus room so they wouldn’t fade. That would be no fun. And that’s a bad path. Soon I will be closing all the blinds, draping furniture, and storing art in a dark space, like my grandparents.

 

Hot Times in the Big City

 

My great grandfather, George “Goggy”, was born in Caliente, Nevada. My grandmother and father were born there, too. My grandparents met and were married there. I have an idea to drive there and see it someday. But it’s an eight-hour drive, and it’s only one block big. So it would be rather anti-climactic. I’ve come to realize that Caliente and Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are related. My grandmother talked about being a girl and having picnics at Cathedral Gorge. Oddly, it looks exactly like Big Thunder. Caliente experiences a desert flash flood. And, yes, so does the Walt Disney World Big Thunder. Caliente looks like it was a happening place in the nineteenth century, so does the little town at Big Thunder. And finally, Caliente exists as a railroad town. The Caliente station is the big attraction in town as one of the last Mission style stations built. Big Thunder is a railroad! You be the judge.

 

The Innocents Aboard

If you come to Disneyland with me, you will have a dull time. Since I can go at any time, any attraction with a line is out of the question. I avoid the parade after seeing it for the first time. I prefer a slow and easy experience. I like sitting on Main Street, riding the Disneyland Railroad, and the Mark Twain Riverboat.

It’s not that the attractions with lines aren’t worth the wait. I typically say, “Oh, too long. Let’s do that next time.” So, you can see, after walking around the park with me passing every attraction, you would not be happy.

Here’s the secret to sitting on Main Street: get some popcorn, or ice cream and sit on a bench at the Railroad Station. If you buy ice cream, never go to Gibson Girl. Use the Main Street Cone Shop, which is on the side street behind the Market House. Don’t sit on the curb, unless you're watching a parade. It’s like being homeless at Disneyland and people may step on you.

When you ride the Mark Twain, head for the Promenade Deck (the second floor for land-lubbers) and the bow of the ship. Everyone else will race up the stairs to the top Texas Deck, or scramble for the chairs on the Main Deck. Relax, and take in the scenery. There’s no need to race around the ship like a headless chicken; you can ride it as many times as you like. And go to the bathroom before boarding. You don’t want to be on the far side of Tom Sawyer Island and tugging on doors hoping to find a restroom. There isn’t one.

My Suite Life

Since I live in Los Angeles, I don’t have the opportunity to stay at the Disneyland Hotel. The unique aspect of the Disneyland Hotel is that it lacks a theme. Other Disney hotels, Disney’s Grand Californian, Disney’s Yacht Club, etc. have clear themes. The Polynesian Resort is, indeed, Polynesian. Disneyland Hotel is only about Disneyland. This makes good sense to me, since that is where you are staying. Over the years, the hotel has changed. It’s been expanded, and updated, and modified. I didn’t notice that the building had changed until it was pointed out to me. Of course, it’s been changed from something that someone thought was out of date, to an aesthetic that is about taste and high quality.

Surprisingly, I wish it had stayed the same. The old sign was a true thing of beauty. I loved the classic 1960s contemporary interiors. For a few moments, Noreen and I toyed with the idea of moving our office to the Plaza building. But, it would have been a long commute. And we would spend more time sitting on park benches on Main Street eating popcorn, than designing.

The Right Way, Part 1

I like arrows. They are strong and commanding. They make no apologies. They seem to say, “Go there! Now!” But if you rely on the arrows supplied by Zapf Dingbats or as stock arrows in Adobe Illustrator, or InDesign, well, the results can be rather dull. So I spend too much time looking for good arrows. Let’s face it, they all look fairly similar. After all, how much can one do with a triangle and attached rectangle? Over the years, I’ve collected many arrows, and in the spirit of sharing, please see attached. Of course, Disneyland and Walt Disney World are a treasure chest of arrows. Guests need to find their way around the parks. And, yes, I am that odd person photographing the arrow on the sidewalk.

Hoochee Koochee, Tootsie Wootsie

This may be hard to believe, but I don’t particularly like musicals. I’m a big Rodgers and Hammerstein fan, but that’s due to brainwashing at the ranch. I’m the type of person who fast-forwards over the singing sections of a movie. Last week, Meet Me in St. Louis was on television. I could live without the singing parts, and if I were the father and had a big promotion, I’d tell everyone to shut-up and start packing. The titles, however, had that saccharine and Technicolor “Gay Nineties” style. I love that. Flourishes and fancy frames need a revival. I’ve slipped them in here and there, but nobody particularly loves them—yet. However, there is hope. Last week’s Milner Gray post was passed around all over the web. Maybe it’s that time; the time when fancy frames, Victorian pink and yellow houses, old fire trucks, and handlebar mustaches come back into fashion.

Phototype

Typically, people go on vacation and take nice photographs of their family. I forget to do this. I am that odd person taking a photo of the color of a wall, or that wonderful doorknob. Being a designer, type is a favorite subject. Ed Fella has a wonderful book, Edward Fella: Letters on America, of his Polaroids of vernacular typography. I, unfortunately, am not as sophisticated as Ed is. He finds fantastic signs in out of the way neighborhoods, and is like a big game hunter on safari, seeking that wonderful painted type. I am dull. Growing under a constant high level of fear has left me with PTSD and an unwillingness to do anything risky. Hence my enjoyment of Walt Disney World, or Disneyland. I know where the bathrooms are. I know where I can find food. And I know I will have an endless source of great vernacular (can you call it that if artifice is involved?) typography.

In my defense, I did go on real safari with real animals in Africa. And I recently agreed to try a new place for lunch.