Going Dutch

I hear many designers say, "My client won't let me do cool work." I've certainly had clients that were overbearing, controlling, and particular, but typically they save me from doing something dumb. I'm the one that is at the meeting saying, "Wow, you're right. I see now that red and black could be kind of fascist on a children's lunch box."

This happened to me this week. I'm working on an annual report for a great group that helps students go to college. I designed a couple of versions and was rather please with myself. During the presentation, one of the clients said, "It seems kind of Danish, like a Danish public transit form. Could it be a little friendlier?" First I was impressed that she made the connection. Second, I'm pretty sure it was more Dutch than Danish. And third she was 100% correct. I had unwittingly designed a formal, chilly, and "Dutch" annual report for an upbeat and friendly brand.

My unwittingly chilly Dutch pages

Wim Crouwel and the studio, Total Design is Dutch, but the work is never chilly. It's clear, direct, simple, and bold; attributes I love. The confidence of form is beautiful. There is no desperate attempt to do something witty with a visual pun. It is a symphony of typography and shape. But it has a sense of play, even when it is serious. If you don't own it already, buy Unit Editions' book TD 63–73. It's comprehensive, beautiful, and dense.

I admit, I often see students slip into the "Dutch" thing and I work to "beat the Dutch out of them." Not because I don't like it, but because they are not living in Holland. They are in Los Angeles. It's 90 degrees, blindingly bright, and saturated with Mexican, Asian, and South American colors. If you're in Amsterdam, go for it, not at Zuma Beach.

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.

Design design, or non-design design?

Design or not designed?

A couple of years ago, I was judging a competition and found the most incredible stationery system for a car wash. It was authentic, exuberant, and wonderfully naïve. One of the other judges quickly told me that it wasn’t good; it was bad. It wasn’t done by a trained graphic designer, but by the owner of the car wash. It was “accidentally” wonderful. But I still loved it. So I faced the issue of design that is meant to refer to “non-designed” artifacts. If I had designed the clumsy but incredible car wash stationery, would that make it good? In the end I kept it in the show; good is good.

I’m asked often if I see any current trends. Typically I don’t. The profession has been playing safe for the past couple of years. I have, however, seen quite a bit of heavy bars, Helvetica, Times Roman, and one color printed on cheap paper. It’s the Dutch non-design design approach. When I received this great letter yesterday, I had to ask myself, “Is this that beautiful purposefully naïve non-design from a designer?” Or is this “bad?” I hate these aesthetic issues, so I’ve decided to simply ignore them. I especially like the paper business card taped to a magnet, and the nice note on the envelope. If I needed to apply a formal critique I would approach it this way: There is a refined sense of non-composed composition, and a clear understanding of the anxiety producing effect of a centered axis suddenly changing to a flush left approach. Very clever.