The Angry Dog and Soft Core Porn

Last week at the AIGA Pivot Conference, Command X was, as always, a huge success. The young professionals who are contestants are the bravest people on the planet. There is no way in hell I would get up in front of 1,500 designers and defend my choices. This year’s group, Spencer Charles, Wendy Hu, Matt Hunsberger, Susan Murphy, Mark Nizinski, Jesse Reed, and Sarah Sawtell are remarkable designers with nerves of steel. The judges, Ellen Lupton, DJ Stout, Michael Vanderbyl, and guest judges, Karl Heiselman, Chip Kidd, and Matt Munoz had the unenviable job of determining who moved on to the next challenge. Michael Bierut hosted the competition, and I mentored and filmed the behind the scenes updates.

Behind the scenes, drama ensued. Michael Vanderbyl was reprimanded by an attendee for suggesting the use of a shamrock on a piece. Supposedly this is deeply offensive to Irish people. I asked Command X contestant, Susan Murphy, who is an actual Irish person, if she was offended, and she was fine with it. In fact, she suggested many names and comments that could be quite offensive to the Irish.

And then another speaker attacked my great friend Bonnie Siegler for Command X. According to an onlooker at the party where the bloodthirsty attack occurred, Bonnie stood defenseless as this person became increasingly furious. As this onlooker said, “it was like a chained angry dog who was let off its leash. There was spitting, snarling, and lunging.” I didn’t realize that “fun” is clearly a filthy word we should never use. Design should be laborious and we should refrain from making artifacts. Charts and meetings are the future.

As usual, nothing shocking happened to me, except for the scandal in Marian Bantjes room. Marian needed to learn how to tie a tie. I can’t do it backwards, so I sat behind Marian to teach her. The result was a photograph that looks like a cover of Viva or Oui magazine, or a soft-core porn film. Thank God it was Marian and I wasn’t teaching one of the Command X contestants how to tie a tie.

The dog will have its day

While I may seem incredibly confident, some may even say smug, I’m always worried about the content of my presentations. Too much eye candy, and the audience is angry they didn’t learn anything. Too little, and the audience is angry and bored. Last Thursday, I spoke at Julia Rheinhard Lupton’s Design Fictions Conference at University of California, Irvine. Julia is Ellen Lupton’s twin sister. This made me feel I felt as though I’d known her for years, and probably scared her as I was a little too friendly. Added to this was the terror of speaking with two noted and smart architectural critics, Geoff Manaugh and Charlie Hailey. The audience, primarily humanities students, was also smart and literate. And I only had my dancing poodle show. Nobody threw anything at me, so I guess it was okay, and the crowd loved the tutu and flaming hoops with Fifi the Wonder Poodle.

While it may seem that life at AdamsMorioka is a full-time exercise is popular culture, bright colors, and endless hilarity, it’s not. Sometimes we even read a book. One of my favorite projects right now is an identity and cross-media system for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Public Library is such a remarkable resource, and the Foundation is committed to creating something innovative and remarkable. I can’t show the identity yet; it’s still in process. But, I can show a little preview with a little 5"x7", 16-page booklet that served as an invitation to the Annual Gala. More to come as we proceed.

When Gray is Good

 

One of my favorite possessions is a Graphis magazine, No. 69 from 1956. We’ve opened it so often that it’s falling apart. I tried taping it back together since this is something you do when you get old. But now the cover has fallen off of it. There is a rather dull feature on calendars, but an incredible profile on Milner Gray. Gray (1899-1997) was a British designer who founded the Society of Industrial Artists and the Design Research Unit (not to be confused with Ellen Lupton’s Design Writing Research). His work is primarily in the realm of packaging design, although he did identity and environmental design for the 1951 Festival of Britain. Gray takes heraldry and traditional forms and treats them with a modernist bent. Simple shapes are combined with flourishes and Victorian typography. There is a contradictory sense of minimalism and ornamentation.

Unfortunately, Gray is one of those remarkable designers who have been sadly neglected in print or online. Someday, I’d like to write a book about all of these unsung heroes who changed the profession quietly.

I Just Wasn't Made for These Times

When we started AdamsMorioka in the mid 1990s, the design world seemed endlessly enthralled by the discordant, weird, and complex. Unfortunately, we’re none of those things, so we were forced to fall back on our own values and personalities. I recall talking with Noreen at Hamburger Hamlet about this. “Let’s face it,” I said, “We’re just not that groovy.” She agreed, and made a wonderful analogy that the designers doing work that was complex and avante garde were like Portishead or The Smashing Pumpkins, we were like The Beach Boys. This was confirmed years later at a dinner with Ellen Lupton. After dinner, she turned to me and said, “You know, you’re actually smart. I thought you were just a beach surf guy.” I’m taking this as a compliment.

Actually, I liked being more like The Beach Boys than The Boo Radleys. First, Pet Sounds is one of my favorite records. Second, I think they were adventurous and did some amazing things with unexpected instruments and tone. The Beatles gave them credit for being a major influence on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. And finally, Wouldn’t it Be Nice? is a remarkable piece of music that I could listen to endlessly. And, I do at work. It’s like torture, but it’s the price you pay if you work with us.