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Sometimes, too much is not enough. This may seem contradictory to the typical badgering I do about minimalism. The point of minimalism is to use only what is needed and nothing more. And there are instances where quite a bit is needed. A few years ago I went to Hallmark in Kansas City to give a talk. On the tour of the headquarters, I saw the remarkable diorama Alexander Girard designed. Now, I typically, am not a big fan of cute Victorian paper dolls and tiny shoes. But in this context they sure looked good. Mary Blair was genius at combining multiple forms into a cohesive whole.

That same skill is evident in a feature Will Burtin designed for Fortune magazine in 1947. This is why the Burtin spreads work: First, there is a clear and strong grid structure. The elements work proportionately with each other. Second, Burtin uses scale to create drama and pacing. The cigar Indian is huge, while the huckster person is small. There are tiny and huge elements. Third, the pages are not a sea of rectangles, or as we like to say, “do not make that look like the wonderful world of rectangles.” Images are silhouetted, odd shapes, or trompe l'oeil. And finally, the color and typography are simple, consistent, and minimal.

However, beware of the temptation here. As you can see, it can be easy to become promiscuous with imagery. You don not want to be a layout slut, adding as many varieties of images and shapes as possible. 

Dream Big

July 1964, Walter Allner

For some quirk of data collection, I am listed in a book about Saul Bass and Walter Allner. This book does not exist. If you’re one of the people who insist I have a copy and won’t give it up, please believe me. If it were to exist, I could retire happy. To even be mentioned with Saul Bass and Walter Allner is a huge honor. In this case, it’s just bad data entry at Amazon. Walter Allner designed some of Fortune magazine’s most incredible covers. Allner, trained at the Bauhaus, was one of the pioneers in the field who brought modernism in typography to American design. His Fortune covers are examples of a minimal and graphic approach. He told his students, “Raise the aesthetic standard — the public is more perceptive than you think.” These covers and his body of work presume that the audience is intelligent and visually literate. There are no big headshots of Britney Spears. In addition, for those of you who are saying, “Yeah, so what, I could do that stuff.” This was before Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. The windows of the Time & Life Building on the 500 Fortune cover are actually turned on. For real.

May 1959, Walter Allner

May 1958, Walter Allner

July 1953, Walter Allner

March 1955, Walter Allner

January 1959, Walter Allner