Revenge of the Rigid

Environmental Protection Agency identity system and manual
Chermayeff and Geismar, 1977

From Design Observer

In 2015, Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth started a Kickstarter campaign to reprint the NASA Graphics Standards Manual, designed Danne & Blackburn in 1975. Recently, Reed and Smyth, as Standards Manual, with AIGA, have launched another Kickstarter campaign to reprint the EPA Standards Manual. Chermayeff and Geismar designed the identity and system in 1977. To date the suite of manuals also includes the Manuals for the Official Symbol of the American Revolution Bicentennial, and the New York City Transit Authority.

The commonality with all of these manuals, beside their overwhelming popularity now, is the rigidity of the graphic systems. The manuals clearly mandate how to use the logo, how not to use the logo, what color is acceptable, and the only typeface option. Examples of applications show the grid structure and type of imagery. As many possible examples are identified from a satellite to a Telephone Directory cover. These are not systems to be messed with.

What is contrary here is the current fascination with these hard-line identity systems in a design culture that proselytizes the virtues of flexible logos and customizable systems. Let’s identify the differences. The classical post-war identity program followed the strict guidelines. Designers working with the program followed the rules in the manual and produced work that maintained a consistent visual system. By the 1980s, the idea of a flexible identity, that is a logo that can change, evolved. The MTV logo (Manhattan Design, 1980) is a prominent example of the flexible identity system. Designers working with a flexible system were encouraged to bring their own creativity to the project and create dynamic and surprising results.

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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.

Happy, Happy, Golly Gee, Glad Game

My friends and family are typically in awe of me. Every so often, someone approaches me and says, “You’re the nicest designer in the business.” Or a friend may read something that says that I’m the eternal optimist, always doing good for the industry. They aren’t in awe because they are impressed. As I’ve been told at family dinners, “Really? Really? People actually think you’re nice? That’s unbelievable.”

Yes, there is a side of me that tries to play the “Glad Game” from Polyanna, but I’m not a blithering idiot. I don’t walk around the world with a smile on my face and only good in my heart. I admit it here. I can be cranky. I sometimes like off-color jokes. I have a twisted sense of humor. At last year’s Academy Awards there was a salute to horror films. When a gruesome and violent scene from Halloween was played, I laughed. When Bette Davis was kicking Joan Crawford, as she lay helpless on the ground in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, I laughed. Unfortunately, I was the only person laughing. Angry glances were sent my way from others in the audience.

Therefore, it is logical that I love, love, love the title cards for Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time. One of the absolute smartest people in the world is Fred Seibert. Yesterday, Fred sent me his new book, Original Cartoon Title Cards: From Frederator Studios (Volume 1). There are too many fantastic images to share at once, so I am starting with the Adventure Time cards. How can you not love the sad evicted characters lost in the cold, the disemboweling of a cartoon character, or the aftermath of an angry tantrum? Disturbing and wrong, yes. Genius.