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.

On Fame and Work

Noreen just took on the job of AIGA Los Angeles president for the second time. She served as president over a decade ago, and decided it was time to step back into the role. Of course, there were people who immediately claimed she was doing this for the fame and glory. And to those people I say, “(insert extremely offensive swearing here.)” If any glory is to be had, that happened on the first go-around. The second term is risk. She could just walk away and be remembered as a great president from the past.

As for fame, I don’t understand why anyone would put him or herself through that much work and stress for something so transitory. Over the years, we’ve been called media whores, PR hounds, and the Paris Hiltons of design. I prefer to think of us as the Donny and Marie of design, and just keep trying to make good work.

This is what I think about fame and design: famous designers are like famous dentists. There are famous dentists. I don’t know them. After all, we are designers, not George Clooney. Contrary to common thought, being famous does not translate into people handing you checks or offering sex (well, for some it does).

A couple of years ago at the Academy Awards, we sprinted along the red carpet to reach the Kodak Theater. It’s scary. There are lots of people yelling in the stands and lots of press taking photos. Normal people run from this. Actors wave to the crowd and encourage them, soaking up as much attention as possible. This wasn’t simply, “I love my fans.” It was a extreme version of “LOVE ME PLEASE!” I know designers can be needy, but not like that.

What’s important, the only thing that matters in the end is the work. Matthew Leibowitz is not one of the names design students regularly reference. There are no monographs or critical essays on his work. But, today, almost 40 years after he died, I still show his work as examples of great design. He pulled together a range of forms from minimal geometry to Victorian etching. There is a sense of Dada and Surrealism in his work. It always manages to walk that fine line of European modernism and American eclecticism.

I don’t know what Leibowitz thought about design celebrity. If he was applauded when he entered a room or ignored isn’t relevant. What is left is a remarkable body of inspiring work.

 

If you’d like to know more about Matthew Leibowitz visit some of these fine websites:

http://www.uartsgd.com/GD40/Leibowitz/MatthewLeibowitz.html

http://aqua-velvet.com/2010/09/matthew-liebowitz-general-dynamics-1965/

http://www.thisisdisplay.org/features/matthew_leibowitz_visual_translator/

http://library.rit.edu/gda/designer/matthew-leibowitz

Matthew Leibowitz, 1944

17 Again

Two years ago, Design Observer posted a very funny article, Fifteen Minutes of Fame. The point of the article was to imagine who would play whom if the graphic design industry were a movie. I was paired with Ryan Seacrest. I was hoping for George Clooney, but in all fairness, this is a pretty good match.

At a recent dinner, my good friend Pam Williams played a game where we went around the room and guessed what people were like in high school. This wasn’t about what they looked like, but was about their personality and which character they fit. For the past few weeks, I’ve been gathering suggestions from many of you, so here is the first batch. Apologies to anyone who feels that I’ve gotten it dead wrong, but it’s done with love. And you’ll notice I put myself in the spot that was suggested to me, not where I wanted to be (Jake in Sixteen Candles).

Now I’m going to risk offending my friends more than normal. I’ll start with people I know and can find a good match, and I’d be happy to hear any other suggestions. And remember, before calling me, stop, and calm down. Making angry calls never works.

John Maeda