Mixing Metaphors

George Tscherny, 1970

Here is the issue: we experience the world in scenes. We watch scenes on television, we see them in life from eye level, and we see them in our mind when we listen to the radio or read a book. We experience life watching a play on a proscenium stage. This view of life leads to a way of articulating concepts based on the mise-en-scéne of a narrative. Imagine this: the assignment is to design a poster for American Airlines and celebrate “spring in Paris.”

A standard solution might be to use a photograph of people sitting at café tables and the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop, or a happy couple strolling through Le marché aux Fleurs de l'Ile de la Cité (the flower and bird market). Many contemporary film posters adopt this articulation of an idea. The formula tends to follow the convention of three floating heads of the actors and a vignette of a scene below. 

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3 Heads and a Scene

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.

Nothing

I'll keep this simple. I like work that doesn't try too hard. It's so easy to work on a project until I've beaten every last bit of life from it. It's good to know when to stop. And the work I like best looks like the designer did one thing like set the type in Akzidenz Grotesk and then said, "Yeah, I'm done." Perfect.

Young designers tell me all the time, "Are you sure, it seems empty." But the idea makes it full, and in fact it's not empty, it's filled with a ton of negative space. I think of it like dark energy and dark matter. It's strong enough to hold everything together. I deeply covet Richard Danne's desk calendar from 1974. I think there's that place in hell that I've mentioned before (the one where amateur musicians pull a guitar out at a party) for people who steal. But, I'd steal it.

All of these projects are confident and clear. They resonate with harmony because every tiny detail has been refined, refined, and refined. So try this on your next project. Do one thing and stop. It'll be hard and the evil workings of layers in Photoshop or Illustrator will be calling, "Add more, add more." Resist.

Let's Take an Old Fashioned Walk

Originally, I planned to do this post about modernism done well, and modernism done badly. For example, the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe is done well. A black box office building on Ventura Boulevard is not so good. The JC Penney annual report for 1970 is a great example of beautiful and precise modernism. George Tscherny’s design is crisp and clean. The Helvetica is elegant. This is what a Swiss grid and Helvetica can be in the hands of a master. This is, obviously, the intent for the current JC Penney Helvetica style.

But, while doing research for this post, I came across the website, www.wishbookweb.com. It’s a treasure trove of shopping catalogues. The 1970 JC Penney Christmas catalogue has nothing to do with the annual report beside the date. It’s a remarkable time capsule. The clothes are, of course, funny. It’s the odd subtext of the pages that make it such a pleasure. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did see some plaid shirts that I wanted to buy. But you cannot call 1970. Nobody answers, and there were no answering machines.

 

And now, from high modernism to nifty hats and big pockets on the front of pants.

I don't think anyone looks good in His n' Hers styles. Couples should not match unless they are in a groovy band like Kids of the Kingdom.

This is further proof that matching outfits are wrong. And these simply look illicit.

There is an odd prevalence of men holding women on the ground in this book. It's quite submissive and frankly disturbing. I believe the women should be allowed to stand, especially if forced to wear department store headbands. Even I know that's uncool.

Am I wrong or is this a page of "swingers"? And I don't mean the dancing to swing music people. These are the people who live down the block and invite you to a "key" party. Don't go. It will end badly.

What can be said? First, these are bathmats with holes cut for sleeves. Second, these vests scream, "beat me up! Please!" A nun would cross the street to beat up these kids.

The Award Awards

AIGA 1962

Terry Lee Stone and I were talking about the good old days of competitions.  We both agreed that we loved all of the printed ephemera that was produced each year for either AIGA 365, or the New York Art Director’s Club Show, or Western Art Director’s Club. I know this is really, really bad. It’s not a sustainable practice, and the world is a more caring place now that we do these communications digitally. But, to be asked to design everything from the poster to the award certificate for one of these competitions was a choice project. When Lou Danziger was moving out of his studio, one of Frank Gehry’s first buildings, he called Noreen and me and asked if we wanted anything. We managed to walk away with a George Nelson H leg table, Lou’s custom wood flat files, a copy stand, and Lou’s box of awards. For 15 years, the awards been carefully archived away.

Now, they have been released and some are displayed here. I especially love the 1962 AIGA award, presumably designed by George Tscherny. The “XIX” award can be seen on the walls of Sterling Cooper on Mad Men. The green and pink NYADC club award from 1963 has the most incredible swirls. And, finally, the AIGA mailing label on the tube, I know Paul Rand designed the AIGA logo, and the multi-talented Bart Crosby refined it, but this is tempting.

ADLA as seen on Mad Men

NYADC 1963

AIGA mailing label

ADLA

AIGA 1963

AIGA 1956

AIGA 1964

CA 1963

ADLA

1964

Marget Larsen, Dean Swift Snuff packaging, 1964

One of my students recently asked me if this blog was all 1960s stuff. Absolutely not. I’m completely temporally promiscuous. That being said, the CA Annual from 1964, CA’64, is especially wonderful and filled with pieces not often published. Marget Larsen is an unsung hero of the design world, and her Dean Swift Snuff packaging is rich and beautiful. And finally, George Tscherny’s design for the Burlington Annual Report is concise, ordered, hopeful, and elegant. There is a light and witty example of fumetti (a style of making comics from photographs) done for ADLA (Art Director’s Club of Los Angeles now incorporated into AIGA Los Angeles) by Gollin, Bright, and Zolotow. First name references for those of you who didn't hang out with the LA designers in 1964 are: Robert Miles Runyon, Saul Bass, Keith Bright, Norman Gollin, Milt Zolotow, and Buddy Berke.

George Tscherny, Burlington Annual Report 1964

George Tscherny, Burlington Annual Report 1963

George Tscherny, Burlington Annual Report 1963