Tight

Strathmore Archives


One of the most elusive skills for a designer is kerning. I am asked often, "How do I know if it's right yet?" regarding the kerning of a word or letterspacing in a paragraph. You know when it looks right. Which is like saying, "make it better," or "I know it's pornography if I think it is." It's frustrating for someone looking for a binary direction, good or bad. 

When I began my career, very open letterspacing was the fashion. It was the 1980s, and the combination of 1950s nostalgia, the introduction of a Basel aesthetic, and the rise of new wave demanded space. It was about optimism, whereas the ultra tight letterspacing of the 1960s and 70s seemed to be about commerce.

That tight letterspacing was more about technology. Photo-typesetting, introduced in the 1960s, allowed the designer to specify type that was touching. This wasn't possible when it was made with individual slugs of metal. Like all new technologies, such as a cool new Photoshop filter, everyone jumped all over it. The tighter letterspacing also allowed for larger typography. Using less real estate horizontally, a word could now be enlarged for more impact. This was especially popular in advertising when the name of the product could be even larger.

I like tight letterspacing. It makes me feel secure. Nothing is lucy goosey and about to fly away. And it kind of screams at the viewer, "13! Dammit."

Michael Manwaring, April Greiman, 1984


Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli

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.

The Hideous Hermaphroditic Character

“A blind, bald, crippled, toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditic character with neither the force and fitness of a man nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” 

A relative on my mother’s side said this about another relation on my father’s side. Thomas Jefferson said this speaking about John Adams in the presidential campaign in 1800. During the election cycle of 2015–16, we’ve seen and heard things we never believed a presidential candidate would say. But, are any as shrewd as the toothless hermaphrodite quote?

As for scathing and blunt political statements, one only need turn to fact: magazine. During 1962, Herb Lubalin and Ralph Ginzburg collaborated on Eros magazine. It was groundbreaking design but lasted only four issues. In 1962, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy indicted Ginzburg under federal obscenity laws.

In 1964, they collaborated again on fact:. This time, Ginzburg moved away from sex and focused on biting commentary about culture and politics. To retaliate against Kennedy, the cover of Issue Four is a simple typographic message, “Bobby Kennedy is the most evil _ _ _ _ in American politics today,”

I’ve long admired Lubalin’s use of Times Roman and Tom Carnase’s logo. Recently, I actually read an issue rather than simply examining the tight kerning and beautiful “f”. The September-October 1964 issue is a remarkable hate-fest about 1964 Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. This isn’t a thoughtful examination of Goldwater’s policies or proposals. This is closer to the “toothless hermaphrodite” variety of language.

The cover is, like most of the fact: covers, to the point and unapologetic. The issue has one article, “Goldwater: The Man and the Menace,” and a section dedicated to “What Psychiatrists Say About Goldwater.” The tenor of the article is aggressive and acrimonious with sentences such as, “Those psychoanalysts who find a connection between sadism and an anal character will not be surprised that young Goldwater was fascinated by bathrooms.” 

The design of the magazine relentlessly hammers Ginzburg’s text with plain and unadorned columns of text. The black and white color palette on uncoated stock, using Times Roman, is an undeniable reference to newspaper design. The communication goal is clear: this information is a fact and true.

The fascinating point here is the vast amount of acerbic text and imagery contained in only sixty-four pages. It is unremitting. Even the back cover is filled with derogatory quotes from psychiatrists.

Like Eros, this did not end well for Ginzburg or Goldwater. Goldwater lost the election (in one of the largest landslides in US history). He sued Ginzburg and won. Ginzburg didn’t help his case when he stated he intended to continue the same conduct in the future. He had undertaken a similar poll of psychiatrists with respect to President Johnson, in preparation for the 1968 campaign. He had reason to also doubt Mr. Johnson's sanity. 

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.

Unsinkable Brown

Recently, a client asked for brown as a color option on a project. A couple of years ago, I would have resisted. But, brown has slowly been creeping into my mind. First, I found myself admiring the brown tile at the Honolulu Airport. Then, I decided I should move away from my earthquake safe Melmac dinnerware. So, I bought several settings of Heath Ceramics dinnerware.

The Heath colors are subtle, subtle and subtle. Seeing one brown combined with cream or tan plate convinced me that brown could be alright. Some of my favorite design solutions are brown. Does this mean I'm mellowing, or developing, God forbid, good taste? I still resist any attempt to put brown in bathrooms. Brown wall, tiles, fixtures, or accessories should never be used there. I won't go into details, but how do you know if someone previously had an "episode" in the bathroom if everything isn't bright white?

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.

With a Swirl

Herb Lubalin

I've been told by leading strategists about millennials and what they want. According to marketing experts these people (born between 1980 and 2000) have no interest in artifacts, individual design heroes, or anything not about social causes. I am polite, and listen to this as long as I can before saying, "Okay, that's bullshit."

I spend an enormous amount of time with this generation of young designers. I'll generalize here. They love making things, finding incredible artifacts, and detailing the craft to perfection. They have design heroes and ask for any suggestions for other designers they should know. They work in teams, but have their own distinct vision and value the individual. They care about doing good and want to make this integral to their choices, but they have huge loans and recognize they need to make a living. In comparison to my generation who primarily wanted to get drunk and skateboard, they are remarkable people.

So for today's entries, there is no collaborative strategic focus. No post-it notes were taped to a board to create these. The designer didn't document the process and stop when it was time to make something. These are examples of swirly love.

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.

Graphic Designer Basics

Designers 1

On Thursday night, I spoke at an AIGA event in San Diego. Several people asked me the question, "Where can I look to find examples of great design?" and "Is there a resource for finding all of the industry's history?" The first step is to get a good graphic design history book such as A History of Graphic Design 3rd Edition by Philip B. Meggs.

Then, I suggest designobserver.com, the aiga.org medalist page, and this site burningsettlerscabin.com. Also look at my Lynda.com/Linked In course Graphic Design History. These are a good introduction to learn about individual designers who had an impact.

Next, after finding someone interesting, dig in. Research everywhere and find out more than anyone else knows. I do that every time I find a piece I love.

Here, then is the first of several (meaning more to come) lists of designers everyone should know and explore (not in a dirty way). I'm keeping these (mostly) to dead people for now, so the living won't be up in arms about inclusion. Most of these are covered in other Burning Settlers Cabin posts, just search (on the left).

Saul Bass

 

Herbert Bayer

 

Lester Beall

 

Lucian Bernhard

 

A.M. Cassandre

 

Tibor Kalman

 

Marget Larsen

 

Herb Lubalin

 

Alvin Lustig

 

Herbert Matter

 

Reid Miles

 

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

 

Victor Moscoso/Fillmore Posters

 

Cipe Pineles

 

Paul Rand

 

Deborah Sussman

 

Bradbury Thompson

 

Jan Tschichold

 

Massimo and Leila Vignelli

 

Covering Covers

Lutz Roeder, Gebrauchsgraphik, June 1965

I've designed several magazines over the years. The cover is usually the land mine. Every hope, desire, and fear seems to coalesce around the cover. I lost one longtime great friend who was the photographer on a cover when the client rejected her beautiful and flawless image for a bad stock photo. It's the part of the project when everyone in the room has an opinion on what a good cover is. In all honesty, there are covers I worked on that are fugly fugly. These were designed by committee and I didn't have the fortitude to say, "You're wrong! You're bad people." But that rarely works either.

As you can expect some of my favorite covers do not have one giant face staring out, but take advantage of the magazine as a personal artifact that doubles as a poster. And if we're honest, we'll all admit we have purchased a magazine only for the cover. Which, I imagine, is liking someone simply because they have a nice face. And...?


Health Magazine, cover studies

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.

I Go to The Hills

Every day I hike to the top of a hill in Griffith Park. I know this is very The Sound of Music, climbing a mountain in the fresh air and getting good exercise. I don't sing. There are other people hiking and that is scary.

My hiking trail

I will admit, with some fear, that I actually like The Sound of Music. There are good lessons here: face life's problem and climb every mountain, ford every stream, and have confidence in yourself when no-one else will, and think about your favorite things like brown paper packages tied up with string when you are sad.

What works in the movie is not the story about singing children. Like the Baroness, I think they should be sent off to school. It's Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews that keep it from slipping into too saccharine. 

I saw a production on Broadway of the revival and it sucked big time. Without Christopher Plummer or Julie Andrews it was sooooo sweet. It made me want to do something really vile and repulsive after too get off some of the gooey and cloying acting. Plummer has a slightly sardonic and edgy tone that says, "I may discipline any one of you severely with no warning." Andrews also reads as kind and firm, but maybe a little nasty. That's what saves it and makes it work; that injection of the negative in the midst of all the goodness.

And there is that filthy language. I'm sure everyone already knows this, but it happens when Maria returns to the Abbey and meets with the Mother Superior. Before singing Climb Every Mountain, Mother Superior asks, "What is it you cunt face?" That nun had some anger issues and it seems rather passive aggressive to slip that in when pretending to be helpful. 

Herb Lubalin, 1965



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.

Erotic Abandon

This is frustrating: I suggest that a student have more fun and freedom on a project and they return the next week with the most itsy-bitsy slight change. I don't understand the timidness. It's as if they believe God will strike them dead if they use a quickly drawn gesture, or too much color, or an enormously scaled grainy image. So I get the tidy and polite vector art solutions or lovely but dead photographs. It really drives me to murder. I'm the opposite of the cranky professors who say, "Oh, that's gone too far." I beg them, "Please, please go so far that everyone in the room is shocked and aghast at your complete lack of restraint."

I'm not pushing students to go outside of their comfort level and work in broad strokes to be mean. I don't want them to spend their lives designing tasteful wine labels and polite brochures. I want them to be wonderful.

The example I use is Herb Lubalin and Ralph Ginzburg'sEros magazine. Eros was short lived, only four issues from 1968 to 1971. By today's standards it tame. You can find more explicit imagery by doing a google search for "cat". Lubalin uses the page like a giant canvas, not a small magazine. When he uses negative space, he does past the comfortable spot. When he handles headlines, he does bad things like smashing the copy together in a corner. The images are dramatic and play with radical scale and cropping. At the same time, the thing is refined to death.

Partners at a law firm usually make more than graphic designers. That's ok because they have to wear real life work clothes and we don't. And we can have fun. That's the trade-off. Why be miserable and uptight, and a graphic designer. You can do that as a financial analyst and make much more money.

Spread images via: http://westread.blogspot.fr/

Mutilated Bodies

Some fonts are bad. They are like that photo of a horrible car crash that you can never unsee. It's not because they are cursed or especially ugly (well, some are), it's because they have been mutilated and left to die. As I've grown older, I'm drawn to typefaces that may, perhaps, strain the limits of good taste.

Last week, I used Davida, designed by Louis Minott in 1965, on an annual report project. Noreen suggested I was not following the corporate system and could be opening the door to future infractions. I saw it as adding some zest and excitement. I see so much good taste sans-serif typography on a daily basis that I'm starving for something wrong.

The problem was getting a good cut of Davida. The original is really well drawn and formed. But someone along the way discovered it in the bin of forgotten typefaces and beat it regularly. The digital version is a far cry from where it began. It's been around the block. My only choice is to redraw it myself and try to save it.

The lesson here is to find the original version of any font, see what it was meant to be before someone redrew it in a dark basement. I pledge to continue to rehabilitate Davida regardless of the current typographic style du jour.

Art-Nouveau Feeder Fetishist

What I want to talk about here is fat. Not “phat” fat, but fat fat. Everyone is concerned about the country getting fatter. But what happened to typography and shapes in the late 1960s and 1970s? They got fat. I understand the issue of anti-consumerism. Coming from an anti-establishment counter-culture environment in the 1960s, companies needed to make messages and products “big.” Bigger was better, and if it could also be in earth colors and look natural, even better. If I actually purchased an item, rather than making it on my loom at home with macramé, I wanted to know I was getting my money’s worth. So we see fat logos, wide lapels and ties, big shirt collars, bell bottoms, and giant brown cars.

I am ashamed to admit this, but I like fat Victorian shapes. It’s as if the Garamond and curly shapes ate too many French fries and went from delicate to, well, very, very healthy. All the years of praising refined letterforms and deriding bold serifs have led to this shameful admission. Granted, in the hands of a master such as Herb Lubalin or Tom Carnase, the results are spectacular. But, when abused by someone less adroit, the result is clunky, horsey, and vomitous (yes this is now a word when discussing ugly typography). I hope this post will prove my veracity and commitment to the truth. We only tell the truth here, at any cost. This admission will, no doubt, ruin any chances of ever receiving an AIGA medal, being invited to join AGI, or being spoken to by any of my friends. So be kind when you find me at a conference sitting alone as other designers point and whisper, “Oh, yes, it’s true. He has a secret thing for the chunky type.”

Unknown

No Splashing. No!

Somehow by attrition, I have become the “go to” designer when color is involved. This amazes me because my color theory is pretty simple: everything works with everything. Just don’t be wimpy. I love hateful combinations such as almond, maroon, and teal. I’d make every project avocado, burnt orange, butter yellow, baby blue, and magenta if I could. But, oddly, I love black and white. It’s the color combination used the least. Everyone assumes it’s ubiquitous, so everything is full of color. When was the last time you saw a stark black and white ad, billboard, or television commercial? Color is an evil temptress; we attempt restrain, but are lured with the promise of excitement. Be brave. Try black and white. This isn’t black and white with a splash of orange. No. No splash. You must deny any additional color.

Nitsche Didn't Say, "Design Gods are Dead"

There’s been an ongoing debate for a few years regarding design heroes. Some say the younger generation no longer needs or wants heroes, others argue that heroes are a vital part of our design experience. Personally, I cannot imagine my career without the inspiration and guidance of so many “hero” designers. In school, I looked at their work and tried to understand how they made something, and what I could take from that knowledge. When I graduated I followed the career paths already blazed by these designers. When we started AdamsMorioka, I turned to them for support and advice. Today, I show their work to my students. I do this, not so they can copy someone, but to show them different ways of thinking and making. I have never taught a class when someone did not say, "I never knew. I never thought about it that way."

Last night, I went to the AIGA Bright Lights event. This was previously the AIGA Design Legends Gala, but it was renamed this year. Brian Collins pointed out to me that Design Legends Evening sounded like a drag show in Las Vegas. Jennifer Morla, Steve Frykholm, and John Maeda were honored with the AIGA Medal. This event has always been like the best high school reunion you can imagine. It’s as if every single great friend you’ve had is in the same room. This is also a time when we celebrate and recognize the achievements in our profession. This may seem frivolous, insular, and self-congratulatory, but it isn’t. It’s vital that we support and celebrate one another. It elevates all of us and maintains our commitment to excellence and generosity.

I don’t want to live in a world where there are no heroes, where all designers have been deemed ordinary. What we do is a remarkable gift, unique to each of us. I want to look at someone’s work and be humbled. I want to be at an event and feel awkward meeting a famous designer. We need heroes for ourselves and for those outside our profession. Some are saying there are no heroes, that this is an idea of the past. But they simply do not know where to look.

John Maeda, AIGA Medal 2010

Unwholesome Desires

Whenever someone suggests the idea of a reality show of a design firm, I roll my eyes. It sounds exciting, and Mad Men is kind of that, but it would be like watching paint dry, or the NASA channel. Let me give you an example. Last week, Nathan and I were talking about photo-type and some of the lost display fonts. Exciting, huh? This discussion led me to the Art Center Library and I checked out a book on ITC fonts from 1980. When I was in school, I was told that Herb Lubalin, one of ITC’s founders, was rotting in hell for ITC Garamond. And I’ve walked around with a snobby disdain for all ITC fonts since then. Like this, “Well, I’m sure they work for some people, but I could never.”

Something, however, has gone horribly wrong. I look at Lubalin and Tom Carnase's work and find myself loving the flamboyant thicks and thins, swashes, and extreme x-height. I have a strong desire to use ITC Firenze on everything, including body copy. Is that so wrong? What's next, green shag carpeting, plaid polyester suits, and mauve?

I don’t know what is happening, but I remind myself that life is a journey, and I should allow this to happen. Was this desire for hideous overwrought typefaces always in me? Did I repress it and do bad things without my knowledge? Was I overly zealous in my hatred for ITC Caslon X-Bold No 223 Italic, and those people who engaged in its usage? Was it simply a case of self-hate? I’m facing a difficult time when I will clearly need to re-examine everything I believed.

Here, I expose my new unwholesome desires.

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

On Finding Obscure

I feel sorry for the people who work with me. It must seem that I have a remarkable memory for an obscure design solution from 1960, but I can’t remember their names. And I can only nod and pretend I know what they are talking about, when they discuss new music. You know, that rock and roll.

I found myself referring someone to a beautiful poster designed by the master, Ryuichi Yamashiro in 1960. It’s an appeal fort the Japanese Cancer Society, and remarkably pairs multiple images in a concise composition. At the same time, I suggested a cute ad for a knitting mill, a catalogue spread by Erik Nitsche, and a shoe company poster from Germany. What do these have in common? They were all designed around 1960. Other than that, I don’t know. And I imagine they had no connective tissue for the person that I told to find them. They’re used to that, though. The designers who work with me always politely find the example, put it on their desk, and smile when I walk by. Then they look at each other and roll their eyes. I’m sure of it.

Why Did They Tear Down That Wall?

When I was in high school, I was asked to design a mural for the cafeteria wall. Of course, I had no idea how to do that and ended up making a 1970s supergraphic of a series of fat horizontal stripes and an abstraction of a seagull flying above. There are small miracles; nobody documented it. The next year was my first year at art school, and I discovered the Gastrotypographicalassemblage. This was Lou Dorfsman’s version of my high school cafeteria mural, minus the Airport ’77 supergraphics. The wall is a wonderful collection of 3-dimensional letterforms created by Lou Dorfsman, Tom Carnase, and Herb Lubalin in the mid-1960s for CBS. The result is a wood-type shop exploding next to supermarket. Sadly, the wall was demoslished in the 1980s and now sits in storage, awaiting rescue. I can only hope that my wall was painted over by another artist in residence after I left high school.