Something Hit Us

"Something hit us...the crew is dead...help us, please, please help us!"

I like helping people. Often, another designer somewhere in the world will send me a note requesting advice on a color issue. This could be attributed to three books I’ve written about color, or the fact that I typically wear a bright pink or blue golf shirt while everyone else is in their summer black. I appreciate the compliment that I might be of some help or expertise.

I could say I spend hours deconstructing Josef Albers’ work in the 1930s or tirelessly mix gouache paint for the perfect combination to create a palette. Both of these would be half truths. Like my dining palette, I have rather plebeian tastes. Last weekend, while changing channels I stumbled onto one of my primary color inspirations, Airport 1975 (see, low-rent taste).

Twenty years ago I had two back to back epiphanic experiences. The first was watching David Hockney paint in his studio with confident and broad strokes. The second, was, of course the genius that is the palette in Airport 1975. Who cares about the plot with the standard issue of Love Boat guest stars in peril after their 747 is struck by another plane. The number one flight attendant is required to fly the plane. There is a singing nun, played by Helen Reddy. She spends time and songs with a dying girl, suspiciously cast with Linda Blair after her film, The Exorcist, when she was possessed.

 

Not Airport 1975, Linda Blair possessed and flying

The wall shag carpet

And the glorious palette

The colors are completely wrong and go against every tenet of good taste: fuchsia and brown, purple and ochre, red and avocado green. But it’s a marvelous mash-up. How wonderful to be so bad. While I have not spent days studying the late career geometry and color paintings by Herbert Bayer. I did spend an eccentric amount of time on the strange shag carpet wall colors.

 

The full palette

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.

Gateway Drug of Dessau

From Design Observer

I've heard the statement, "Modernism was a failed experiment," for thirty years. The expressive typography of the 1960s abandoned the tenets of simplicity and function. In the 1970s and 80s design shifted again to embrace historical references, illustrative imagery, and post-modern appropriation. Even the minimalism of the 2000s incorporated self-reference and irony. For these last thirty years, I felt like a character in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953), hiding my reverence for Bayer, Matter, and Moholy-Nagy. 

The typography and graphic design at the Bauhaus represent the most religious allegiance to Modernism. But, it is the photography at the Bauhaus that serves as a gateway drug. The imagery of happy art students is disarming and nostalgic now but revolutionized the way we see through the lens. Read More

 

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.

Foresight

Last week, I filmed my latest course for Lynda.com/Linked In, Graphic Design History: The Bauhaus. I discuss all aspects at the Bauhaus from the modernist philosophy to Walter Gropius and Johannes Itten’s personal differences. But, while working on it, I kept returning to the images of life at the Bauhaus. The students and masters (“professors” in Bauhaus talk) working, eating in the canteen, sleeping on tables, and just hanging out. They all look so carefree and hopeful. They have the same vibrant and enthusiastic energy I see in design students today working, eating in the cafeteria, sleeping on tables, and hanging out.

But, we know what was to come. By 1933, the Bauhaus was closed. Many of its students and masters fled Germany to escape persecution as Jews, artists, intellectuals, homosexuals, and radical thinkers. Some were trapped and died either in the camps or as enlisted German soldiers. Others, like Marianne Brandt ended up on the wrong side after World War II, in East Germany under a Soviet-controlled government. Fortunately, some immigrated to the United States like Marguerite Wildenhain, Herbert Bayer, Josef Albers, and Mies van der Rose, bringing Bauhaus modernism to run through the American filter.

It is the nature of photography to capture a moment in time and create a personal relationship between the viewer and subject. Looking at a photograph has that small sense of voyeurism as if we are seeing the details too closely. 

The images of life at the Bauhaus are especially haunting. It is not possible to separate what we know when we see Bauhaus students enjoying a sunny afternoon on the balcony. We have the terrible truth of knowing their future. Perhaps it is difficult to look at these images without the sense of tragedy because they remind us too much of today. We question, “will someone in the future see similar photographs of today and think the same?”

These people believed in a future of good design for happy people living in peace. The photographs speak of the unexpected, sudden change, and fleeting small moments in life. 

 

 

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

 

Beatings at the Bauhaus

This is what I hate: I'm giving a lecture about Herbert Bayer and the Bauhaus and someone is sleeping. Not just nodding off here and there, but face down on the desk. First, if you're so tired you can't be interested in the Bauhaus, you should get medical attention. Second, I'd understand (sort of) if I were doing a lecture on the variations of black-letter typefaces, but the Bauhaus is filled with subversive behavior, radical shifts in thinking, World War I death and destruction, and Nazis marching into people's apartments and arresting them.

When someone sleeps through all of this, I'd like to (forgive the cursing here) smack the mother-fucking shit out of them. But we don't do that in polite society.

I compare this with a visit I made to the Bauhaus a couple of years ago with 12 of the most Cracker-Jack students I've known. For a designer, this was like returning to the source of all life. And these students were following an educational pedagogy based on the Bauhaus' approach. This, in extraordinarily simplified terms, the studio approach, working and making, using craft and design for industry. 

Of course, rather than ending our visit with an espresso and pastries, we honored the Bauhaus students with beer. Oddly, everyone managed to stay awake through the entire journey. 


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.

Rundschrift

Many of you have written and asked, "Sean, do you have any more Herbert Bayer stuff to share?" Of course I do. Who knew there were so many Bayer fans? I thought nobody had any concept of anything pre-Brady Bunch, so this is a wonderful discovery. I don't have any snapshots or scandalous photos of Herb doing some wacky thing during Octoberfest, but I've got type. For your holiday weekend enjoyment, here are some of Bayer's typeface designs.

Stationery: spelled with an "e" for envelope

My friend, Kathy McCoy, recently asked if I had any Herbert Bayer images from his Colorado days. She checked with Lou Danziger who pointed out that we were the caretakers of his monumental slide archive of graphic design. After I pulled everything together, it was obvious that Bayer designed a lot of stationery, and I mean a lot.

The world is screaming insanely, "Print is dead, print is dead, the end is near!"  People may not be using letterhead for a casual note that can work on email, but they still use it in more formal situations. The good part of this is that clients want the best stationery with the options, not the down and dirty cheapest one. Now it really matters.

Bayer designed most of these at the Bauhaus and before he emigrated to the United States. The letterheads are all asymmetrical, use the golden section as a guide, and are designed for functionality. Since Modernism demanded that functional should be paramount, this makes sense.

When I design a letterhead I like to help the user also; add a short rule to delineate the fold, put a bullet where the date is typed, and guides that identify the margin.

Bayer takes this a little more seriously by identifying the location of every type of information. I'm certain that nobody tried to use too small of a margin or fail to line the date up with the type. I get the sense that this would have been a pretty serious infraction and all hell would break loose in the halls of the Bauhaus.

Art Direction

 

There is a rather severe difference of opinion about using a cliché in the design world. I like them. They are clichés because we all understand them. As long as the idea is presented in an unexpected way, it’s all good with me. An arrow is cliché. “Oh, Sean,” I’ve heard, “Arrows are so 20th-century.” But, why be oblique and complicated when it is so easy to point someone in the right direction?

Arrows are wonderful because they are symbols that command. The viewer is not being asked, “Would you prefer to turn right, perhaps?” An arrow screams, “TURN RIGHT! TURN NOW!” How many other symbols can do that? Lester Beall introduced me to the wonderful world of arrows. Not, Lester, personally, but through Lou Danziger’s vast historical knowledge. At a time when design was racing faster toward more is more with less and less clarity, the arrow was a revelation. The zeitgeist of that time was , "make less with more." I wanted to make more with less (follow me? More meaning, less stuff.). I could put an arrow on a poster next to a headline and the viewer would read this first. Who knew?

Unfortunately, arrows are a temptation. Like all wonderful things, too much is not good. Judicious usage is needed. As Groucho Marx said: “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Flat

When I was a young designer, Lou Danziger showed me a booklet designed by Herbert Bayer. It took my breath away. Bayer used a Trompe-l'œil effect to simulate a collection of flowers on top of an open spread. This was one of those moments similar to noticing the arrow in the FedEx logo. It was as if a light had been turned on and the world looked entirely different. The page isn’t a 2-dimensional form? It’s a window into a 3-dimensional world? Who knew?

Clearly Bayer knew this. He used the Trompe-l'œil effect on other pieces including a Nazi propaganda piece in 1936. Paul Rand used the effect on a cover for American Apparel magazine beautifully. I’ve attempted to incorporate this idea into several pieces. Usually someone pipes up and says, “Is that some dirt on the page? What is that? Is that a bug?” Then last night when I was on press with Cedars-Sinai’s Discoveries magazine, my wish was granted. The editor, Laura Grunberger worked with us to create settings for a story on inspiration and new medical devices. In the midst of the press check, I was upset that someone had written on the press sheet before me. But, no, it was part of the effect of the setting. What joy.

Images from the Lou Danziger Collection

So Fine

Yesterday, the office surprised me with lunch from Dinah’s Chicken. We’ve covered this before, but I’m obsessed with the Dinah’s bucket. It is the most incredible piece of packaging design in the world. Herbert Bayer be damned, that bucket kicks ass. Maybe I love it because it justified decisions we made when we designed Mr. Cecil’s Ribs. We did this before we were aware of the remarkable Dinah’s bucket. Noreen was the creative lead. I love how she combined a southern decorative vernacular with minimalism. Some may think it lacking in high-end classic aesthetics, but it’s a rib restaurant, not The Four Seasons. Which leads to the Dinah’s bucket. It’s a fried chicken joint in Glendale, and the bucket doesn’t pretend to be anything else. How often can you truly say, “So many typefaces, so little space,” and be correct?

Snowflakes from Hell

My friend, Terry Lee Stone, introduced me to the term, “special snowflake.” This applies to young people who have attitude problems. Typically, for their entire lives they were told, “You’re special. You’re unique. You can do no wrong. There is no such thing as competition, everyone is a winner.” So they start college and are shocked when they are told to do a project over, or that their solution is not world changing. Oddly, there is competition in the world. Oddly, some people are better than us at something. Part of the problem is society’s need to celebrate every aspect of a child’s life.

Now I know there will be huge outcry over my next opinion, but the truth must be told. I believe in positive reinforcement. But I do not understand the graduating ceremony for the end of grammar school and middle school. Graduating from high school is an achievement. Some people don’t. Unless you are taken to live in a Unabomber cabin in the woods, everyone will automatically move from grammar school to middle school, and middle school to high school. There is no choice, and no risk of not achieving this. So, why have a graduation celebration?

This leads me to typewriters (I know it’s disjointed, but imagine living in my head all day). When I started high school, my parents gave me a portable red Olivetti Underwood typewriter. They did not throw a big party for my ability to pass the 8th grade. They didn’t send me on the Grand Tour of Europe for the summer. Sensible and appropriate? Yes.

Olivetti's commitment to design was inherent in all aspects, from product design to graphic design. The roster of design consultants could have been made by following the AIGA Medalist list. Olivetti's designers included Bayer, Rand, Lionni, Pintori, and Ballmer. As opposed to other corporations in the 1960s approach to good corporate identity, which was typically a whitewash, Olivetti's made design part of every aspect of the company.

Der Unzulänglichkeit Menschlichen Strebens

I have a complicated relationship with Herbert Bayer. He was a remarkable designer who shaped Modernism, the Bauhaus, and modern design. And he worked for the National Socialist party. It is difficult to talk about Bayer without addressing his complicity with the Nazis. Here is the issue: we can look at Bayer’s other work, such as Das Wunder Des Lebens and find a remarkable sense of scale, montage, three dimensional space, and typography. But, like the filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, who claimed she didn’t realize she was making Nazi propaganda, Bayer’s complicity shadows the work. Another booklet by Bayer, Deutschland Ausstellung was created for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The client was the National Socialist Party. This piece deserves a post to itself, but I cannot discuss Bayer and whitewash the context.

Bayer raises questions that are not easy to answer. Who do we work for? Are they good? What are the levels of wrongdoing we will tolerate if we are lauded and rewarded for our work? In a 1940s black and white movie, these answers would be clear and simple. The hero decides to bypass fame and fortune for the good of family, or society. But, unfortunately, we are complex and contradictory.

I was judging a competition several years ago, and one of the entries was for a client that used hate-based propaganda. I didn’t vote for it, but one of the other judges felt I should ignore the content and base my choice on design and communication alone. If we are responsible as communicators, then the content of the work we do is the heart of every project. I’ve used the hypothetical situation of judging an incredible piece for the Nazis as an example. Is it in, or out?

images from the Louis Danziger Collection

Pattern Recognition

Once in awhile, I find a great piece of design I’d never seen. This week, I discovered Herbert Bayer’s cover for Arquitectura magazine. Yes, I’m a sucker for intense color and pattern. But, then, who isn’t? I love when a designer uses pattern to reference cultural ideas. If we strive to create work that makes something mundane spectacular, pattern is a wonderful tool. Giovanni Pintori’s 1949 Olivetti poster uses simple numerals to make a compelling message. These examples look so effortless, and playful, we are led to believe they were easy solutions. Oddly, this is not so. I’ve seen some purty darned ugly patterns in my time. Patterns that make no sense, have no significance, and are simply a last resort created because Adobe Illustrator has a “duplicate” function. So, if you’re thinking, “Gee, I could just make a pattern for the next project. I’d be done in 10 minutes,” stop. It will take more time than you expect, you may fail and fall into a shame spiral. But, if you are patient and work hard, you may create something wonderful.