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 In the 1970s and 80s design shifted again to embrace historical references, illustrative imagery, and post-modern appropriation.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.

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

 

Gnarly Dude

Last week I visited the Herman Miller showroom to look at the new furniture systems for the ArtCenter Grad program. There's some pretty snappy stuff and I may need to get a stand up desk for myself. In the George Nelson room there was print of John Neuhart's poster for Alexander Girard's Textiles and Objects shop. 

Designed in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Matter employed organic forms and paired them with hard geometry. The organic forms, boomerangs, kidney shapes, and liquid shapes were a reaction to the hard and cold machine aesthetic of World War II. After years of tragedy, it isn't surprising that designers and the public would move toward life affirming forms. Even Matter's layouts for an article on the Ray and Charles Eames dances the line between grid and freeform.

It was reassuring to see the spread with the gnarly wood (as in tangled not rad). I have many pieces of gnarly wood and frequently find more on my hikes. It looks odd when I come down the trail with a pile of wood held in my shirt, but tough.

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.

Please Remain Seated

I was cleaning out my garage yesterday and a neighbor stopped by to say hello. The door of my garage leads into my rumpus room (yes it's knotty pine, no we don't play bridge in there). There are several Disneyland attraction posters in the rumpus room and she saw them on the wall. "Oh, I love your posters," she said, "I mean I really, really love them." I thanked her and then worried she might come back with a weapon.

This happens anytime anyone sees them. Even hardened academic post-modern/critical theory obsessed designer types like them. "Hmm, that isn't bad, I guess," they say.

Why is that? First, they are remarkably well designed. Second, they're big and people like big things. Third, they remind the viewer of a good experience. And finally, they tap into the common iconography of travel and adventure.

So, let's start with the influences. The Disneyland Hotel poster (above) borrows arrows from Beall's Rural Electrification poster, and geometric shapes from Russian Constructivism.

Clearly the WPA National Parks posters informed the design of many of the Disneyland attraction posters. The illustration style is representational. Larger than life scale defines the space. Dramatic lighting and bold colors dominate. The Grand Canyon Diorama poster is a close cousin to the See America poster.

Early American modernism, ala Lester Beall and Joseph Binder, is related with stylistic elements such as arrows and the use of implied perspective created with scale. The Skyway poster's perspective employs the same device of extreme scale as the Binder Air Corps U.S. Army poster.

The idea of a strong foreground combined with a distant vista links the Frontierland and The National Parks WPA poster. The color choices in both examples veer from the expected, a sunny blue sky or water, to more dramatic options such as an orange sky on the WPA poster and ochre water on the Frontierland poster. Flat color and simple shapes define a silkscreened process in both examples.

Most important, however, is the inclusion of narrative. The posters promise a story. They exhibit bobsledding with super tan people, dangling from a thin wire on a gondola, or braving wild animals through the Grand Canyon Diorama. Each poster conveys a sense of time, place, and typically makes the viewer part of the action.

Yes, this has been an adventure through a serious dissertation on Disneyland attraction posters. But there is no cause for alarm. We have concluded this post, and future posts will return to less words.








The Friendly Swiss

Herbert Matter

There are two sayings in Hollywood that I like: "The ass you kick on the way up is the one you kiss on the way down," and "Blame others, take credit, deny everything." I know quite a few people that live by the motto of blame, credit, etc., and ignore the ass kicking advice. I've known fine designers who, after the first taste of fame, became heinous and awful divas making demands and driving kind conference organizers to tears. And I know fine designers who have been famous for years and are the first to wrestle credit away from others. My friend, John Bielenberg, suggested I start a magazine or blog that is like Vanity Fair of the design world, telling all the stories. That sounds fun, but I'd like to keep at least the few friends I still have.

Conversely, I am endlessly amazed at the down to earth, generous nature of some of the industries legends. 90% of them are just good people, willing to help others, devote time, and always have a funny story at dinner. From what I understand, Herbert Matter was one of the least pompous designers in the field. I've never heard anything that paints him as difficult or negative. From all accounts, he was a true mensch. You wouldn't expect that from his work. It's so brilliant and confident that the author would have all the right in the world to be a jerk. But, it's proof that either we as designers are, on the whole, pretty darned good. Or we're nitwits and falling behind while other in different professions claw, stab, and blackmail their way to the top.

Don't be alarmed, three "Herbert" stories in a row does not mean the next one will be about Herbert Hoover.

Sideways

Gan Hosaya, 1969, ad  

There are times when a project just looks bad, like dog crap. I slave over it endlessly, and then I realize all it needs is to be turned on its side or upside down. Voila, it works. That's the issue when you don't print anything out and only see it on a screen. Sure you can turn your screen upside down or turn it on its side, but that could result in dropping it. The easiest solution is to send a file to print and than flip that baby around in all directions. What was once banal and expected becomes avant-garde and unsettling.

I love work that is sideways or upside down. It gets away from the standard point of view that we have in everyday life which is straight on from about 5 or 6 feet tall. Miraculously, you can see a different view from above or below, or lying on the ground and seeing the world on its side. This is why God gave people bendable joints. Photography at the Bauhaus in the 1920s and 30s took advantage of this ad-nauseum. It was as if everyone there was climbing up the walls and hanging from the balconies. But the images are wonderful.

Posters and ads with moving vehicles are especially adaptable to this technique. Gan Hosaya's 1969 poster for Yamaha is one of my absolute favorite pieces of design ever produced. Think how dull it might have been if he simply let the image be turned 90 degrees. So the next time you're out taking photos, climb up on a table and shoot everyone from above. You'll be asked to leave, but end up with a snappy photo that isn't the same head and shoulders of someone holding a drink.

 

Martin Munkasci, 1935

Diving at the Valley Baths, Brisbane, Queensland, 1938

Paul Rand, Apparel Arts cover

Herbert Matter, 1935

Carl Ally Agency, ad, 1960s

Carl Ally Agency, ad, 1960s

Max Huber, 1957

Max Huber, 1948

Joseph Binder, Graphis magazine, 1948

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1926

The Red and the Black

People often ask me, “Sean, what’s the secret with this whole graphic design thing?” Of course, there is no secret. Or if there is, nobody told me. I can say, however, that a big rule for me is contrast. There is no such thing as too bright, or too much contrast in design. I’m not big on de-saturated colors and soft contrast. Design should be bold. There’s an old saying about teaching a donkey. First you smack it in the head with a two by four, and then give it the message. Now, clearly, I don’t advocate donkey cruelty. But, design is the same. First, get the audience’s attention. Then tell them the story.

Red, white, and black are good choices for contrast and bold statements. I’ve used this combination many times and quite enjoyed it. The danger is looking like a Nazi. The Nazis were rather keen on black and red, so you need to be careful to not appear to be a Facist. Using a little bit of red and a little bit of black isn’t the same thing. Remember: donkey, two-by-four, and big.

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