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 Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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 am fairly out, and you are fairly in.

President Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, 1960

"I am fairly out, and you are fairly in. See which of us will be the happiest." This is a quote President George Washington said as he passed the presidency to John Adams. I thought about this today as tomorrow is my last day as AIGA president. On July 1, the job is Su Mathews-Hale's. She will be a dynamic, smart, and visionary president. And, clearly infinitely more patient than me. The floggings will stop.

I stepped in for a second term 2 years ago. I did this, not because I have a huge ambition for power. If I did this is the wrong job. AIGA was in the midst of a controversial issue, the sale of the building. This and the next challenge, the search for a new Executive Director, were critical. And I might be of some help.

Me and Debbie Millman (my first term) 2008

AIGA Presidents, L-R: Clement Mok, Sean Adams, Bill Drenttel, Debbie Millman, Michael Bierut, Ric Grefé (Executive Director), Michael Vanderbyl, 2009

My first term as president from 2007-2009 was like the Eisenhower years. It was a good time. Membership and revenue was high, chapters were growing and thriving, and the organization was efficient and had a remarkable support system of Ric Grefé, Denise Wood, an amazing staff, and nation of volunteers. We had board retreats in Palm Springs (yes, board members pay for it all themselves). The only thing missing was Mamie.

Mamie Eisenhower, 1954

This term was more like the Clinton years. Change is never easy and progress seemed to happen in hard jolts, not a seamless walk. Social media and online conversations create an immediate response to every decision. This is good because dialogue is the basis of a vital democracy. The downside is that rumor and conjecture quickly became facts. At times it felt like there was a vast right wing conspiracy. But, to keep it in perspective, it's AIGA, not the United States Senate.

President Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton

me at the end of my second term, 2015 (OMFG!)

me at the end of my second term, 2015 (OMFG!)

People ask me how I feel about leaving after so many years. In fact, I'll be staying on the board to work with the Executive Director search committee, but my days of demanding that others bow to me are unfortunately over. 

The best part will be the chance to devote more time to education, supporting young designers, and actually designing. I look forward to spending less time on conference calls (which I hate because I never know who is speaking, and am easily confused). But, I will never again feel the same pride, as I do now serving the profession. 

Me and the fabulous Katie Baker, May 2015, Grand Rapids, Michigan

AIGA is more vital and stronger than any time in history. To all of you who have been part of this two year journey: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the organization and design profession stronger, and we leave it in good hands. All in all, not bad.

I will leave with the greatest pride for this organization of ours and eternal optimism for its future. Su, you're on.

The flawless Su Mathews-Hale, Madam President

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Living Large

I often worry that I live a small life. When I read about a great, great uncle who was a United States Majority leader and Speaker of the House, or distant grandfather who was a US President, or even the odd balls who went mad in Paris in the Gilded Age, I think, “Should I be doing more?” This goes to the heart of the neurosis currently affecting designers. “How can I worry about kerning when there is climate change?” My answer is, “The people equipped to deal with complex climatological issues are far better dealing with this than you. But they probably have atrocious word spacing.” Every grain of rice tips the scale a little more.

This morning, I managed to assuage my insecurity about the smallness of my contribution. Then, I was faced head-on with that issue in force. I needed a varnish sample to show a client. We have a bin of “Favorite Things” that is a storage space for anything someone likes. As I dug through the bin, I continued to find wonderful items. “Oh, look at this. It’s a potato gun package,” I said as the designers politely nodded and tried to ignore me. This begs the question, is my little collection of odd items as important as serving as the United States Ambassador to France at the beginning of World War II? I say yes.

Slow Boat to China

A great episode of the Twilight Zone is Time Enough at Last with Burgess Meredith. Meredith plays a man who loves to read, but is annoyingly interrupted by those around him. He survives a nuclear war while reading in a bank vault, and then discovers a post-apocalyptic world with no people and all the time to read for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, he drops his glasses and is left with time and books, but cannot see them. I have a similar irony, albeit less dramatic.

I love dishes and drinking glasses. I have too many of these. But, I live in a region where earthquakes cause breakage. I’m also concerned that my guests will break a glass or dish. So I keep the collections in a cabinet, and use the Melmac plastic dinnerware. I typically say, “I know you won’t mind using plastic, but we’re all family and can be casual.” Of course I say this to everyone regardless of my relationship and carefully watch the dish cabinet. I realize this is selfish and stupid. Is my goal to maintain a complete set of Russell Wright Iroquois Casual dinnerware intact until I die?

One of my absolute favorite sets is Salem China Company’s Pat Prichard Nostalgic Old America from 1956. Viktor Schreckengost designed the forms, and Pat Prichard created the art. Old Gloucester is a fantastic collection of New England forms such as clipper ships, rooster weathervanes, baked beans, and a seaside village. I guess baked beans are big in New England. Old Comstock depicts a western scene with happy horses, old west saloons, and a stagecoach. Clearly, this is New England nostalgia from another time. Unlike the HBO mini-series John Adams (yes related), there is no depiction of surgery with no anesthesia. And on Old Comstock, unlike Deadwood, there is no whoring or liberal use of the “C” word (and I don’t mean China).

How to Behave when Facing Frustration

I’d like to believe that I am a product of both sides of my family. Which, coincidentally, supposedly mirrors the national character. Let me explain. My father’s side, Adams, is Massachusetts, Mayflower, Yankee stock. They are good at following Puritan ideas: working hard gets you closer to God, patience is a virtue, and we show God how pleased we are with Him by not procrastinating in our tasks. My mother’s side is Virginia, Jamestown, and southern gentry stock. They were good at living well, hosting parties, and maintaining the class structure.

I do fine hosting a barbeque and pool party, but I tend to be hard on myself and insist on working hard, being patient, and never procrastinating. When I’m frustrated, or concerned, I handle it, hopefully, with patience and fortitude. This, however, is wearing thin as I get older. When I’m missing critical content and a deadline is approaching, or driving behind someone who is texting and going 12 miles per hour, I’d like to pitch a fit. Not a good WASPy fit, as in, “Gosh darn. Well that’s just wrong,” said quietly, but like our example above. This woman missed her flight. I recommend this example for anyone when you don’t get your way.

Grandpappy Walker

Since it’s almost Independence Day, I decided to post about someone in my family who was involved with the revolution. Sure, there are the likely suspects: George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. And, they are indeed family members on either my mother of father’s side. But we all know those stories. One of my favorite distant grandfathers wasn’t as well known as the these others. Dr. Thomas Walker was born in 1715. He was Thomas Jefferson’s guardian, the first white man to explore Kentucky, and did a whole batch of impressive things.

But I like him because he risked everything for the revolution. By 1776, Dr. Walker was 61 years old and one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. He wasn’t a destitute revolutionary; he was firmly set as a member of the gentry. It would be as if a comfortable CEO of a Fortune 500 company decided to join a revolution today. Typically comfortable old white guys don’t do this. 

In 1781, British Colonel Banastre Tarleton marched on Charlottesville with the intent to capture then Governor, Thomas Jefferson. When the British Army reached the family estate, Castle Hill, my distant grandmother and Dr. Walker delayed them by preparing a fine breakfast. Legend has it they also supplied liquor. This gave the patriot Jack Jouett time to warn Governor Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia legislators of Tarleton's plan to capture them, and they escaped.

Just after the American Revolution, a traveling author visited Castle Hill and wrote an account of his interview with Dr. Thomas Walker:

"One day, in a chat, while each was delivering his sentiments of what would be the state of America a century hence, the old man [Walker], with great fire and spirit, declared his opinion that, 'The Americans would then reverence the resolution of their forefathers, and would eagerly impress an adequate idea of the sacred value of freedom in the minds of their children, that if, in any future ages they should be again called forth to revenge public injuries, to secure that freedom, they should adopt the same measures that secured it to their brave ancestors.'"

Thomas Anbury (Travels Through the Interior Parts of America, 1776-1781)

Castle Hill, Virginia

Castle Hill, Virginia