In Bed with the Bembo

Monotype Caslon, The Stinehour Press, specimen sheet

Graphic design is like cooking. If you want to create a successful meal, you need to start with the best ingredients. If I were a chef (which I'm not since I can only make turkey burgers), I would hope to use fresh organic vegetables and spices. I don't imagine I would do well using Rice-a-Roni and Spaghetti-Os. So why are designers willing to stoop to the Kraft macaroni and cheese (that I actually do like) level when picking a typeface?

"Uh, I think it's Caslon."
"I don't know, maybe it's Weirdnamehere typeface"
"It looks ok to me."
"A friend found it."

These are the statements that are the downfall of civilization. It can't just be some trash Caslon you found working the street for free. You'll get a disease. It needs to be the best possible cut of Caslon. But how do you know if it comes from a good family or is from the wrong side of the tracks?

above: Caslon in metal. below: Caslon in digital form

I have a collection of type specimen sheets from Meriden-Stinehour Press. I've had these for almost thirty years. I use these to determine if the digital version is, at least, close to the metal one. Of course changes happen during translation. But I can tell if the ampersand has retained it's original blush of youth or has let itself go.

The lesson here: Stay away from cheap type. Get to know one before getting in bed with it. 

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/ 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.

Ho in Hawaii

I was waiting with my nephew, Chance, outside the Haunted Mansion and asked him about his favorite bands. Of course I didn't expect to know any of the ones he said; he's a teenager. When he asked me, I told him I liked older music like Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney.

I'm sure this felt like talking to someone from ancient Mesopotamia to him, but he's always polite, and said, "I like them too." I didn't reveal the more embarrassingly uncool truth, that I like cheesy Hawaiian music. Sure I appreciate the authentic Hawaiian music, but I have a soft spot for the schlocky stuff.

I buy many of these records at Amoeba Records. They're always in the 99 cent bin, or left outside to be taken away free. Clearly there is low demand for Don Ho's Hawaii-Ho (which is not about prostitutes on Waikiki).

Yes, sometimes they are too bad, even for me. The Blackwood Brothers Quartet album cover reads as either a gay wedding or white party, but it turned out to be gospel music in a Hawaiian style. I don't know what happened to the actual record, but the cover for Hawaiian Polka Tour with Eddie Blazonczyck's Versatones is remarkable. You can't ignore the Jim Jones style portrait on the cover.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of the design is not half bad. Alfred Apaka's Hawaiian Favorites, the Ilikai Hotel'sMusic of Hawaii, and of course, Elvis Presley's Blue Hawaiiare classics. There's some good letterforms too. I assume the message with these is, "primitive, wacky, and carefree." That sounds like my normal weekend.


I love numerals. I don’t know why, but I love the chance to use them. Maybe I like them because they are another language than letters that is pure and universal. Or, perhaps I just think anything looks better with a big numeral. This attraction leads me to photograph numbers around the world. As usual, while other people are photographing their families, I am taking photos of the gate numbers at the Honolulu Airport, or a street number in New Orleans Square. The title sequence for Lost in Space is a number lover's heaven. Last week, I worked on a spread of only numbers for the Academy’s annual report. That was a good day.