Hope is The Thing with Feathers


There are two quotes I consider when asked about designing television network identities. First, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not taking it anymore,” from the Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet film, Network (1976). Second, “If the identity system is right for fifteen minutes, you’ve done your job,” from AIGA Medalist Fred Seibert. These quotes refer to the transitory nature of network identities in a fluid media. 

I’ve designed several network identity systems and used both quotes often. Two years ago, I designed an identity system for the UBS Network on the television series Blunt Talk, referencing the network’s name on the Lumet film. To provide a history of the faux network, I designed a timeline of logos for one of the sets. During the research process, I found myself returning to the history of the NBC logo often, reviewing the early radio based and early television logos. Then I fixated on the peacock.
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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 Long, Long, Long Signs

This is a combo type nerd-sign nerd post; so if you hate type or signs, go no further. One of the challenges of working within ADA signage codes is size. When code requires 1-inch tall letters, you tend to find condensed typefaces. Otherwise you can end up with a “Stairwell” sign that is several feet long. I was enormously jealous when I stumbled upon the [Brownjohn,][1] [Chermayeff & Geismar][2] signage system for Chase Manhattan in 1961. The ability to use beautiful extended letterforms on signs is a luxury we no longer have. 

The forms are so incredibly sleek and sophisticated. The signs take advantage and exaggerate the horizontality of the very long name. The incredibly long directory is perfect in a world of black suits, white shirts, and thin ties. My favorite item, however, is the round directory. It is like a satellite that has landed in an office lobby. What a joy to have that much real estate for a sign. 

I've used vertical space and designed incredibly heavy directories, such as the Stein Eye directory. But never had the chance to put a tiny house sized sign in a lobby.

The period between 1960 and 1980, the sexual revolution, was a brief moment in the history when having sex did not lead to life threatening issues. So free love reigned. Did Robert, Tom and Ivan know how lucky they were to live in a time when “free-type” was the norm. This was a short period when it was safe to use light extended type when you felt the urge. I can imagine the horror on a client’s face if I presented a 15-foot directory with sleek long type. They would run screaming from the room, yelling, “Why? Why? Why so long?”


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.

Bad Logo

I'm working on a course for Lynda.com about self promotion for designers. As I've been called a media whore for twenty years, this seemed appropriate. One of the points I make in the chapter about identity is that your logo should be neutral and simple. I'm not a fan of the designer or design firm identities that have scottie dog icons and name like "Cutsie Pie Dezigns". There's something about the "z" and confusion over design being a noun or verb with the "s" that doesn't communicate "hire me to rebrand your Fortune 500 corporation."

For many years, I maintained a simple wordmark at AdamsMorioka. But then, something went horribly awry when I moved on and began Burning Settlers Cabin. I've broken my own rule of a simple wordmark and made not one, but many complex identities. Why have one logo when you can have thirty? So I've made multiple limited edition posters, business cards, letterhead, and postcards. I never give them to anyone because I forget.

Posters

Business Cards

I realize that the common element is the name. It serves as the anchor. The forms change, but follow the same concepts of reference and appropriation. I also realized I wasn't IBM and could give myself more latitude. I started with one mark, then added three more and planned to make that a small library in a flexible logo system. But like a bag of potato chips, I continue to reach back in and add more. 

The most recent series is based on film subtitles. According to my theory about a simple wordmark for a designer, this is way wrong. However, rules are made to be broken, and if you're going to do something wrong, go all the way. My next plan is to create a website for a terrible design firm and name it Cutsie Pie Dezigns.

The Film Series Business Cards

Nobody reads in Farenheit 451

Letterhead

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 Tree of Life

Don Birrell, Nut Tree restaurant receipt

When I was a child, and we drove from Reno or Lake Tahoe to San Francisco, my grandparents always stopped at the Nut Tree in Vacaville. My grandfather had a Mercedes sedan that he drove at the speed limit or slower, so a trip that might take three hours was a five hour journey. The stop at Nut Tree was the intermission on the long trek.

Don Birrell designed the graphics, packaging, interiors. He brought Eames furniture, Marilyn Neuhart wall hangings, and a modernist aesthetic to what could have been a Dennys. I recently found a receipt, just as beautifully designed as every other element. The iconography is terrifyingly close to how I make logos, which proves I was stealing ideas as a five year old

Russell Adams, Heather Adams, Nut Tree 1969

Sean Adams, Nut Tree, 1969

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.

Treasures from the Great Northern Place

When Graphis did a story on us soon after we started the firm, we said, “We’re interested in making a good cake, not just nice icing.” Since we were both 29 years old and too cocky we thought this was incredibly clever. A few years later at a conference, a designer came up to me and said, “Yeah, I saw that article in Graphis. Everyone at my firm hates you. And you stole that quote from Burton Kramer.” Back then, I was still under the impression that I should remain polite and try to understand what was really driving this criticism. Now I would I simply say “Go to hell you mother@#$%ing mother@#$%er @#$%face.

 

In reality, Burton Kramer had said this in 1972. But, in my defense, I didn’t know this. I love Kramer’s work. Today, we get mired in post-modern analysis of irony, pastiche, and contradiction. Kramer’s solutions are so crystal clear and cutting. They are rational, perfect, simple, and elegant. But they are never cold, or without a sense of the human touch. The Canadian Broadcasting Company logo is complex and precise, but is optimistic and about infinite possibilities. Kramer’s identity programs are sublime. They are a testament to a time when designers had the time and skill to fine tune every tiny detail, as opposed to some of the slapdash icons created from a batch of Illustrator shapes. When I look through Kramer’s new book, I find the most difficult issues is to not inadvertently steal more of his wisdom.

Trademark Secrets

Identity design is not easy. Sure you can slam a couple of shapes together and call them a logo. But the core of the issue is perception and building a foundation. Over the last 20 years that we’ve been in business, we’ve been called in repeatedly to take on an identity project after another firm has failed. When I’ve asked to see what didn’t work, I’m given a pile of 8 1/2" x 11" sheets of paper, each one with a different logo idea. Whether or not any of these were great or awful isn’t relevant. The error was presenting like a smorgasbord of stylistic options.

First, no logo ever lives in a void. Showing a mark on an empty page is deceiving. It will never appear in this setting. Second, persuasion and consensus building is a large part of the job. We take for granted that a client knows all that we know. But they don’t. They only know what they’ve seen already. And they’ve been conditioned to think a logo is a wackadoodle illustration that demonstrates their product. Logos identify, they do not describe. If Apple had made a logo that looked like the first Macintosh, they could never create iTunes, or an iPhone.

Saul Bass told me to never speak about design to a client. He didn’t mean stonewall them when they ask about a typeface or color. The idea is to talk in a language they understand and give them reasons beyond simple aesthetics for your choices.

This is probably stupid of me, and I’m revealing some of our inner processes. But if this process helps another designer solve a problem, we all look better. When we present identities, we walk the client through each step and explain in simple English why we make certain choices. This allows the client to participate in the process and eliminates the perception that designers are just goofballs making pretty shapes. It also creates a document that can speak for itself. So, below, find a typical document we create to present an identity.

LFLA_ID_Presentation_07.19.11c

 

 

The Ballad of the Boring Logo

 

I prefer to not use this blog as a ranting venue; it is, after all about optimism. But, I really, really, really hate when my students refuse to take risks. It’s my job to help educate designers who can question the obvious, look at the larger picture, and challenge those ideas that exist only out of habit. If they can’t do that, they are doomed to a life of being “layout monkeys,” politely arranging type and images into a nice composition.

Lately, I’ve found this issue to be especially true in my trans-media branding class at Art Center. Perhaps it’s because branding has been elevated into some kind of nightmarish and unforgiving religion. “Branding is sacred.” “Bad branding will lead to the downfall of western civilization” “A logo is more important that the product, customer service, distribution, or financial issues—it is the center of an organization.” Of course, this is all hogwash. A logo is important, but it’s more like a great suit. It’ll make you look good and present a better image to the world, but it doesn’t turn you into a better person.

When I hear someone say, “But a logo can’t be like that,” I say, “why not?” If there is a good reason and it works, it can be anything you can create. We all have an image in our heads of a good logo such as the CBS eye and the Apple apple. They are successful and elegant. But there are other ways to create identity. When I look at these 18th and 19th century marks, I am reminded that branding exists to identify a products origin and ownership, not change a company’s banking options. Let me assure those who are fearful. God is not watching you, planning to punish you for a choice that is unorthodox.

Swiss, 19th century, Tobacco mark

Getting Angry, Baby?

You can’t live in Los Angeles and not have some kind of food issue. Everyone I know is vegan, gluten free, pescetarian, lactose intolerant, only raw food, or only eats local food in season. Ordering at restaurants is like an interrogation in an Iranian prison, “Tell me! Is there any wheat? Don’t lie. I will know!” I try to be as trouble free as possible. My only constraint is too much meat. I probably won’t order the Meat Lovers Platter at Claim Jumper.

Twenty years ago, some of our friends invited us to dinner with their out of town guests. These guests were older and went to Nickodell Restaurant whenever they visited. The older part is important because Nickodell was an ancient restaurant near Paramount studios. It must have been a hot spot in the 1940s, but had declined in a bad way. It sounds like a groovy dive that should be fun. But, the evening was a cross between Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Blue Velvet. The inside of Nickodell was standard issue Hollywood: vinyl booths, nicotine stained dark walls with framed photos of old movie stars, and dim lighting.

The out-of-town couple started the evening with several martinis. They quickly began arguing. After ordering appetizers, they switched to wine, and continued the vicious attacks on each other. By this time, I was feeling sick. Then the food came. An extremely old waitress wearing something similar to a 1940s nurses uniform slowly wheeled an old metal cart to the table. The couple’s giant slabs of beef sat on the top shelf. As she wheeled the cart away, they attacked their bloody and rare steaks, slammed down two bottles of wine, and yelled at each other while chewing. This was the impetus for my aversion to excessive amounts of meat.

However, this has not dampened my love for the Porterhouse Room logo. Robert Sinnot designed this around 1950 for the Hotel Sherman in Chicago. It’s a beautiful mark and proves that a logo does not need to be all hard lines and flat geometry. My only issue is that I can’t tell if the cow bull has no eyes, or alien eyes.

The Only Constant is Change

I recently completed an identity program for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. I typically don’t use the Cabin to show my work, but this time I had a reason. The LFLA identity is a perfect example of the nature of flexible I.D. It has 8 possible typeface options, and 8 possible color options. The user can combine any of the two, resulting in a whopping 64 possible combinations. This conceptually links to LFLA’s commitment to be not about one idea only, but the widest range of voices, concepts, and information.

Twenty years ago, a logo was required to be one single design, with a fixed state of being. This still works, but people view brands in a different way. Perhaps it was the complete overload of logos by the end of the twentieth-century. Or, the viewer is able to process multiple ideas simultaneously (think about the complexity of a CNN screen). I’ve found that people under thirty are especially “logo promiscuous.” A logo can change color, form, and location. If one element is proprietary, which today is typically, the name, multiple versions work fine as identifiers.

So the issue then becomes not about pure identification with a neutral tone, but the integration of a mark into a complex system. I often talk about quantum physics in presentations. This bores everyone to no end. But, I look at communication today as an ever-changing set of parameters existing in a constant state of flux. At the same time, the communications must talk to several audiences in multiple ways about different ideas. A flexible identity system allows for a wider range of communicative strategies.

This all makes me wish for the days of hard-core old school corporate identity. Paul Rand designed the abc logo, told them it was black and not to mess with it. Easy as pie, but to add another simile, the reed that cannot bend will break.

Aloha Oy

I’m sure many of you watched Pan Am on Sunday night. Many of us watched it, not for plot or character, but for details. Beside the odd Doctor Who Tardis issue (the inside of the Boeing 707 grew into a wide-body 747), many of the details were correct. The on-board graphics and set design were as obsessive to detail as Mad Men.

As I watched Pan Am, I thought a better program would be Aloha! It would be the same idea, but set in 1976 and on Aloha Airlines. Think about it, you get Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Pan Am, and Mad Men all rolled into one. Aloha is, unfortunately, no longer flying. The reasons cited are economic pressure due to September 11, competition on inter-island flights, and increasing gas costs. I, however, believe the trouble began the minute Aloha dropped its fantastic identity. How can Bookman Swash ever be wrong? They made the tragic, yet typical error, of “updating” when they would have been the hippest airline if they waited a couple of years

The Rape of the Bear Logo

Typically, I don’t comment on design or events post-twentieth century. Today, however, I set this aside. I’m sure many of you have already received the AIGA Action Alert regarding the copyright infringement paradise logogarden.com. Bill Gardner writes beautifully about this at rockpaperink.com. He covers the issues far more eloquently than I could and clearly took notice of yesterday’s post on catchy headlines, “Love thy Logo, Charlatan, Huckster, Moron, Thief.” Bravo to Bill. Yes, logogarden.com, is a remarkable and audacious example of thievery. It’s also a fantastic teaching tool. Teaching why plagiarism is wrong is often like explaining calculus to a housecat. Some get it, others keep repeating, “but I never saw the original CBS eye logo.”

I’m especially proud that one of my best friends has the logo that is best represented. Michael Vanderbyl’s logo for the California Conservation Center is a classic example of flawless craft, message, and function. It’s one of those logos I could never imagine creating. My mind isn’t wired that intelligently. Obviously, the folks at the logo garden feel the same, and have cleverly re-used it as often as possible.

Following AIGA Executive Director, Ric Grefé, here is action all of us should take:

We believe the most powerful response we can make as a community is to demonstrate the profession’s outrage and the threat of clients’ legal action, if the rights to the design belong to the client. Several legal actions are already in process.

Your course of action, immediately:

Check logogarden.com for your own work using the “try it free” button.

If your creative work has been misappropriated, contact Williams (see below), contact your lawyer, contact your client and have your client contact his/her lawyer to make it clear that this is a violation of copyright law.

If your work is not on the site, contact Williams to make it clear that this represents illegal, unethical behavior; that it fails the basic test of decency, common sense or business acumen; and that it also exposes his customers to liabilities for copyright infringement.

Send a copy of your correspondence to copyright@aiga.org.

Three possible addresses to use for your correspondence:

LogoGarden, LLC
1011 Centre Road, Suite 322
Wilmington, DE 19805

John Williams
230 Halmerton Drive
Franklin, TN 37069

Email: service@logogarden.com

This is an issue that affects us all and is such an egregious case of violating creative rights that we must take action.

 

 

 

Magic Bus

The Los Angeles Metro has a remarkably successful identity program. Michael LeJeune administers the program with a team of talented designers. The system is clear, proprietary, and visually appealing. It has a logo that is confident and bold. I don’t want to ride a bus that has a cute logo, or has a cute name. I want my city to have a grown-up mass transit system, not something that would work for a pre-school.

Mass transit logos seem to be one of the last bastions of traditional, old school logo design. Hard geometry, flat forms, and dynamic typography communicate stability. I like a flexible logo system for many situations, but not on moving objects. I want to know the moving object is safe and well maintained. Which leads me to the Daihatsu Charade. Doesn’t charade mean an absurd pretense intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance?

 

Distant Longings

Several years ago, I went to San Juan, Puerto Rico for an AIGA meeting. I don’t remember the name of our hotel. It was a big Art Moderne building that had the vague feeling of being a grand hotel in Havana long after Castro took over. It was definitely past its prime, but still trying. At one point during a break, Laura Shore called us over to the window. The Caribe Hilton was next door and filled with bright umbrellas, a sparkling pool, and happy people. We were in a dark room drinking expired sodas. It was reminiscent of the scene in Stardust Memories when Woody Allen is on the sad train, and looks over at another train with people in formal wear laughing and drinking martinis.

I recently found the identity for the Caribe Hilton designed by Warner Leeds in 1952. Of course, this has long been abandoned. I especially love the odd “space” menu. Someone should make a "Logo Commission" in the spirit of the Landmarks Commission to prevent the loss of such treasures. Of course, business owners probably wouldn't appreciate being forced to use the same logo forever.

The Golden Years

One of the perks of being a designer is seeing your work in action. Over the years, like most designers, I’ve launched many identity programs. Some have worked flawlessly, meeting guidelines, but maintaining a sense of play and creativity. Other programs have been like slowly tearing off a scab. Everything is approved and ready to launch, but other designers refuse to adopt it. But, as I paraphrase, resistance is futile. I’ve documented these logos and systems with nice photos of stationery systems, signage, collateral, and websites. For the most part I’ve always been pleased with the result.

About a week and a half ago, the Academy held the 82nd Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon.  No, I was not invited, because I’m not a nominee. Soon thereafter, photos of the event started arriving. This made it clear that a logo looks much better when it is behind Meryl Streep. I was thrilled that the mark was there, and even more excited that it was handled well. It wasn’t squeezed to fit in the space. Doyald Young’s beautiful script “The” was intact. Even the correct gold was in place. Now I learned that logos look much better when you put well-dressed movie stars near them.

The Ballad of the Sad Cows

Douglaston_Steakhouse

When we design an identity system, we go through a long and thorough process. The final outcome fits the client's business and is the foundation of a larger system. But when I see this logo for Douglaston Steakhouse designed by Restaurant Associates in the 1960s, I want to drop all of the thinking and visual exploration and only design logos with sad animals. Strangely, this logo seems more fitting for PETA, than a steakhouse. It's honest, though, and I appreciate that. If you eat steaks, well, there's no getting around the fact that a cow had to die. I think the cows in this are experiencing the classic stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, and acceptance.

Hot Diggety Dog

Hot Dog on a Stick logo

You may remember my emotional rant about Ihop recently and its tragic mistake to lose the “pancake” concept. I am heartened when someone gets it right. Hot Dog on a Stick is a favorite of most people I know. Teenage boys like to stand by and watch the young women employees pump the lemonade machine. Kids like the cheese on a stick.

I like the design aesthetic. Somebody smart decided to stay with the look that has a decidedly 1960s vibe. I’d like to believe that this was on purpose, not because somebody simply forgot to rebrand and then it came back into style. The look is what a hot dog stand should be: bright, cheerful, playful, and simple. There is a rigor in its implementation that should make any hard-core identity manager swoon. The drinks match the color palette of the logo, the uniforms reiterate the attitude, and the minimal menu reinforces the core experience: hot dogs on a stick. Life is serious, but corn dogs really aren’t. This is a perfect combination of form, function, and communication fusing together perfectly.

Hot Dog on a Stick stand

Hot Dog on a Stick packaging

Hot Dog on a Stick uniforms

Hot Dog on a Stick drinks and uniforms

The lemonade pumping

Hot Dog on a Stick signage

What a difference Doyald makes

AMPAS® By-law booklet

Last Monday a student at Art Center asked me, “Sean, how do I know if this is good?” Of course, as a teacher, I responded, “If I do.” But we all know how hard it is to judge our own work. For most of us, every project could have used another five months to refine the typography or images. When we were asked to design the identity system for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences®, we were thrilled. This was one of those projects that were a perfect fit for our experience, interests, and professional sphere. My philosophy around identity is easy: keep it simple, no Scotty dogs that are also coffee mugs, and make it a strong foundation. The obvious answer for the AMPAS® logo is the statuette. I’m a simple person and I like obvious. Why do something unrelated when there are decades of equity built into the statuette’s form?

We went through the long and intensive process that every designer has been through. In the end, I was pleased with the final result: an icon for the statue and a clear wordmark. Then I gave it to the master, Doyald Young. I expected Doyald to clean up the forms and give it some refinement. But I was shocked when he sent back his version. I thought mine wasn’t half bad, but Doyald’s version sings. He took my clumsy steroid filled icon and turned it into an elegant and gracious form. The letterforms received the same finesse. To this day, Doyald will tell me with benevolence and kindness, “I just fixed some curves.” But I’m sure he ran choking to the bathroom when he first opened my logo file.  Doyald defines “gentleman” and “master.”

AMPAS® logo: Sean's clumsy version

AMPAS® logo: Doyald's beautiful version

The Academy Awards®: Doyald's elegant version

AMPAS® membership certificate design

AMPAS® stationery

Doyald's books: buy them.