Let's try that once more

A few years ago, I filmed Fundamentals of Layout: Marketing Collateral. I wrote the course, did the read throughs, and created the visual assets. I was ready for the shoot.

For this course, we relied mostly on visual references and text slides. This meant I spent less time in front of the camera and more in the sound booth recording the voice-over. But, I needed to film the introductions and conclusions to each movie. This all seemed like no problem until I realized that I couldn't use a teleprompter for these. I needed to memorize each of the sections of the scripts that had live action. Now this doesn't sound too hard. I wrote them, I know what I'm talking about. But it was one of the most harrowing days of my life. It was like a 12 hour day having a root canal.

Take after take, I would stumble through, getting 25 % right, or 75%, but never perfect. I had that disembodied feeling like my mouth kept moving and making odd sounds that seemed like words but made no sense. The more I goofed up, the more freaked out I was. My producer, Susan, was beyond patient and encouraging, telling me in my headset, "No problem, we'll get there," and, "That was great." But I'm sure she wanted to blow her brains out sitting in the production room. I kept thinking about the scene in Inside Daisy Clover when Daisy (Natalie Wood) freaks out doing a dubbing. I stopped short of clawing at the window screaming.

 

The Salacious Lives of Others

I'm in the middle of looking at the first cut of my new course on Lynda.com, Foundations of Graphic Design History, the Arts and Crafts Movement. We did this course because the Graphic Design History course was surprisingly successful. Many people asked for deeper dives into different subjects.

When I started the Arts and Crafts course, I expected beautiful typography, textiles, pattern, and architecture. Yes, that's all in there. But, I didn't expect the Vanity Fair version of the subject. In smarter hands, the course would have stayed on the serious track with simple names, dates, and insights. But, there was so much drama.

John Edward Millais, left

John Ruskin

John Edward Millais, Ophelia

Euphemia Chalmers Ruskin

Charles Dickens

For example, the writer, John Ruskin, was great friends with the painter, John Edward Millais, and supporter of the pre-Raphaelite movement. This ended after they took a trip together with Ruskin's wife, Euphemia, to Scotland. Euphemia and Millais began an affair. Ruskin then spent the rest of his life savagely attacking Millais publicly whenever possible.

Charles Dickens got in on the fun too, calling Millais’s painting “the lowest depths of what is mean, odious, repulsive and revolting”. 

Elbert Hubbard

May Morris

Roycroft Press

The Lusitania

Then there's Elbert Hubbard, who founded Roycroft Press in Aurora, New York. The founder of the Arts and Crafts movement was William Morris. Morris' daughter May visited the United States in the early 20th century, but refused to see Hubbard. She called him, "That obnoxious imitator of my father." Harsh. Soon after, Hubbard died when a German U-Boat sunk the Lusitania.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Fallingwater

The Headlines

And finally, the most dramatic was Frank Lloyd Wright's tragedy. After many years of marriage, Wright left his wife and children and ran off with a client's wife. Wright and Mamah Bothwick Cheney fled to Europe together. They returned to Wisconsin where Wright built Taliesen. In 1914 while Wright was away, a servant poured gasoline on the floor and lit a fire. When Mamah and six others ran from the house, he waited outside and killed them with an axe.

Sure, there is a huge amount of incredible work and the beginning of a profession. And, yes, we are in a parallel time dealing with new technologies and the loss of craft. But someone needs to write a television mini-series. On of the artists or designers must have said, at least once, "Which one of you bitches is my mother?"

"Which one of you bitches is my mother?" Lace, 1984

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.

Holistic Spirit and Vision Quest

A few months ago, I began work on a new course for Lynda.com, Foundations of Branding. Okay, I admit, I wanted to call it something more unique such as Foundations of Holistic Spirit and Vision, but Branding was more understandable. I did this course because I've heard too many designers struggling and working with a client on one project, then never again. It takes three times as much time and money to engage a new client than working with an existing one. When we are incorporated into the bigger picture and broader vision of a company, we can collaborate with a longer relationship. It's better for both sides.

It's fun to create examples like a standards manual for a fake college, in this case Medfield. But, working on these courses is hard. If I were a writer I could bang them out, but they take me forever. I obsess over the image assets, "Is that chart clear enough, does it help the viewer understand?" The biggest hurdle was worrying about what others might think. I know someone out there is saying, "Oh that moron, that's not how you handle determining audiences." I had to let that fear go, and just do my best. The two sides of the coin are: being criticized by someone cranky, or helping a designer do better and expand his or her role. My choice is pretty obvious.

The Oldest Living Rubylith User

Several weeks ago, I was asked to do a short segment for the 25th Anniversary of Photoshop. It sounded fun until I was told I would need to demonstrate some of the tools used before Photoshop. First, this was an honor and scary at the same time. It was wonderful to be asked, but was I the last living designer who remembers what a rubylith was? And then the thought of showing how we used these tools after 25 years was challenging. But, what the heck? If I got any of it wrong, I was the last one alive to know.

During the shoot, I realized that the rapidographs weren't working and I didn't have a true square edge to the drafting table. I hoped that nobody would notice this. But I was surprised how quickly I recalled the process. I didn't have time to mix the rubber cement to the right consistency, or cut the ruby exactly (you'll know what that means if you are old). I liked how meditative the process was. It was slow and careful, a true craft. My hands even got dirty with ink and rubber cement boogers.

When I was finished with my demonstration, I kind of missed the old days of typesetting, the waxing machine, and the quiet concentration of making a mechanical. I recall going to AIGA events in New York in my early 20s. I would see Massimo Vignelli who was always kind and oddly remembered my name. He was flawless in his Massimo simple black and white clothes. Or Ken Carbone, who was also dressed in the most relentlessly crisp white shirts. I had my khakis, pink oxfords, and repp ties with bits of rubber cement, glue, and pieces of tape. I could never understand how everyone else stayed so clean. That was the true secret of life before Photoshop.

The History of Joy

As some of you know, my most recent course on Lynda.com launched yesterday. This one, Fundamentals of Graphic Design History, was incredibly fun to make. I was challenged to create a course that would provide the basics of design history and make it interesting. I could have gone down the track of, "This is a poster by Jean Carlu in 1929. It has an umbrella. Next slide." But I'm interested in why Jean Carlu made this poster, what was happening culturally, and why it works.

I assume most people think about history as a horrible task, tainted by boring lectures on the War of 1812 in high school. So, how could I make this subject relevant and communicate my passion for the subject. No I don't jump up and down and get overly excited. I simply laid out the facts. The more you see, the larger your visual vocabulary adds to your design skills. It's as if writers were told to not bother reading Dickens or Twain. "Oh don't bother with those, they're old. Just read wikipedia. That's good enough for a writing education."

There's also the joy factor. We all share that same feeling of pleasure when we see something wonderful or discover a new idea. So I designed the course to explain what was happening politically and culturally and how that led to the choices made in design. Why did the Bauhaus designers reject decoration? Why did the Fillmore posters refer to Alice in Wonderland? Why did the Nazis barge into Jan Tschichold's apartment and arrest him and his wife?

Of course there is another version, the Vanity Fair course, that has all the secrets and juicy rumors. But that will need to wait until I'm older or can make up stuff and not get caught.

Twelve Inches of Pleasure

I'm currently writing a new course for Lynda.com, Fundamentals of Graphic Design History. You'd think this would be easy. I know the history, have the images, and am so old I knew Guttenberg personally. But condensing all of the Bauhaus into a three-minute format and making sure it doesn't sound like, "Bueller, Bueller, anyone?" is tricky. It's a great challenge and fun.

When I started writing about design in the 1970s, I kept circling around album covers. The emotional impact of these artifacts is extraordinary. Sure, there was great corporate identity and typography at the time and more than enough to discuss with those alone. But when I mention a specific album, people light up. "Oh, I stared at The Tubes cover for hours trying to figure out how it worked." or "I kept the Frampton cover on the top of my pile of records just to see it when I woke up every morning.

When I went to college, Roland Young was one of my teachers. I was 19 and knew everything. On the first day, when I realized that Roland was responsible for a big part of the record covers I loved, I was impressed. And that's not easy for an asshole 19 year-old. Today, Roland is a good friend. I took over his Communication Design 1 class at Art Center and still hear from almuni, "Wow, when I had Roland for that class my life changed." My students say, "You were funny."

I recently discovered his cover for Joan Baez, Where are you now, my son?. This cover may seem unassuming and quiet, but it's masterful. The sharp typography with the confidence to be just what it is and the texture of the grainy image is contrast at its best. The image of Baez that speaks to the object of a printed photograph is about a moment in time and intimacy. The Smiths tried this later with some covers, but the original is still my favorite.

Roland's body of work and career, from working with Lou Danziger to art director to teacher, is immense and impossible to show without a major book. Publishers, publishers, anyone?.

Sense and Sensibility

Call me old-fashioned, but I think it's important for a designer to know certain basic issues like the size of a business card and what information belongs on an envelope. Nevertheless, I see a great number of portfolios that have envelopes with phone and fax numbers, business cards that are unwieldy and oddly sized, and examples of 3-dimensional promotion that goes against the laws of physics. No this isn't the fault of the owner of the portfolio. Clearly nobody took the time to explain these basic issues. I'm guilty of this myself. I've often talked to students and assumed someone else already taught them the information.

So, I can complain and be the cranky designer who laments that world isn't what it was when I was a youngster, or I can help. When the good folks at Lynda.com asked me what course I'd like to do next, I suggested we dig deeper into basic issues of layout and composition and move into the stuff we make. Foundations of Layout and Composition: Marketing Collateral gave me a chance to start at the beginning with issues like audience, determining a budget, and what items to produce. I then added basic information on business cards, letterhead, swag, 3-d promotion, and posters.

I'm hoping the examples I use are interesting and inspiring. I rounded up some of my favorite firms like Eight and a Half and Modern Dog. But the main goal is to explain simply the most basic information with collateral. Don't get me wrong; I'm fine with something being unexpected. In fact it should be. But it's best when you know why it's not ordinary. Nobody should be in the position that I witnessed a couple of weeks ago:

Me: Why did you decide to make the letterhead a unique size?

Designer: What?

Me: I'm not sure that a 5x7 card is a poster. What was your intention?

Designer: What?

Me: Is the envelope mailable? It looks like it will fall apart and cost a ton in postage.

Designer: Why are you so mean?

Compositions by the Sea

Foundations of Layout, Lynda.com

A few months ago, my friend Terry Lee Stone suggested that I do a course for Lynda.com. I've known Lynda Weinman for years. We served on the AIGA national board together. She's one of the smartest people I know, and Kristin Ellison, who has been my editor on several books was joining Lynda.com. So I knew I could trust everyone. I liked the idea of teaching to a wide audience of people. Lynda.com has over 2.5 million members.

I went out to the huge and impressive  production facility and headquarters near Santa Barbara to do a screen test. I thought about saying "I don't do screen tests," but that sounded a little too Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard. I had a little trouble convincing the make-up person that the white people makeup made me look like someone from The Walking Dead and I was actually not that pale. Fortunately it worked and they weren't revolted.

I started working on a course, Foundations of Layout. I thought it would be easy. I've been doing layouts for a long, long, long time. But each movie covers one piece of the puzzle: scale, grids, imagery, etc.. It was like teaching someone how to walk. You do it every day so you forget all the individual things that work together to make your legs move and body stay upright.

I didn't expect it to be as rewarding as it was. I had to go back and distill an idea like harmony into something understandable and digestible. After doing that, I remembered things I'd long ago forgotten. It helped me as a designer and teacher at Art Center.

I spent a week at the studios working with a cracker jack crew. I became obsessed that my hair looked like an old woman's hairdo and they had the crappy job of persuading me otherwise. Of course nobody likes to watch themselves on camera, myself included. But if I get past my old woman hair I'm really pleased with the result. And that has everything to do with the people at Lynda.com.

old lady hair

 

Come Fly with Me

Continental Airlines, Boeing 747, 1970s AA-747-vi

I've been away from the burning settlers for awhile doing my five other jobs. Some of you already know that I've signed on for a second term as President of AIGA. This time it's as a co-president with the very brave Drew Davies. I'm getting ready to film a new course I've written, Fundamentals of Layout, for Lynda.com. I'm teaching at Art Center. I'm doing Command X at the AIGA Head, Heart, Hand Conference. And, of course, still a partner at AdamsMorioka. In September, I'm heading to Berlin for three months and leading testlab Berlin. I always think I'm industrious, but I'm probably just frenetic.

When I decided to go to Berlin I immediately began to get quite nervous. Sure I'm nervous about moving to another country, learning German, and leading 12 incredible students. But, I was mostly concerned about the air travel. I'm not scared of flying. I'm scared of flying in coach.

I'm often told I live in a bubble, usually by people who don't know each other. It's not a compliment. It's usually followed by, "You make me sick." So it might be true.

My reasoning is this: I can't work in a little seat. I'm too tall. If I lose billable hours, I cost the firm money. If I fly in first class, I can work, so the ticket price usually matches my hours. See, it all makes sense.

Unfortunately, I'd really prefer to fly in first class on a 747 in 1975. I know everyone goes on and on about how air travel has become worse than the bus and people used to dress to travel. But when I see the photos of life on a 747 in the 1970s, it's looking pretty groovy. People seem more interested in lying around and having swinging singles parties or getting high on marijuana. I'm not into that kind of thing, but I would love to fly in an orange and rust cabin.

It's all too navy blue and grey now. Perhaps the reasoning is that passengers are more comfortable with a square and professional flight crew than one that looks like they are shooting a porn movie.

QANTAS71-20

CONTINENTAL747COACHLOUNGE2-vi

7208_0623_05_747_Interior

7208_0623_14_747_Interior

Wayne Thom 7208_0623_13_747_Interior

Unknown-1

AC 747 11

1970s aircraft interior

A Generous and Compassionate Country

For the last couple of days, I’ve been putting together the gallery space at Art Center. But that’s another story. I stopped the insane measuring and rearranging to go down to the theater and see Lynda.com’s new documentary on Doyald Young. Yes, I put completion of the gallery before graduation at risk. But, there was no question. Doyald, Lynda Weinman, a great film: uh, yeah I’m going to that.

It’s a challenge to make what we do seem interesting to civilians. Hmm, I have a choice of watching car chases and steamy love scenes, or a documentary on someone who works with letterforms. Typically, the 3d explosions win. In this instance though, the letterform film is the right choice. I could carry on about Doyald for hours: he’s one of my great friends and mentors, has a salty sense of humor and the best jokes, is an inspiration to teach and truly help young designers, and, yes, talented as heck. But you can find all of that on the AIGA Medalist page, except the dirty joke part.

At Saturday’s commencement ceremony, he will receive Art Center’s Alumnus of the Year Award for his dedicated work as an educator and lifetime of legendary work in typography, logotypes and alphabets. At Saturday’s commencement, he’ll receive an honorary degree from Art Center, where he studied Advertising in the ’50s, and where he has taught lettering and logotype design in the Graphic Design Department for decades.

This is what made the evening so remarkable: the 2010 graduating class was in the theater also. While Doyald made a few closing remarks, they looked on with mixtures of awe, delight, gratitude, and excitement. In school, they learn how to make beautiful form and combine this with conceptual thinking. This short time in the theater is, perhaps, one of he most valuable hours of their education. This generation of designers is shown first-hand, what it means to be a “good” designer with dignity and magnanimity by one of the great masters. Fifty years from now, when they sit where Doyald is now, they will know that talent is nothing compared to kindness and generosity.